About the Six Remembrances. Lots of discussion about the six themselves. But some history and context please. When does the very idea of "the six" enter Jewish theological, textual or liturgical history? Do the rabbis discuss why God nominated THESE six, and not six others? Please advise
In a certain way, there really seems to be two parts to this question: one part specific to these Six Remembrances and the other reflecting a general inquiry regarding the whole process of Jewish Law. This dichotomy would seem to be inherent in the specific question of “why God nominated THESE six”. To correctly respond to such a question we would first have to look at the following sub-question: what is the connection between God’s direct communication to us at Sinai and these resultant Six Remembrances? That answer would necessarily demand of us to investigate the connection between Sinai and the present conclusions of Jewish Law – a topic well beyond our present parameters. So allow me to respond to certain aspects of your inquiry as they relate to the Six Remembrances specifically and hopefully you will find some of the information you seek and be motivated to continue the study.
In the commentary of Magen Avraham to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 60:2, he mentions that, based upon previous sources which would seem to be Kabbalistic in nature, in fulfillment of what should be a daily activity, when a person recites certain words in the Ahavah Rabba prayer (which precedes the morning recitation of the Shema Yisrael prayer), one’s thoughts should be on the following 4 remembrances mentioned in the Torah:
1) To remember Sinai and the giving of the Torah,
2) To remember the attack of Amalek in the desert,
3) To remember what happened to Miriam when she spoke against Moshe,
4) To remember the Sabbath,
with another opinion adding a fifth,
5) To remember the Golden Calf.
The number 6 emerges when these 5 are added to the other daily remembrance that T.B. Brachot 12b states is to be a focal point of the last paragraph of the Shema prayer itself:
6) To remember the Exodus.
A custom then developed to recite, after the conclusion of the morning prayers, the actual verses from the Torah that contain these remembrances. Rabbi Yaakov Emden, Commentary to the Siddur, explains that, while one’s mind may be on these remembrances during the recitation of Ahavah Rabba, it is better to actually clearly and directly vocalize them, especially in the language of the originating verses – and so he explains the custom and directs individuals to follow it. What is interesting about Rabbi Emden’s words, however, is that he then actually presents a full prayer built upon each verse of remembrance, also expanding therein upon their value. What is further interesting is that he also describes 10 remembrances, adding:
7) To remember that God is Source of all,
8) To remember the manna,
9) To remember that God saved our forefathers from Balak and Bilaam, and
10) To remember Jerusalem.
This can then be contrasted to the presentation of Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch in his siddur where he only mentions 4 remembrances: the Exodus, Sinai, Amalek and Miriam. There are clearly differing views on this custom although the one that would seem to be the most accepted is the six.
A key word is that this is all a matter of custom. The actual halachic obligation in regard to all these remembrances is a subject of much study and debate. Each one is a subject of its own investigation of whether the originating verse is an actual obligating directive or simply good advice and if it is the former, whether it is a daily, annual or other type obligation. Many other questions also emerge such as: why the statement regarding Sinai, unlike the others, is phrased in the negative – to not forget our congregation at Sinai (framed as a negative Biblical command by Nachmanides, Addendum to Maimonides Negative Commandments, 2). One interested in continuing this study may find Encyclopediat Talmudit 12:198-226 a good place to start.
Bottom line, though, it is important to recognize that remembering past events in our history is important to us. We are not to remember just the good but also past failings so that we can thereby learn from them. We are still also to remember the good for thereby we can appreciate what God has done for us. The present is the result of the past and remembering is of great significance to us for we are never to break this chain that connects us with the Jewish nation of every epoch in history.
Thank you for your thoughtful and interesting question. Before we understand why the six remembrances are said, let us clarify exactly what they are. The six remembrances are six different times in the Torah when the charge of remembering is put upon the Israelites. They are as follows:
Remembering the Exodus from Egypt (Deut. 16:3)
Remembering receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai (Deut. 4:9-10)
Remembering Amalek and Amalek’s attack on the innocent (Deut. 25:17-19)
Remembering the Golden Calf incident (Deut. 9:7)
Remembering Miriam (Deut. 24:9)
Remembering Shabbat (Exodus 20:8)
Notice that with the exception of the command to Remember the Sabbath day (which we find in the giving of the Ten Commandments, the Aseret HaDibrot,) the five other remembrances come from the book of Deuteronomy. This is important because modern scholars believe that the book of Deuteronomy was a late edition to the canonization of the Hebrew Bible (composed in Jerusalem in the 7th Century BCE, during the religious reformations of King Josiah.) Communal apathy, lack of observance, or change in belief was a threat to the theological, ideological, and ritual norms established in the Torah. It is then no surprise that the book of Devarim is filled with commands to remember – to ignite memories within ourselves about all that God has done for us, all that we have done (both positive and negative,) and all that tried to destroy us throughout our history.
The Kabbalists developed a custom to recite these six remembrances at the conclusion of the prayer service. The concept of reading these verses of Torah at the end of Tefillot connects us to our past and allows us to put the hardships of our present into perspective. Still, the recitation of these six remembrances is custom and there is much debate regarding this custom. There is no doubt that these six verses are prominent aspects of the narrative of the Torah. The debate of this custom comes from what role they play theologically, and as a result, liturgically. These events are an important mix of joy and celebration (the apex of celebration being God taking the Israelites out of Egypt) and pain and hardship (exemplified by the attack of Amalek on the innocent Israelite women, children, and elders as we traveled through the desert.) These six remembrances not only ensure that we are connected to our past. They also ensure that we remember the good and the bad, the miracles as well as the events that leave us questioning “why?” Remembering both allows us to connect to our past and make sense of the present.
I think that my colleagues have offered you good answers to your question.
I would only want to add that memory is essential. Without remembering our history we would not be who we are today. It is because of that which came before that we have been formed and shaped to become the person(s) we are now.
The six remembrenaces are key events. We could perhaps argue that we could substitute others for some of these, but that is more about details than about the process of memory shaping us. I would point to the larger questions concerning not what we remember so much as what that remembrance does. These items are very much Jewishly formative; what remembrances are formative for other religions and cultures? Can we be formed from remembrances coming from multiple sources? What does that do to the formative process?
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