Imagine a room filled with 20-somethings split into two groups. On the count of three, one group is asked to say “Shamor” (to keep) as the other group says “Zachor” (remember). When said simultaneously, it is difficult to hear a distinction between the two.
When G-d’s voice uttered the Fourth of the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people, these two words were said concurrently. They were referring to the Jewish Sabbath. In Exodus, G-d states: “Zachor et yom ha’Shabbat l’kadsho” (Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy). Later, in Deuteronomy, the words are “Shamor et yom ha’Shabbat l’kadsho…” (Observe the Sabbath to keep it holy…)
As with all words, punctuation, and symbols in the Torah, nothing is done without reason. The use of these two words are of the utmost importance. Each word holds deep significance on its own, but it is together that G-d wants us to clutch them. The act of safeguarding (to keep) involves preservation, upholding, and protecting.
Many of the interpretations from our Sages tell us that Shamor refers to refraining from specific actions and Zachor refers to performing certain actions throughout Shabbat. When I think of preserving something or safeguarding it, I imagine a time when Jews were not permitted to openly or easily honor Shabbat. In my mind, upholding Shabbat is an expression of honor to a tradition that has lasted through moments no one thought it would. Shamor, then, takes us beyond mere acknowledgment.
Whether we are Shomer Shabbos (fully observing the commandments related to Shabbat) or staying at home on Friday nights for a family dinner, an element of maintenance exists. In Psalms (62:12), it is written “G-d has spoken once, two of which I heard” (Psalms 62:12) in reference to the Fourth Commandment. When one hears two different utterances from G-d, one might assume that there exists multiple meanings within His words. Subsequently, in the midst of the Torah’s words, there is room for interpretation and personal application.
If one takes the definition of Zachor (remember) literally, then we are being asked to “keep in mind” or “commit to memory” the Sabbath day. We cannot possibly assimilate so deeply that we forget the Shabbat. Just as Jews everywhere are working very hard to ensure that the Holocaust is not forgotten – especially as our last generation of survivors is growing older – we also must ensure that Shabbat is remembered by the Jewish people.
The sacredness of Judaism lies between the words of “to keep” and “to remember”. Yisrael (Israel) means struggle with G-d. The Jewish people are meant to strain and struggle with their belief and their relationship with G-d. Even when we are consumed with disbelief or confusion, we are supposed to “act”. We reach a pinnacle when our sense of the Holy is combined with our actions. To recognize that you are Jewish is not enough and to do as a Jew without knowing what you believe is also not enough. Our task is to perform as a Jew with a hint of the sacred spark in each of our actions.
I invite you to contemplate the words “Shamor V’Zachor” (to keep & remember) and think about how they apply to your expression of Judaism. Are you more balanced in one arena over the other? What can you do to come more toward the middle?
G-d commanded us to “keep and remember”. In one voice, we heard these two different utterances. At the base of Mount Sinai, where we all stood, we agreed to the decrees G-d laid before us. If nothing else, it is our obligation to future generations that demands we “keep and remember” the Sabbath, our heritage and the Jewish faith.