Why did the Rambam list these as two distinct commandments:

P189- Remember what Amalek did to the Israelites. [Deut. 25:17]

N59- Don't forget what Amalek did to the Israelites. [Deut. 25:19]

Aren't they the same? I suppose one could argue that the first could mean: "Remember every now and then, but not necessarily all the time". But the second -- never to forget -- applies all the time. So why not eliminate the first and keep only the second? What would be lost if we did that?

(I realize that Rambam's list is his own and doesn't fully match other lists. Does any of the other lists consider these two as a single mitzvah?)

3 Answers 3


An Amalekite facilitated the assisted suicide of King Saul according to 2 Sam 1:4-10.

According to tradition, that Amalekite was Edab, who was conceived just prior to the execution of his father, King Agag. As Bible students will recall, the prophet Samuel executed King Agag according to 1 Sam 15:7-9.

In other words, King Saul had correctly remembered "what Amalek did to the Israelites" when he destroyed the Amalekites and their possessions. However, he FORGOT what Amalek did to the Israelites because he spared the life of King Agag and preserved much animal booty in contradiction to the mandate given by God through the prophet Samuel. (Generally speaking, Saul "remembered” the positive commands, but specifically he "forgot" the negative command.) King Agag's soon-to-be-conceived son was to be the very Amalekite who administered the coup de grace to King Saul at his assisted suicide.

According to the Book of Biblical Antiquities 65:1-5 by Pseudo-Philo, we read the following -

  1. And the Philistines fought against Israel. And Saul went out to battle. And Israel fled before the Philistines: and when Saul saw that the battle waxed hard exceedingly, he said in his heart: Wherefore strengthenest thou thyself to live, seeing, Samuel hath proclaimed death unto thee and to thy sons?
  2. And Saul said to him that bare his armour: Take thy sword and slay me before the Philistines come and abuse me. And he that bare his armour would not lay hands upon him.
  3. And he himself bowed upon his sword, and he could not die. And he looked behind him and saw a man running and called unto him and said: Take my sword and slay me. For my life is yet in me.
  4. And he came to slay him. And Saul said unto him: Before thou kill me, tell me, who art thou? And he said unto him: I am Edab, the son of Agag king of the Amalechites. And Saul said: Behold, now the words of Samuel are come upon me even as he said: He that shall be born of Agag shall be an offence unto thee. (emphasis added)
  5. But go thou and say unto David: I have slain thine enemy. And thou shalt say unto him: Thus saith Saul: Be not mindful of my hatred, neither of mine unrighteousness. . . .

Earlier in the narrative in Book of Biblical Antiquities 58:3-4 we read the following -

And God said unto Samuel: Hast thou seen how the king is corrupted with money even in a moment, and hath saved alive Agag king of Amalech and his wife? Now therefore suffer Agag and his wife to come together this night, and to-morrow thou shalt slay him; but his wife they shall preserve till she bring forth a male child, and then she also shall die, and he that is born of her shall be an offence unto Saul. But thou, arise on the morrow and slay Agag: for the sin of Saul is written before my face alway. (emphasis added)

In summary, the narrative in the preceding paragraphs may explain why Rambam had listed the distinct commandments as follows:

  1. Destroy the remnant of Amalek (Positive #189)
  2. Remember what Amalek did (Positive #188)
  3. Don't forget what he did (Negative #59)
  • How old was Edab at the time if he was conceived during Saul's reign?
    – Double AA
    Feb 4, 2020 at 15:36
  • @DoubleAA - Edab was between 15-20 years of age. Remember, Samuel had anointed David as an adolescent or young teenager shortly after King Agag was killed. If David assumed the throne as king when he was thirty-years-old (II Sam 5:4) then at least 15 years had transpired. My guess is that Edab was between 15-20 years of age when he reportedly struck down King Saul.
    – Joseph
    Feb 5, 2020 at 0:06

Note that there are three mitzvos according to the Rambam that have to do with Amalek.

  1. Destroy the remnant of Amalek (Positive #189)
  2. Remember what Amalek did (Positive #188)
  3. Don't forget what he did (Negative #59)

The Ramban agrees. The Semag also counts these three (Asin 115, 116, Lavin 226).

