What We Remember
The Torah emphasizes to us that the day of Rosh Hashanah is a day of
remembrance and of memory. Heaven is able to recall everything and everyone;
human beings, less so. Human memory is selective, arbitrary and many if not
most times faulty and certainly somewhat inaccurate.
People have often told me that they heard me say such and such in a public
lecture and I have no recollection whatsoever of having ever publicly said
such an inane sentence. My memory is often faulty and betrays me when I need
it. But the hearing of my listeners is often also impaired. People tend to
hear whatever they wish to hear even if the speaker never really said those
All of this is part of our human condition, our frailties and our mortal
nature. And it is a great and truly awesome (how I despise that word as it
is used in current society!) experience on Rosh Hashanah to encounter
Heaven’s perfect memory and ability of total recall.
It is not only that all of our actions and words, thoughts and intentions
are remembered and judged, but it is that they are remembered objectively
and truthfully without personal prejudice or bias. That makes Rosh Hashanah
the “Day of Remembrance.” There are human beings that are blessed with great
powers of memory. But even they are fallible. Maimonides, one of the great
geniuses of memory of all time, admitted that once he could not at first
recall the source in the Talmud that would justify a decision that he
rendered in his monumental work, Mishneh Torah. If he forgot, then who will
not also forget?! Only Heaven is not burdened with forgetfulness.
This leads us to a basic question regarding our memories…what we choose to
remember and what we sublimate and choose to forget? The Torah instructs us
over and over again not to forget the basic principles of Jewish life – God
and the Torah revelation at Sinai, the exodus from Egypt, the sin of slander
and gossip, the sanctity of the Sabbath, the continuing enmity of Amalek and
much of the non-Jewish world towards the people of Israel, and finally the
tendency of the Jews from the time of the Sinai desert till today to anger
God by backsliding on obligations and covenantal undertakings.
We have chosen to remember other less important things in life – foolish
statements and perceived slights, unimportant statistics and wrong opinions,
bruised egos and jealousy of others and their achievements – and have
consigned the basic memories that should guide our lives as recounted above
to the dustbin of forgetfulness.
Rosh Hashanah demands an accounting of our memory and our forgetfulness. The
prophet long ago proclaimed that Israel was unfaithful because “I (God) was
forgotten.” It is only forgetting that begets the ignorance of one’s
heritage, faith and self. And it is that very ignorance that creates the
climate of sin and assimilation, secularism and violence, greed and avarice
that threatens our very existence as a people and a state. Woe to those who
no longer remember, for without awareness of their past, their future is
On Rosh Hashanah we read in the exalted prayers of the day that there
exists, so to speak, a book of remembrances in Heaven – of memory. And in
that book, each and every one of us has a page dedicated to our activities
and behavior in our life on this earth. Not only that, but our signature and
seal appears on that page, attesting to the veracity of what is written
there. That page reminds us of what we have forgotten, and whether we willed
that forgetfulness or otherwise.
Eventually our true and accurate powers of memory are restored to our souls
after we have departed from this earth. And, as the prayer records for us,
the page literally speaks for itself, announcing the events and occurrences
listed. So the ultimate day of judgment, just as the Rosh Hashanah day of
judgment here on earth, is the day of memory and recollection.
Remembering is the true catalyst for repentance and self-improvement. To put
it into the current common vernacular, Rosh Hashanah should serve as one’s
ultimate “selfie.” For that attitude of self-appearance is reflective of our
fascination to remember and to know ourselves deeply and truly. On the day
that everything is remembered in Heaven, we on earth should also strive to
remember our past actions, attitudes and behavior.
Ktiva V’chatima tova