In Parshat Eikev, we see Moshe Rabbeinu tell Bnai Yisrael numerous times to זכר...ולא תשכח, “Remember…do not forget.” Even when enemies surround us and we say, “How can we conquer them?” we are reminded not to forget. What is it that we are not supposed to forget?
During times of great distress, Jews become extremely resilient and refuse to give in. The Pasuk refers to the years of conquering Eretz Yisrael and tells us that Jews will worry about the size and might of the nations they are attempting to overcome. There, Moshe gives a lengthy speech telling Bnai Yisrael not to forget all the miracles Hashem has done in the past and that His support will not wane in the future. We have seen throughout the history of nation after nation that tried to kill or enslave the Jews that although they sometimes conquered us, we never submitted – we remembered the lesson that Hashem had taught us and He was there. Whether it was the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Crusaders, various kings in Europe in the Middle Ages, or the Nazis of the twentieth century, the Jews resisted and outlived them all. We did this not because we are so powerful and numerous; on the contrary, a population expert once said that a fascinating oddity of the Jewish People was that in more than three thousand years their numbers have never been more than twenty million and seldom lower than five million. It is as if Hashem has been keeping our population low to remind us of our dependence on Him and to prevent us from believing it is our own might that saves us. We survived because we remembered that Hashem was there and was on our side, up until today (see also 8:17-18).
We are also told to remember and not forget our dependence and need for Hashem during another time: when we are prosperous. It is easy to remember one’s Judaism during the Holocaust; it is being thrust in one’s face and threatening his life. It is in a prosperous and tolerant society that people run from their Judaism and into the attractive culture around them. It is in this society, too, that we must be on our guard to “remember…and not forget.”