Rav Yerucham Fishel Perlow points out that Rav Saadiah Gaon only explicitly counted #1. You're asking why there's a need for both #2 and #3, but Rav Saadiah Gaon left both of those out. He also points out that the Bahag also only counted #1. He explains that the Bahag and the others who followed him understood that remembering what Amalek did and not forgetting are all included in the mitzvah to eradicate the remnant of Amalek. He writes:

דענין הזכירה הוא לזכור החובה למחות זרעו וכל אשר לו. וכן הוא בפסיקתא רבתי (פי"ב) הוו זכורים לו למחות את שמו מן העולם. זכור את אשר עשה לך עמלק תמחה את זכר עמלק עיי"ש.

The point of remembering is to remember the obligation to wipe out his descendants and all that is his. This is also in Pesikta Rabbasi (Chapter 12): "Remember him to wipe out his name from the world. Remember what Amalek did to you; wipe out the memory of Amalek".

It's one thing to include remembering in the mitzvah or eradicating, but why leave out the negative mitzvah against forgetting? To answer this, Rav Perlow brings the opinion of Ibn Ezra (Yesod Morah Sha'ar Sheni), who asks like you, that there's no reason to count both remembering and not forgetting. The not forgetting is just a way to strengthen the obligation to remember. He writes similarly in his commentary to that verse.

Rav Perlow explains that it must be that the Rambam, Ramban, etc. disagree. He brings the Ramban's opinion (Kiddushin 34a) that the positive mitzvah of building a fence on one's roof is the primary mitzvah, and the negative mitzvah of avoiding spilled blood on your property is secondary. Nevertheless, it's explicit in Sifrei Devarim (229) that they're two mitzvos, even though the negative mitzvah merely strengthens the positive one.

So it seems to be a dispute when the negative mitzvah is merely to strengthen the positive mitzvah, if they're both to be counted. You understand like the Ibn Ezra, whereas the Rambam et. al. see it differently. We see many other examples of this, one of which is the building of a fence on one's roof, as mentioned above.

As an aside, Rav Perlow, for unrelated reasons, wants to suggest that Rav Saadiah Gaon also counts a separate mitzvah to remember what Amalek did, and includes it in the mitzvah to read the megillah on Purim. Again, for unrelated reasons, Rav Saadiah Gaon doesn't count the negative mitzvah against forgetting (Rav Saadiah Gaon almost always only counts one mitzvah when there is a positive and negative version, and picks the one that's more inclusive). This would make him similar to Ibn Ezra, albeit for slightly reasons.


The answer is in the Sifre Parashat Bechukotay. I will quote it from the Sefer Hachinuch Mitsva 603, who follows the Rambam count of Mitsvot (Asim 189, Lavim 59).

מדיני המצוה. מה שאמרו זכרונם לברכה (מגילה יח, א) שחיוב זכירה זו היא בלב ובפה (עי' מצוה של), וכן הוא בספרי (ריש פ' בחוקותי), זכור את אשר עשה וגו' יכול בלבבך? כשהוא אומר לא תשכח הרי שכחת הלב אמורה, הא מה אני מקים זכור? שתהא שונה בפיך, עד כאן בספרי. כדי שלא ישכח הדבר, פן תחלש איבתו ותחסר מהלבבות באורך הזמנים

The redundancy of "remember" and "don't forget" leads the Sifre to conclude that to remember is "by mouth", since "don't forget" regards the heath, the memory.

  1. To not forget is in the hearth.

  2. to remember it by speaching. The periodicity of the remembering is not specified. Some customs are linked to this mitsva as the reading of Parashat Zachor Shabbat before Purim.

The Minchat Chinuch writes.

והנה אם שכח עובר בעשה ובל"ת רק זכר בלב ולא בפה אינו עובר על הלאו רק לא קיים העשה ואם זכר לא עבר ומקיים מ"ע גם כן ופשוט

  1. If he forgets, he cancels the Lav and the Ase.

  2. If he remembers, by memory and doesn't speak, he cancels the Ase.

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