We find in the Torah two sections which discuss a prohibition against “forgetting” (e.g., to dismiss from one’s mind, lose consciousness of, or lose sight of) one’s belief in Hashem. One passage is in Parshas Va’eschanan, and one in this week’s parsha, Eikev.
In Va’eschanan it states (Devarim 6:10-12), “And it shall be when Hashem your G-d brings you into the Land… large and bountiful cities which you have not built… houses filled with all good things which you did not fill, hewn cisterns which you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant… Beware lest you forget Hashem who has taken you out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.”
And in Eikev (Devarim 8:11-18): “Take care lest you forget Hashem your G-d by not observing His commandments… lest you eat and be satiated, and build houses full of good things and settle in them… And your cattle and flock will multiply, your silver and gold will increase and everything you have shall increase… And you will become arrogant, and forget Hashem your G-d who took you out of the Land of Egypt… Who leads you through the great, awesome desert, where there are snakes, serpents and scorpions, and thirst, from lack of water… Who brings forth for you water from a rock… Who feeds you mahn in the desert… In case you may say, ‘It is my strength and the might of my hand which have made me all this wealth’… You shall remember Hashem your G-d who has given you the strength to make this wealth, in order to establish the covenant…”
Ramban writes in Sefer Hamitzvos (in his listing of negative commandments which the Rambam omitted): First and foremost, that we not forget (lose sight of) belief in Hashem. (Ramban then proceeds to cite the mitzvas assei of emunah, as we detailed and elaborated in previous weeks, and says that this would be the “flip side” of that commandment, expressed as a negative). Ramban cites the possuk in Va’eschanan as his source, and explains that the posuk cites Yetzias Mitzrayim as its basis, for that contains everything — that Hashem created all, controls all, and determines all. The Ramban says that this mitzvah is repeated in Eikev, and points out that this possuk adds the “overlooking” of Hashem through violation of Torah and mitzvos. The possuk then refers to arrogance on the part of the forgetter (ibid 8:14), whereupon the Torah points out the great and wondrous miracles that Hashem wrought in the desert, and that that should serve as a “reminder” that all the good you are accomplishing is only more of that good which Hashem is bestowing, NOT your strength and might.
The Ramban insists that besides the positive commandment of emunah, we are commanded not to allow ourselves to lose sight of Hashem’s reality through those things which usually do just that. And the Ramban also makes note of the “repetition” of this prohibition, and that the second time it makes note of the violation of Torah and mitzvos.
But why the repetition? And why does the resultant violation of mitzvos appear only the second time? Why does the first piece speak only of Yetzias Mitzrayim, and the second one speaks of all the miracles Hashem performed in the wilderness? Why does the first speak of Hashem, while the second one speaks of Hashem your G-d?
There is a major difference in the scenarios. Parshas Vaeschanan talks of the Jewish people entering Eretz Yisroel and finding cities, houses, cisterns, orchards — and warns that as you eat your fill, do not forget that it was Hashem who arranged it all.
Parshas Eikev speaks of a time after Eretz Yisroel is captured, life goes on, people live, do, accomplish — and the possuk speaks of the arrogance of those people taking credit for those accomplishments.
Va’eschanan speaks of a Jew who finds everything he might have wanted ready for the taking, without any toil on his part. He didn’t work for it, didn’t bother with it, didn’t even daven for it! “Forgetting Hashem” would be simply to lose sight of the obvious, just ignoring what stares him in the face. Being oblivious. After all, when one lacks nothing, is missing nothing, he needs not a theological “shittah”— he simply forgets, or ignores, for he has nothing to remember.
Such a person might even be fulfilling mitzvos — but without heart, without soul, without G-d in his life. He is not serving Hashem, for he is not thinking of Him at all! (Perhaps that is why immediately following the possuk in Va’eschanan warning against this, the possuk states (ibid, 6:13), “Hashem your G-d you shall fear, and you shall serve Him” — i.e., do not perform the mitzvos by rote; rather, do them as a servant doing his master’s bidding.)
The “forgetting” of Parshas Va’eschanan is not a forgetting of Hashem your G-d, with your G-d signifying how Hashem is determining the details of your life (hashgachah). Rather, it suffices to say “lest you forget Hashem,” for this person is oblivious, does not recognize the need for Hashem at all, does not think of Hashem as he goes about his life, and simply needs to “remember Hashem”— and indeed, for such a person, it suffices to talk about “Who has taken you out of Egypt.” We need “only” a reminder of Hashem’s existence, as manifested at Yetzias Mitzrayim.
In Eikev, however, we have a tougher nut to crack. This is a person who has worked, sweated, toiled, and successfully built a career, a business, a practice. This person egotistically says, “It is my strength and the might of my hand which have made me all this wealth.” This is ignoring, dismissing “Hashem your G-d,” a denial that it is Hashem running his life, determining success and failure; such a person will quickly shed his shemirah of Torah and mitzvos once they prove burdensome, for he denies Hashem’s involvement in this world; he is actively denying Hashem’s engagement and direct responsibility. This person must be exhorted to recall all the miracles Hashem has wrought for our forefathers throughout 40 years of traveling through a vast and forbidding wilderness, including mahn, water, their every need; day after day for forty years Hashem carried them, cared for them, watched out for them. Surely this is a history lesson which reminds a person rather quickly just Who ordains failure or success.
Next week, we will im yirtzeh Hashem examine why all this is not as simple as it sounds.