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The remedy for forgetfulness

Updated: Feb 29

Forgetfulness is something everyone suffers from, to one degree or another. Our human brains retain tremendous amounts of information regularly, but sometimes bits and pieces of the knowledge we acquire end up in the recesses of our minds, leading us to forget about them altogether.

Dredging up memories sometimes requires intense efforts at recollection, and sometimes all it takes is something minor to trigger a forgotten bit of information. It can be as simple as a tangential thought leading to an association that will suddenly remind us of something. The information is right beneath the surface, and all it can take is a basic shake up for the information to come to fore.

An old-school tactic to avoid forgetting something, such as an important item on a grocery list or your wedding anniversary, is to tie a knot around your finger. Seeing the knot will remind you that there is something important you need to keep in mind, and hopefully that will lead to behavior in kind.

Interestingly, this idea of tying a knot has biblical roots. We find this in the infamous incident of the Golden Calf. Moses had ascended the mountain for 40 days, and when he didn’t return on what the people mistakenly calculated as the 40th day, they assumed that he had died. Certain rabble rousers incited the others to create a replacement for their leader. They formed a calf-like figure out of gold and began worshiping it. Upon his return, Moses broke the tablets given to him by G-d, and immediately returned to the mountain to pray for forgiveness for the people.

In the process of obtaining atonement and forgiveness for the Jews, Moses learned the “thirteen attributes of mercy,” which G-d taught him while wearing the proverbial tallit and tefillin. Specifically, G-d appeared to Moses as if to be wearing a tallit wrapped over His head, and when Moses asked for a greater revelation, G-d revealed to him the back of His tefillin — i.e. the knot.

The symbolism behind this fascinating exchange between G-d and Moses stems from the reason someone would sin the first place. Since Jews contain a G-dly soul, it can be perplexing to an outsider how someone so closely connected to the divine can come to transgress the word of G-d. But the reason we sin is because we forget who we are; we forget about the divine soul within us and we forget that we are essentially one with G-d. If we were to always remember that, we would certainly never sin.

But sinning is human, because forgetfulness is human. We are expected to stumble here and there and to forget who we are. G-d therefore tells Moses that just as forgetfulness is natural, so is its remedy. By reminding the Jews of their essence, they will be propelled to enhance and grow their connection with G-d.

This was accomplished by the tallit and tefillin, both of which the Torah refer to as mechanisms  for us to remember G-d and His commandments. But specifically, it was the knot of the tefillin that drove this point home.

Knots are often used to repair a rope that has come apart, binding the two ends back together. After properly applying a knot, the rope will then be stronger than it ever was, before it tore. The knot provides strength and stability that rope on its own may have been lacking. Sometimes a knot is even placed in the middle of a rope for reinforcement — before it rips. Because a rope with a knot is stronger than a rope without one.

Our relationship with G-d is often compared to a large, thick rope connecting us to Him. The rope comprises many smaller threads, referring to the many commandments in the Torah. Through us observing the commandments, we maintain this connection, but when we sin, G-d forbid, the individual threads start to fray, placing the entire rope in peril. The solution to this is to tie a knot, and with the knot our relationship will become stronger than before.

Just as a knot binds together a frayed rope, so too does the act of remembering strengthen our spiritual bond. As we navigate the complexities of life, may we always remember to tie the knots that reinforce our connection to the divine, ensuring that even in moments of lapse, our spiritual rope remains steadfast and strong.

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