There are a number of significant historical events that the Torah tells us to remember every day.1 Some traditions list only four remembrances and others count as many as ten (more on that below), but the prevalent custom is to recite six remembrances after the morning prayers. The first to formulate the text of the six remembrances, as found in many different prayerbooks, was Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi in his Siddur, based on the Midrash and works of the Arizal.2
In this article:
- 1. Our Exodus From Egypt
- 2. The Revelation at Sinai
- 3. Amalek’s Attack on Israel
- 4. The Golden Calf and Rebelling in the Desert
- 5. Miriam’s Negative Speech and Punishment
- 6. The Sabbath
- Does One Need to Verbalize Them?
- 4, 6, 8 or 10 Remembrances?
1. Our Exodus From Egypt
“. . .So that you shall remember the day when you went out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life.” (Deuteronomy 16:3)
The mitzvah is to remember that we were enslaved in Egypt and G‑d took us out. (This is unlike the mitzvah to retell the story of the Exodus on Passover, which includes describing in detail the miracles that took place.)3
2. The Revelation at Sinai
“But beware and watch yourself very well, lest you forget the things that your eyes saw, and lest these things depart from your heart, all the days of your life, and you shall make them known to your children and to your children’s children—the day you stood before the L‑rd your G‑d at Horeb.” (Deuteronomy 4:9–10)
The Torah was given with great fanfare, thunder and lightning, as we beheld G‑d’s glory. The drama ensured that we would remember that it was from G‑d Himself that we received the Torah. Thus, the idea behind this mitzvah is to always remember that we received and witnessed the Giving of the Torah, not through a prophet, but from G‑d himself.4
Read: What Happened at Sinai?
3. Amalek’s Attack on Israel
“You shall remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you went out of Egypt, how he happened upon you on the way and cut off all the stragglers at your rear, when you were faint and weary, and did not fear G‑d. [Therefore,] it will be, when the L‑rd your G‑d grants you respite from all your enemies around [you] in the land which the L‑rd, your G‑d, gives to you as an inheritance to possess, that you shall obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens. You shall not forget!” (Deuteronomy 25:17–19)
The Amalekites were unique in that they were the first to attack the fledgling Jewish nation, despite all the miracles that were performed for the Jews during the Exodus. Thus, not only did they make war with the Jewish people, they showed that they didn’t fear G‑d, setting a precedent for those who would attack in the future. In recalling what they did, we remember that their severe punishment is due to their extreme offense against the Jewish people and G‑d.5
Others explain that the main point of this daily remembrance is not so much the actual attack but the spiritual reason behind the attack: the Jews’ disunity and their laxity in observing the mitzvahs.6
Read: Who Was Amalek?
4. The Golden Calf and Rebelling in the Desert
“Remember, do not forget, how you angered the L‑rd, your G‑d, in the desert; from the day that you went out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebelling against the L‑rd.” (Deuteronomy 9:7)
We remember how we angered G‑d in the desert through constantly rebelling against Him, and how shortly after the giving of the Torah, we made a Golden Calf. We also remember G‑d’s great kindness—despite all we did, He remembered the covenant He made with our forefathers and ultimately spared us.7
5. Miriam’s Negative Speech and Punishment
“Remember what the L‑rd, your G‑d, did to Miriam on the way, when you went out of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 24:9)
With this remembrance, we remind ourselves how careful we must be to refrain from negative speech and lashon hara. If even Miriam, who was a prophetess and sister of Moses, and meant no harm, was nevertheless afflicted for speaking negatively about her brother, how much more so do we need to be careful regarding what we say about others.8
Read: Who Was Miriam?
6. The Sabbath
“Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it.”(Exodus 20:8)
The Shabbat is a testament to the fact that G‑d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Thus, by constantly remembering it, we recall that the world was created by G‑d.9
Read: What Is Shabbat?
Does One Need to Verbalize Them?
According to many opinions, one can technically fulfill this commandment just by thinking about these remembrances. In fact, in his Shulchan Aruch,10 Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi outlines how one should keep in mind each of these remembrances while reciting various parts of the blessing of Ahavat Olam (Rabbah), said before Shema.11
Nevertheless, Rabbi Schneur Zalman chose to place them in the prayerbook so that we can verbally recount these six events as well. Some explain that this was because many would find it difficult or forget to have these remembrances in mind while reciting the blessing before Shema. After all, many find it difficult to have the simple meaning of the prayers in mind, never mind the deeper meaning of the blessings.12
Others entertain the possibility that he formulated the text in deference to the opinion that one needs to actually verbalize these remembrances. However, it seems that Rabbi Schneur Zalman is of the opinion that the remembrances technically need not be verbalized.13
4, 6, 8 or 10 Remembrances?
