Jonas’s assignment as Receiver of Memory is rare because there is only one Receiver at a time and few have the ability.
Jonas is selected as Receiver of Memory when he turns twelve. This is a very special assignment. There is only one Receiver of Memory at a time, because the Receiver holds all of the community’s memories. With these memories, the Receiver is able to advise the community on important issues.
Sometimes, if it was a very important rule … it would have to go, eventually, to The Receiver for a decision. The Receiver was the most important Elder. Jonas had never even seen him, that he knew of; someone in a position of such importance lived and worked alone. (Ch. 2)
Because the community’s memories are stored in one person, the other community members do not need to know anything about the past. The memories, which go “back and back,” are designed to store information that the community can use. For example, if the community wants to decide whether to expand the population, a committee of elders would ask the Receiver for advice.
When the community asks The Giver, who was the Receiver of Memory before Jonas, what would happen if the population was expanded, he goes back in the memories to find out what happened the last time there were too many people.
"And the strongest memory that came was hunger. It came from many generations back. Centuries back. The population had gotten so big that hunger was everywhere. Excruciating hunger and starvation. It was followed by warfare." (Ch. 14)
The Giver told the community elders that expanding the population was not a good idea. He did not want the community to be faced with overpopulation, hunger, and war. These were all concepts currently nonexistent in the community as a result of heavy regulation and Sameness.
The assignment of Receiver of Memory is rare because few citizens in the community have the Capacity to See Beyond that allows them to access the memories. Jonas has this ability, and his community is aware of that because they watched him carefully. A new Receiver is only trained when the current one becomes old enough to need to pass on the torch and a child is identified.