Rosh HaShana, 5773 / 2012
Yom HaZikharon, our Holiday of Remembrance
אמר רבה, אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: אמרו לפני בראש השנה מלכיות זכרונות ושופרות. מלכיות ־ כדי שתמליכוני עליכם, זכרונות ־ כדי שיבא לפני זכרוניכם לטובה, ובמה ־ בשופר.
HaShem declares: …Recite before Me the verses of kingship to make Me your king…. Recite before me the verses of remembrance, that your remembrance shall arise before Me for good. And through what? Through the shofar. (RH 34b)
Our universe began as a thought in the mind of God—a vision, of the glorious possibilities (nay, inevitabilities) of creation and of every creature in it. 1 There we began (as a vision) and there we will end (as an indelible memory trace). 2 In the meantime our physical plane serves as a kind of engraving pen that etches the memory of each moment into the very fiber of our being.
Yet that sketch of memory-traces is fluid. It evolves as our relationship to our own story changes with time. That is the nature of life and the power of teshuva: it corrects our perspective on the past, which alters our reactions to the present, which produces a different future than what would otherwise have naturally occurred.
Chassidut employs the metaphor of transposing letters to convey the mutability of our memory traces. 3 An ordeal first registers as anguish (צרה). But over time, as we integrate its lessons, our wisdom deepens and produces a quiet but abiding inner peace. The pain fades while its legacy of consciousness actually strengthens with time. Eventually, in retrospect, we reinterpret the ordeal as a blessing in disguise. It has expanded our capacity to know G-d and that is the sweetest good of all. So precious are its hard-earned gifts that now, if given a choice, we wouldn’t have had it any other way. And so its anguish (צרה) turns to willingness (רצה), the same letters rearranged. According to chassidut, anguish (צרה) was the immature expression of that trace, while willingness (רצה) is its final, fully realized engraving—the trace as it will persist in the mind of G-d. This mellowing of memories could take lifetimes to complete.
As below so above. Just as our memories ripen so do HaShem’s, and that brings us to the mystery of Yom HaZikharon. The question is posed: What part of our life and its labors endures for all time. This physical world is going to cease for “nothing heavier than a mustard seed may enter the heavenly realms.” 4 The answer is that every creature actualizes a sliver of Divine possibility through its life, and the essence of that triumph endures eternally as a memory of actualized potential within the mind of G-d. And since there is no moment that is not actualizing potential, there is no moment that is not generating memory, which means there is no moment that does not touch eternity. 5 Our body is an engraving stylus. As we move through the world its matter scrapes against matter and scores transformation into our soul. Eventually, the stylus returns to dust, but its vestige endures as a permanent trace in the mind of G-d. The vision that was our starting point, having been fully embodied, now becomes a cosmic memory that includes every single moment of our history in its purview.
And so on RH, the day of remembrance, we read the ten verses of Malchiyot (Kingship) to remind ourselves that there is nothing but God—the one and only Primal Will to Good that eternally creates and sustains the universe—who designed us for a purpose and longs for us to succeed in that purpose because it is win-win and because it is the only thing that will ever make us happy. And the more we grasp the truth of Oneness and take it to heart the more actualized we become. And that brings us to our next section of prayer…
“We read the ten verses of Zichronont (Remembrances) in order that we be remembered for good.” Now what could that possibly mean? HaShem does not forget so what are we reminding Him of? It can’t be that we’re hoping to trick Him into forgetting our debts and shadow side?
Rosh Hashana is our annual spiritual check-up—a progress report on the state of our evolving memory trace and how it compares to the vision that HaShem holds for us—the one that arose, metaphorically, in the mind of G-d on this very day at the beginning of time. We are trying to turn that vision into (a good) memory by choosing the most spiritually productive option at every crossroads in our life and doing teshuva for our wrong actions when we don’t.
And what empowers our proclamations of kingship and aspirations toward good remembrance …the shofar. The piercing cry that dissolves all resistance to the mission at hand.
One thing is certain: In the end, we will all be remembered for good. We will integrate the truth of Divine oneness into our depths and achieve a teshuva that is so profound, it will actually turn our sins into merits. 6 At that point our memory trace is “fully baked,” for everything will have been turned to good.
I want to bless us as individuals and collectively, that we should integrate the truth of Divine oneness so deeply into our being [malchiut] that it change the way we remember our lives (turning צרה into רצה). And that sweetening of memory below (along with the teshuva that prompts it) should evoke a sweetening of memory above [zichronot]—our sins turned to merits—that we be remembered for good by our Creator on this precarious New Year with war clouds gathering. Blessings for a good, sweet, healthy, joyful, peaceful, love-filled, light-filled, truth-filled, life-celebrating, Torah-sanctifying, consciousness-expanding, mashiach-welcoming new year.
1 Zohar 2:20a
2 TB Brochot 32b
3 R. YYY Safrin, Netiv Mitzvotecha, Netiv Emuna, shvil 3, ot 15. Following instructions in the Ari’s Shaar HaKavanot, Drushei Chag HaShavuot, drush 1.
4 Zohar 2:197a.
5 R. Shlomo Elyashiv (RSE), Leshem Shebo, V; ’Achlama, Drush Olam HaTohu: part 2, p. 27, rt. col.; part 1, p. 115, upper rt.
6 RSE, Hakdamot V’Shearim, p. 44 (chapt. 5) – 47.