Ki Tisa: Remember Forever
Six commandments mandate that a Jew remember certain things. These six things are the Sabbath (Ex. 20:7), the Exodus from Egypt (Deut. 16:3), that Amalek attacked after the Exodus (Deut. 25:17), the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai (Deut. 4:9), how the Jews angered
The most basic definition of zachor is offered by Rabbi Moshe Ibn Ezra (1055-1138), who writes that it means to remember something that one once knew but forgot (while shamor means to “keep in mind” something that one currently knows). But what is the definition of pakad?
The Hebrew word pakad is used in so many different ways that it is quite difficult to pin down its core meaning. In addition to meaning “to remember,” the verb pakad and its cognates also mean “to count” (Num. 1:21, 2:32, I Shmuel 15:4), “to be absent” (Num. 31:49, Isa. 38:10), “to command” (Ps. 19:9, 119:56, Ezra 1:2), “to appoint” (Num. 1:50, 31:14, Esther 2:3, Ps. 109:6), “to punish” (Ex. 20:5, Hos. 2:15), “to bring about death” (Num. 16:29, Jer. 46:21), “to visit” (see Rashi to Nedarim 39b and Kli Yakar to Num. 16:29), and “to deposit” (Lev. 5:23).
The Malbim points to two differences between the sort of “remembering” that zachor denotes and that which pakad denotes. First, Malbim explains that zachor simply refers to “remembering” in one’s mind, i.e., mentally recalling a certain fact or idea, but not doing anything else other than just remembering it. Pakad, on the other hand, denotes “remembering” something in order to take some sort of action — for better or for worse. Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Wertheimer (1866-1935) capsulizes this stance by writing “zechirah is in thought, while pekidah is in action.”
This understanding of pakad accounts for the broad semantic spectrum denoted by that term. In other words, pakad primarily means “remembering” something or someone in order to “attend to it,” “deal with it,” or otherwise “pay attention to it.” The most basic way of paying attention to something is to determine whether it is actually present or not; hence the term pakad means “to count” and “to be absent.” Another way of dealing with somebody or something is to give him or it instructions about what to do (“command” or “appoint”). A third way of dealing with somebody is to give him what he deserves (whether that means to “punish” him, or even, in some cases, to “bring about his death,” or simply to “visit” him). Finally, a way to deal with an item is by “depositing” it in somebody else’s hands to take care of. Thus, the Malbim teaches us that pakad means more than just the mental exercise denoted by zachor. It means “remembering” something in a practical sense that leads to action. (Rabbi Dr. Asher Weiser writes that kapdanut - which means “meticulousness/strictness” — relates to padak by way of metathesis, in the sense that one who is makpid pays attention to something to the utmost degree and is “particular” about all the details.)
Alternatively, Malbim explains that zachor denotes constantly “remembering” something over a long span of time, while pakad simply denotes one fleeting act of “remembering,” whereby one remembers something just enough that he can take certain actions related to that memory. After that, he can forget about it.
The Italian scholar Rabbi Shlomo of Urbino points out in Ohel Moed that the word zecher sometimes refers to the "scent" of something (Lev. 6:8, Hos. 14:8, Ps. 20:4), in the same sense that a “memory” of something is a whiff of that idea, but is not it itself.
Rabbi Saadia ben David Al-Dhamari (a 15th century Yemenite scholar) explains that pakad refers to remembering something after a long time, while zachor refers to remembering something after a shorter amount of time. For example, when
By contrast, when the Bible reports
Now we can address the elephant in the room: the word zachor seems to be related to zachar (“male”), but what is the thematic connection between the two? The interplay between these two words is found in a Talmudic anecdote (Bava Batra 21b) in which King David’s general Yoav explains that he did not kill female Amalekites, because his teacher vowelized the word zecher in the commandment “erase the remembrance (zecher) of Amalek” (Deut. 25:19) as zachar. But, what is the deeper connection between these two words that are spelled exactly the same?
Rabbi Shimon ben Tzemach Duran (1361-1444), also known as Rashbatz or Tashbatz, writes in his commentary to Avot (5:12) that men have better memory (or potential for memory) than women. He buttresses this claim with the insight that the Hebrew words zachar (“male”) and zachor (“remember”) seem related. On the flip side, the Hebrew word for “women” (nashim) is related to the word for “forgetfulness” (see nashani in Gen. 41:51 and teshi in Deut. 32:18).
Indeed, Rabbi Moshe de Leon (1240-1305) — the Kabbalist who first published the Zohar — writes in Sefer HaRimmon that the term zachor is indeed related to the word zachar. In the relationship between a man and woman, man serves as the initiator who provides the nourishing kernel that woman receives and develops into something greater.
With this in mind, Rabbi de Leon accounts for a curious phraseology in the Yaaleh V’Yavo prayer. In that prayer, we ask
As mentioned previously, when
This explanation dovetails nicely with the Kabbalistic terminology used above:
Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchiv (1740-1810) in Kedushas Levi (to Gen. 21:1) explains that pakad alludes to the female element because it implies that the person who is “remembered” already received his or her due. When
Finally, Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (1785-1865) explains that zachar is related to zachor in the sense that one’s male descendants are typically his legacy by which he is “remembered” in This World. This is because daughters generally marry into other families and become part of their husband’s extended household, while sons carry on the name of their father’s family.
Postscript: In case you’ve forgotten, we previously ran an article about different Hebrew words for “forgetting” entitled “Forget About It” (Sept. 2019), and another article about different Hebrew words for “counting” entitled “When Just Counting Doesn’t Count” (May 2017).
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