Rosh Hashanah

Zichronot – Don’t Forget!

At first, it seems like an abrupt, jarring shift. The verses of zichronot, that is. We start off by extensively expressing how Hashem knows everything about everyone, down to the most infinitesimal detail, and that the judgement is very serious. “Before you are revealed all the secrets…there is no creature that can escape [your awareness]…everything is revealed and known to you…to take stock of innumerable actions…and about the countries on this day it will be determined which for the sword and which for peace, which for famine and which for plenty, and [all the] creatures [of the world] will be remembered either for life or death.”

Pretty scary stuff, right?

But listen to this: “…For the remembrance of all actions comes before you and you scrutinize the actions of every person, and Noach as well you remembered with love, and you sent him salvation and mercy…as it says in your Torah, “And the Almighty remembered Noach…”.

All of a sudden, the context of Hashem’s remembering becomes exclusively positive! And it doesn’t stop there. Every single one of the verses of zichronot is powerfully positive. “And the Almighty heard their groans, and the Almighty remembered his covenant…And I will remember my covenant with Yaakov…A remembrance did he make for his wonders, Hashem is gracious and merciful.” And on and on.

Now, had the blessing been worded something along the lines of, “and, Hashem, we are begging you that even if we are not worthy, please remember us for the good as you remembered Noach…”, then it would be perfectly understandable. But that is not the way it is worded. It is worded, “and also Noach did you remember with love”. As if everything we had been talking about up until now was all about Hashem remembering people for the good.

So, what happened to the sword, famine, and death? What happened to the scary overtone? How exactly are we making this ostensibly abrupt shift from terrifying to encouraging and reassuring? Are we playing games here?

What seems to be the clearly inescapable conclusion is that the primary purpose and function of zichronot – of Hashem remembering us on Rosh HaShana which of course means taking into account and judging us for every single last thing we have thought, said, or done over the course of the previous year – is to help us have it good. Hashem wants us to have it good. He wants to remember us for the good. His whole agenda, as it were, is that we should have a good judgement.

In fact, if you think about it, this is exactly what Our Sages are saying, isn’t it? “Say zichronot before me in order that your remembrance should come before me for the good.” That’s the whole purpose. Isn’t that what Our Sages are saying?

We seem to lose sight of this sometimes. If we would stop our friends on the street and ask them (or ourselves for that matter), “What do you think is the purpose of the bracha of zichronot?”, the answer we’d probably get is, “So that we realize that the world is not hefker (free for all). That there is a Boss who takes note of everything, that we will be held accountable for everything.

So, we need to realize how important it is to always do the right thing, and sincerely do teshuva for anything we’ve done wrong.” Of course, all of those statements are in and of themselves 100% true. But is the answer to the question – what is the purpose of the bracha of zichronot – the correct answer? It would seem not. At least not according to the Gemara’s statement that Hashem is telling us, “Say zichronot before me so that your remembrance will come before me for the good.” That’s the whole purpose! Hashem wants us to have good. He wants us to gain a favorable judgement.

Of course, if judgement is not real then it is nothing more than a game. We cannot have a good judgement if the judgement is not a true judgement. So, yes, if there are countries whose deeds are deserving of sword or famine, or if there are individuals whose deeds are deserving of not receiving a new lease on life for the upcoming year, if wrongdoings have been committed and there is no teshuva to erase them or mitigating merits that can stave off the repercussions; then, yes, a judgement which we do not perceive with our human eyes as being favorable can certainly come about.
But what’s critical to realize is that if the conceptual image we have in our minds when we think about Hashem judging the world is something akin to a rigidly stern monarch – albeit just, honest, and fair – who is methodically and dispassionately issuing orders to mete out harsh punishments for the infractions committed in his kingdom, then we are simply missing the mark.

Hashem, as we all well know but could perhaps do with knowing well, created his world to be meitiv (give goodness). To give to his creations. His sole desire, as it were, in bringing us into existence is in order to shower us with goodness. He did not create the world so that he could serve as some stern, rigid, dispassionate king who “must have his kingdom run in order!”

Yes, the kingdom must be run with order and with justice. But not because that is “simply what the king demands”, but because that is what will ultimately be for our greatest benefit.

Hashem remembers and takes everything into account and judges every single last action of ours not simply because he can or because he must, but because that is the only way that we can truly achieve the beneficence that he desires to give us. That is the only way that we can actually become what we need to become in order to be able to attain that great goal of creation.

So, should we be awe-inspired to better our ways and do teshuva for whatever we’ve done wrong?

Of course. But we cannot forget for even one moment what zichronot is all about. And what it is truly all about is that Hashem wants us to have a good judgement, as the Gemara says, “Say before me zichronot so that your remembrance will come before me for the good.”


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