There’s a lot here and I’d like to focus on two moments related to memory. In Exodus 13:19, Moses stops to get Joseph’s bones. It states:
וַיִּקַּ֥ח משֶׁ֛ה אֶת־עַצְמ֥וֹת יוֹסֵ֖ף עִמּ֑וֹ כִּי֩ הַשְׁבֵּ֨עַ הִשְׁבִּ֜יעַ אֶת־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר פָּקֹ֨ד יִפְקֹ֤ד אֱלֹהִים֙ אֶתְכֶ֔ם וְהַֽעֲלִיתֶ֧ם אֶת־עַצְמֹתַ֛י מִזֶּ֖ה אִתְּכֶֽם
Moses took Joseph's bones with him, for he [Joseph] had adjured the sons of Israel, saying, God will surely remember you, and you shall bring up my bones from here with you.
While God remembers the sons of Israel, how does Moses know he’s supposed to transport Joseph’s bones? How has this memory been passed down over 400 years of slavery to stay in Moses’s consciousness?
Later, at the very end of this parshah, after the war with Amalek, it says (Exodus: 17:14)
וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהֹוָ֜ה אֶל־ משֶׁ֗ה כְּתֹ֨ב זֹ֤את זִכָּרוֹן֙ בַּסֵּ֔פֶר וְשִׂ֖ים בְּאָזְנֵ֣י יְהוֹשֻׁ֑עַ כִּֽי־מָחֹ֤ה אֶמְחֶה֙ אֶת־זֵ֣כֶר עֲמָלֵ֔ק מִתַּ֖חַת הַשָּׁמָֽיִם:
The Lord said to Moses, Inscribe this [as] a memorial in the book, and recite it into Joshua's ears, that I will surely obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens
This is the first part of the bookend about memory and Amalek that we get. The second part is given on Shabbat Zachor:
In Deuteuronomy 25:19
וְהָיָ֡ה בְּהָנִ֣יחַ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֣יךָ | לְ֠ךָ֠ מִכָּל־אֹ֨יְבֶ֜יךָ מִסָּבִ֗יב בָּאָ֨רֶץ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יְהֹוָה־אֱלֹהֶ֠יךָ נֹתֵ֨ן לְךָ֤ נַֽחֲלָה֙ לְרִשְׁתָּ֔הּ תִּמְחֶה֙ אֶת־זֵ֣כֶר * (זֶ֣כֶר) עֲמָלֵ֔ק מִתַּ֖חַת הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם לֹ֖א תִּשְׁכָּֽח:
[Therefore,] it will be, when the Lord your God grants you respite from all your enemies around [you] in the land which the Lord, your God, gives to you as an inheritance to possess, that you shall obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens. You shall not forget!
Even with the many events and miracles that take place in the parshah, memory is a constant theme. Rabbi David Silber teaches that the sin of the Egyptians is “forgetting.” We begin Exodus when a new king arises in Egypt who doesn’t know Joseph. They haven’t passed on the memory of how Joseph saved Egypt through the famine and how through his governance Egypt became more rich and more powerful.
I would argue that when Pharoah’s heart is hardened, this equates to short-term memory loss. Each time Pharoah experiences the plagues he relents and decides to let the Israelites go. However, each time, as soon as relief is given, it’s as if, in Pharoah’s mind and memory, the plague didn’t occur. He lacks the ability to learn from the past.
In contrast, the Israelites also seem to experience memory loss. Time and time again, God performs miracles for them, freeing them from slavery, splitting the sea, giving them sustenance, and yet every time something goes wrong, they seem to forget how God has provided for them.
Pharoah’s memory loss is motivated by greed and want for power. The Israelites memory loss stems from the traumatic experience of enslavement.
Also in Parshah Beshalach, the Israelites receive Manna, God’s way of introducing them to Shabbat and to a day of rest wherein they don’t gather.
We light two Shabbat candles, representing Shamor v’Zachor – observance and memory. Parasha Beshalach teaches that these two concepts are connected. Without the ability to remember and to metabolize those memories one cannot truly observe. If we fail to honor and integrate the past, we become like Pharoah whose heart is hardened. However, when past memories and experiences are so traumatic that it prevents us from living in the present, that too becomes an obstacle to observance.
May all of us be blessed with the ability to remember – to learn from our past, while living fully in the present.