Translated and abridged by Rabbi Chanan Morrison
"Moses told the people: Remember this day that you have left Egypt, the place of slavery." (Ex. 13:3)
The word zachor ('Remember') is not in the imperative tense (z'chor!), but in the infinitive absolute form. This grammatical form indicates that the Torah is not merely commanding us to remember and commemorate the anniversary of the Exodus from Egypt. Rather, zachor implies a state of being. It describes us as a people who always remember this historic date. Why?
Ben-Gurion and the Mayflower
In 1936, the Peel Commission questioned David Ben-Gurion, then head of the Jewish Agency, concerning Jewish rights to the Land of Israel. Ben-Gurion gave the following reply:
'Three hundred years ago, a ship called the Mayflower set sail to the New World. In it were Englishmen unhappy with English society and government, who sought an uninhabited coast to settle and establish a new world. They landed in America, and were among the first pioneers and builders of that land.
'This was a great event in the history of England and America. But I would like to know: Is there a single Englishman who knows the exact date and hour of the Mayflower's launch? How much do American children — or grownups — know about this historic trip? Do they know how many people were in the boat? Their names? What they wore? What they ate? Their path of travel? What happened to them on the way? Where they landed?
'More than 3,300 years before the Mayflower set sail, the Jews left Egypt. Any Jewish child, whether in America or Russia, Yemen or Germany, knows that his forefathers left Egypt at dawn on the 15th of Nisan. What did they wear? Their belts were tied, and their staffs were in their hands. They ate matzot, and arrived at the Red Sea after seven days.
'He knows the path of their journey through the desert and the events of those forty years in the desert. They ate manna and slav birds and drank from Miriam's well. They arrived in Jordan facing Jericho. The child can even quote the family names from the Torah.
'Jews worldwide still eat matzah for seven days from the 15th of Nisan. They retell the story of the Exodus, concluding with the fervent wish, "Next Year in Jerusalem." This is the nature of the Jews.' ('The Jewish Case Before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine' (Jerusalem, 1947), p. 63, 65.)
Ingrained in Their Collective Soul
Rav Kook explained that the people were not commanded to remember the 15th of Nisan. That was unnecessary! Rather, Moses was informing them that this date would be forever etched in their collective conscious. On this day, the Jewish people were forever changed. On this day their souls gained eternal freedom.
"This date will be ingrained in the soul of the Jewish people. That is the secret that Moses revealed to the people. They will succeed in understanding the inner nature of their souls. They will know that this day must be remembered. Therefore, the word Remember is in the infinitive absolute form."
(Adapted from Olat Re'iyah vol. I, p. 37)
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Rabbi Chanan Morrison of Mitzpeh Yericho runs http://ravkookTorah.org, a website dedicated to presenting the Torah commentary of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, first Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael, to the English-speaking community. He is also the author of Gold from the Land of Israel (Urim Publications, 2006).