Zachor: A Call to Remember and Learn from History

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks observed a linguistic gap in Hebrew, noting the absence of a direct word for “history.” Instead, the language emphasizes remembering through the term “Zachor.” This imperative to remember is deeply ingrained in Jewish teachings, particularly within the Torah’s commandments. The significance of preserving collective memory becomes evident through a closer exploration of these commandments and their relevance to pivotal moments in global history.

Within the Torah, two commandments are primarily tied to the notion of “Zachor.” The first commandment urges the remembrance of the Sabbath Day with the directive “Zachor et Yom haShabbat” – to remember and sanctify the Sabbath Day. The second commandment, “Zachor et Amalek,” underscores the importance of remembering Amalek. The Torah verses about remembering Amalek are usually recited in synagogues annually on the Shabbat preceding the Purim holiday. You can listen to an auditory rendition of these verses to gain a deeper understanding.

“You shall remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you went out of Egypt, how he happened upon you on the way and cut off all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary, and he did not fear G-d. So it will be, when the Lord your G-d grants you respite from all your enemies around you in the land which the Lord, your G-d, gives to you as an inheritance to possess, that you shall obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the Heavens. You shall not forget!” (Deuteronomy. 25:17-19).

The intricate threads of Jewish history, spanning over five millennia, are woven into the fabric of our sacred texts and beloved holidays. You can explore a captivating journey through recent global history by delving into enlightening documentaries and talks by modern scholars. The profound importance of “remembering the past” becomes unmistakable, emphasizing the crucial role of preserving our collective memory.

Stalin’s Ascent to Power: Unraveling the Machinations of a Dictator

Stephen Kotkin‘s extensive and meticulously researched two-volume exploration of the life of Josef Stalin, enriched by recently released Soviet archives, provides a nuanced and complex understanding of the dictator’s ascent to power. Contrary to the stereotypical narrative of an abusive upbringing, Kotkin reveals that Stalin’s early education in Catholic institutions could have led him to become a Catholic priest. However, Stalin’s captivation with revolutionary Marxist ideology transformed him into an anti-czarist activist, subjecting him to exile and imprisonment before the overthrow of the czarist regime in 1917.

The first volume of Kotkin’s exploration highlights that Stalin’s upbringing was not marked by abuse but rather shaped by his parents’ modest means, which led to his education in Catholic elementary and high schools, believed to be the best in his neighbourhood. Although his path was open to becoming a Catholic priest, he instead became enamoured with revolutionary Marxist ideology and made a career of being an anti-czarist activist. Before the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Stalin was exiled and imprisoned by the Czarist police five times.

Following Lenin’s rise to power, Stalin quickly climbed the political ladder, assuming the role of Secretary-General of the Communist Party. Lenin’s incapacitation provided Stalin with an opportunity to consolidate power ruthlessly, eliminating rivals and consolidating his autocratic rule. Stalin was a workaholic with exceptional people skills and managerial acumen. He employed manipulation, torture, and murder to maintain his hold on power and to ensure his survival. Under the guise of communist ideology, Stalin engineered policies such as collectivization, leading to widespread poverty and starvation known as the Holodomor.

Kotkin’s comprehensive exploration of Stalin’s life and rise to power provides a detailed and nuanced understanding of the complex forces that shaped one of the most brutal dictators in history.

The Nazis’ Ascent: Hitler’s Chilling Path to Totalitarian Rule

The PBS documentary, “Rise of the Nazis,” provides a detailed account of the rise of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany, from the country’s position as a liberal democracy in 1930 to the establishment of Hitler’s autocratic rule just four years later. The documentary highlights the role of Hitler and his collaborators, including Göring and Himmler, in seizing control of all national institutions, leading to the demise of democracy.

The documentary series delves into Hitler’s early attempts to seize power, including the infamous 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, which led to his imprisonment and subsequent writing of “Mein Kampf.” The twisted ideas promoted in his book, which included racial inequality and the supremacy of the Aryan race, laid the foundation for the horrors that unfolded in Nazi Germany.

The series also highlights the courageous efforts of figures like Hans Litten, a German lawyer who exposed Hitler’s violent tendencies in court but eventually suffered imprisonment and torture under the Nazis. The second episode of the documentary focuses on the power struggle between Göring and Himmler, leading to the Night of the Long Knives, where Ernst Röhm and his stormtroopers were systematically murdered. The episode concludes with the lesser-known story of Joseph Hartinger, whose efforts to expose Nazi atrocities were thwarted, providing a sobering glimpse into the morally bankrupt nature of the regime.

The documentary provides a chilling account of the Nazis’ ascent to totalitarian rule in Germany, highlighting the key players, events, and ideologies that paved the way for one of the darkest periods in human history.

China Undercover: Unveiling Oppression and Surveillance

China Undercover” is a thought-provoking documentary by PBS’s FRONTLINE that delves deep into the issue of oppression and surveillance faced by the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang province. The documentary serves as an eye-opener, highlighting the extent of the CCP’s oppression, which includes the use of surveillance camps and invasive surveillance technology to monitor the activities of the minority community.

Facial recognition technology and other invasive measures employed by the CCP are grave concerns that have sparked global outrage. The documentary depicts a dystopian society reminiscent of George Orwell’s “1984.” The systematic oppression faced by the Uyghur minority is an urgent issue that demands immediate attention and action from the global community.

The documentary serves as a wake-up call to the world and emphasizes the need for global awareness and action to address the issue of oppression and surveillance. It is a compelling reminder that privacy is a fundamental human right that must be protected at all costs.

The Call to Remember: Understanding History for a Safer Future

The subject of history, especially its darker parts, is crucial for us to delve into and remember. When we reflect on the lives of infamous leaders such as Hitler and Stalin and the situations that arose under their rule, we are reminded of the importance of moral principles in leadership. It is a stark reminder of the severe outcomes that can result when people or institutions, lacking moral principles and claiming to pursue “social justice,” seize supreme governing authority.

In the Torah, a commandment emphasizes the ongoing duty to work towards eliminating rulers who threaten justice, not out of a desire for vengeance, but to create a safer world for everyone. This commandment, known as “Zachor,” reminds us of our collective responsibility to uphold justice and protect the vulnerable in our global community.

By studying the lives of historical figures like Stalin and Hitler and confronting contemporary issues like the oppression of the Uyghur minority in China, we are reminded of the imperative to remember. The commandment of “Zachor” compels us to recall, learn, and act upon what we have learned. By understanding the lessons of history, we equip ourselves to challenge injustice and safeguard the principles of justice and compassion for a safer and more equitable future. We must preserve the memory of historical events to continue learning from them and working towards a better world.

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