Israeli Values Religious Voices

Letter 70 - Rev. Dr. Oliver Hersey

To the State of Israel and all its inhabitants,

The value I would like to humbly draw attention to is the value of remembering

I believe that families, communities, friendships, and societies thrive more when they choose to actively remember the past by celebrating the good and mourning the loss. Life, regardless of who we are, where we come from, or what we believe is a tapestry of these good and not so good memories. Such memories give shape to who we become and only continue to exist if we choose to remember them, learn from them, and share them with the next generation.

The act of pouring over memories turn them into opportunities to bring people closer together. Perhaps this is most evident in the fantastic collision of Pesach, Easter, and Ramadan this past month. Each people remember and rehash the epic work of God, here in the Holy Land we all call home.  

What do we know about remembering? The word remember in Hebrew is “zachor” - it occurs 225 times in the Hebrew Bible. The first occurrence is in Bereshit (Genesis), when God remembers Noah and his family in the times of the flood. God’s remembering results in his actions to deliver Noah. Perhaps, there is something about remembering that is intimately connected to actions of deliverance, justice, peace, and love. 

We remember our marriage covenants by actively showing love to our partners. We remember our peace treaties by actively working to keep peace. Perhaps true remembering is only evidenced in action, while non-action forms the first seeds of forgetfulness.

The command to remember is found throughout the Torah. We see this important value on display when Moses recounts, for a a second time, for the Israelites at Mount Nebo the instructions for entering the Promised Land. Why does Moses give the instructions to the Israelites again, after already having given them once at Mount Sinai? He must, because he understands that we are prone to forget. Commenting on this very fact, the Baal Shem Tov notes: “forgetfulness leads to exile while remembrance is the secret to redemption”. We too easily forget where we have come from and the blessing we are called to be. This is why we must make time to remember. 

We forgot the instructions in the Garden of Eden when we ate from the forbidden tree, and we will undoubtedly forget God’s instructions again. Knowing such to be true, Moses teaches: “And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness…” (Deuteronomy 8:2). 

Both the Torah and the Gospel of Matthew teach that we remember sacred things when we care for the strangers and foreigners in our lands.

My humble plea is that we work together to remember our pasts and actively move forward to seek reconciliation, justice, kindness, and love in the name of God. This is what he exudes, and we are called to be in his likeness. While we are still east of Eden, let’s take a moment to remember that the road back has already been laid out for us by the good God.

In blessing,

Rev. Dr. Oliver Hersey

Rev. Dr. Oliver Hersey is the president of Jerusalem University College in Israel. He holds a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible and an M.A. in Biblical Archaeology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity Seminary. Prior to the appointment at JUC, Oliver served as a Pastor at Calvary Church in Orland Park, IL. Oliver also hosts the Transforming Discipleship podcast for Christianity Today and The Biblical World Podcast for OnScript. Oliver and his wife Andra, and their two children, Henry and Penelope, live in Jerusalem.

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