They remember because God told them to; some prayer books actually list six Biblical instances of the duty to remember. They also remember because the memory won’t let them go. When unfriendly – or even friendly – outsiders tell us to put the Holocaust behind us we are simply unable to shake off the memory.
The Torah readings at this time of year constantly remind us about remembering, telling us to remember and not to forget. To forget is consequently regarded as shameful and disloyal.
And yet there are occasions when forgetfulness is an obligation. Did someone do you a bad turn? Forget it! Being obsessed with other people’s failings (including harping on things they might have done or failed to do many years ago) can only make you bitter and unproductive.
Bachya ibn Pakuda, one of the great Jewish moralists, used to say, “Were it not for the ability to forget, a person would never be free from melancholy.”
Has someone turned over a new leaf? Have they succeeded on overcoming their past sins? The record has been expunged. Forget it; don’t embarrass the person by reminding them of what they used to be. The art is in knowing when to remember and when to forget.