by: David Erik Nelson
Zichronot, “Remembrances.” This is the second of the three major themes of Rosh Hashanah. It’s the meat sandwiched between Malchuyot—”Kingliness,” which is the All-of-Everything of the physical Universe we enjoy—and the enigmatic sounding of the Shofar.
There’s a tendency to treat Zichronot as being about self-inspection: The High Holidays are a time for taking stock of the prior year, for looking to how we can avail ourselves better in the coming year. So we remember what passed, and try to mend the misses.
That’s a good practice.
But I wanna suggest that its liturgically off the mark, and overly negative.
Zichronot is rooted in the word Zichor—the command to “remember“. And Zichor is more often used in Torah to talk about God remembering or noting someone, not people reflecting on past deeds.
In Pslam 25, David writes:
Your compassions and Your mercies—
for they are from eternity.
Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my rebellion.
According to Your mercy remember me,
for the sake of Your goodness, Adonai.
Those “remembers” are Zichor. Likewise, it’s Zichor when HaShem remembers Noah and the beasts in the ark, and so makes the floods subside. It’s Zichor when the Eternal remembers Hannah and Rachel and gives them children, and Zichor again when Elohim remembers that we were slaves in Egypt. It’s Zichor Samson cries out for when he needs a little more oomph to crush the Philistines.
Additionally, while our modern reading of this Season of Remembrance often fixates on the negative —the errors we’ve made, the harms we’ve done —more often than not, those ancient Zichors are asking the Universe to recall what has been good in us and worthy.
I raise this only because we have an awful habit of only remembering what is shameful, only fixating on what hurts. No one thinks about their stomach when it feels fine; none of us can think of anything else when it aches.
So that’s my hope for this year . . . that we be willing to ask of ourselves, and of each other, the thing that ancient Jews asked of that Terrifying and All Powerful Being They Sensed Encompasses Us All:
To remember fondly, to see what’s good in the person sitting across from you at the dinner table, to accept and seek to expand and amplify the good in what you are, and have been, and will be in the coming year.