It’s both remarkable (meaning: “worth remark”) and delightful that the word for Shabbat is “remember”. But it’s downright brilliant that R. Sommer set it to be the day we re-read the commandment to remember to wipe out the memory of Amalek.
So much has already been said about that reading (featured prominently on “Shabbat Zachor”, during the run-up to Passover); and said by so many prominent voices, that I’m reticent to wade into that deep end of the pool. But I’d be remiss not to remind you (see what I did there?) that those ideas are there, ripe and ready to be plucked from it’s branch and savored.
Instead, I’d like to focus on the way Shabbat and remembrance overlap. Of course there are the core dual commandments central to Shabbat – to “keep” and to “remember”. But beyond the mitzvah to do the thing is the curious way we execute the commandment. And that’s largely by doing… nothing.
Rabbi Akiva Tatz outlined it recently, first by focusing on language, then on behavior:
Linguistically, the root of “Shabbat” is “shev” (to sit), which sounds delightfully relaxing. But in actuality, sitting has a fairly negative connotation in Jewish imagery. The most notable example is “shiva” – which describes both the period of time (7) and the activity (sitting) that we do when a loved one dies. There are other examples, but I want to focus on R. Tatz’s main point, which is the static nature of “sitting”. Being at rest (rather than “resting”), eschewing both interactive and creative acts, and making space for the universe to simply exist without imposing our will up on it – these are all emblematic of both Shabbat and death.
The message, according to R. Tatz, is that Shabbat is a mini-death – a weekly practice run. Once we’re within the boundaries of Shabbat, it’s no longer possible to prepare, create, etc. Likewise, once we’re dead it’s no longer possible to perform mitzvot or otherwise impact whatever experience is presumed to come after we’ve passed.
In effect, Shabbat asks us to remember what’s at stake – that every moment we put off taking on a mitzvah, performing an act of kindness, or just expanding our experiences of this world – may be the last chance we just let pass by.
It’s remembering to keep our future in mind.