Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: Parashat Mikeitz

‘Thank God for forgetfulness’

The ‘Shesh Zechirot’ are the 6 commandments of the Torah, which call upon us to recall key biblical events of the past. Zechirah, ‘remembrance’, is very central to us. It is in the very same spirit that we have Mitzvot which are Zecher Lema’aseh Bereishit, ‘to remember the creation of the earth’, and of course, Zecher Letziat Mitzrayim, ‘to remember our exodus from Egypt’.

Zechirah, Yizkor, that is so central to us – memories of the past. But you know sometimes, forgetfulness can also be a good thing. We learn it from this week’s Parasha of Mikeitz. Yosef and Osnat are blessed with their very first child. Yosef calls him Menashe, which comes from a root which means ‘to forget’. Yosef’s rationale, Ki Nashani Elokim Et Kol Amali Ve’et Kol Beit Avi, ‘it is because God has caused me to forget all of my toil and to forget my father’s house’.

Surely this is an astonishing statement: Yosef, of all people, knew how important it was for him to preserve everything that he had learnt in his father’s house, to be proud of his traditions and yet, here he is thanking God who has enabled him to forget it all?

Once, in a social context, I bumped into a man whom I knew had experienced a very painful bereavement and I said to him, “How are you doing? How are things going?” And his reply was “Thank God for forgetfulness!”

Of course, he had fond memories of the person who had passed away. Of course, he wanted to retain that person’s precious legacy, but at the same time, he wanted to move on in life.

I recall reading many years ago that the person at that time who held the world record for the number of decimal points of ‘pi’ that he was able to remember – more than 30,000 – that very talented man, that brilliant individual had a very troubled life and that’s because he remembered just about everything. So, he couldn’t forget the challenging parts of his life, the traumas he had endured, the tragedies he had experienced.

That is exactly the point that Yosef made when he called Menashe by that name. Yosef had grown up in a very troubled home, he was hated by his brothers to the extent that they even engaged in attempted fratricide. How was he going to put that behind him?

Now that he was in Egypt, now that he was blessed with his first son, now that he had a family at a time when he was leading Egyptian society, he said thank God that I could have forgotten all the pain that I endured in my father’s house.

From Yosef we learn, how important it is always to remember the past, to cherish those experiences, personally and nationally, and to use them for the sake of the betterment of our future.

At the same time, sometimes like Yosef, we can declare, ‘Thank God for forgetfulness’.

Shabbat Shalom

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