Although the more prevalent custom is to recite six remembrances, as mentioned, there are some who list as little as four or as many as ten.
Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, known as the Arizal, lists four: (1) going out of Egypt; (2) the Giving of the Torah; (3) Amalek; and (4) the incident with Miriam.14
Rabbi Avraham Gombiner (c. 1635–1682), known as the Magen Avraham, in his commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, quoted the above-mentioned four from the Arizal and also quoted in his name the remembrance of Shabbat, as well as the idea from the Midrash15 that one should remember the sin of the Golden Calf.16 This brings the number of remembrances to the above-mentioned six.
Others17 add an additional two: (1) the manna that G‑d sustained us with in the desert; and (2) that G‑d gave us the land of Israel. And yet others18 add (1) remembering what Bilaam and Balak sought to do to the Jewish people and (2) Jerusalem, as the verse in Psalms states, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither.”19
May we merit the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple speedily in our days!Footnotes
1.See Magen Avraham, Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 60:2; Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 60:4; In truth, the verses themselves state that “we should remember” or “not forget” these incidents, and the rabbis learn that this is done by making a point to remember them every day.
3.See Likkutei Sichot, vol. 21, p. 71; see also Haggadah Shel Pesach im Likutei Taameim, s.v. Mitzvah Aleinu Lesaper, for a list of differences between the everyday mitzvah of remembering the Exodus and that of Passover eve.
4.See Ramban on Sefer Hamitzvot, Shikchat Halavin 2, and his commentary on Deuteronomy 4:9.
5.See Ramban on Sefer Hamitzvot, Shikchat Haasei Mitzvah 7.
6.See Melachet Shlomah on Mishnah, Megillah 3:7, and Sefer Hasichot 5749, vol. 1, p. 342, gloss at end of fn. 3.
7.Ramban on Sefer Hamitzvot, Shikchat Haasei Mitzvah 7.
9.See commentary of Ramban, Exodus 20:8.
10.Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim, 60:4.
11.In the words of the Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 60:4: “When one says U’Vanu vacharta (“and You chose us”), he should recall the Giving of the Torah; VeKeiravtanu (“and You drew us close”) alludes to Mount Sinai; Leshimcha hagadol (“to Your great name”) — this alludes to the attack by Amalek, for the Divine name will not be complete until the seed [of Amalek] is obliterated; LeHodos Lecha (“to thankfully acknowledge You”) — this alludes to the incident involving Miriam, for the mouth was created to give thanks [to G‑d] and not to gossip. The phrase U’zechartem et kol mitzvot A‑donai (“and you shall recall all the commandments of G‑d”) alludes to Shabbat, which is equivalent to all the mitzvahs.
There is an authority who says that one should recall the Golden Calf while saying (LeYachedcha) BeAhavah (“to proclaim Your unity with love”), i.e., in contrast to those who made the Golden Calf at that time who did not [act] with love towards the Holy One, blessed be He.
12.Noheg Katzon Yosef, p. 77; Ketzot haShulchan 19:10, and Badei Hashulchan ad loc.
13.See Badei Hashulchan, ibid.; indeed, it is pointed out that ordinarily one is not allowed to quote and recite partial verses, and yet, in the text, some of the remembrances are only half of a verse. The reason this is permitted in this instance is that the point isn’t really to recite the verse, but to remember the concepts behind the verse (see Igrot Kodesh, vol. 12, p. 3, quoting responsum Maharam Shik, Orach Chaim 124).
14.Pri Eitz Chaim, Shaar Kriat Shema 3; Shaar Hakevanot, p. 119.
15.Yalkut Shimoni, Bechukotai 671.
16.Magen Avraham, Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 60:2.
17.Sefer Chareidim, Mitzvot Asei Hateluyot B’lev 1:23, and Mitzvot Asei Hateluyot B’kaneh 4:51; Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev in Kuntres Sefer Hazechirot (printed in the back of some editions of Kedushat Levi).
18.Rabbi Chaim Yosef Dovid Azulai (the Chida), Avodat Hakodesh, Kaf Achat, 25; Siddur Yaavetz.