The Good Ol’ Days
“Hashivenu (Return Us to You),” from Rabbi Danielle Upbin’s CD Reveal the Light (2012)
When the going gets tough, who doesn’t pine for the “good ol’ days”? Even when those past realities had challenges of their own, we tend not to remember them that way. It is human nature to favor selective memory. Consider our ancestors in this week’s parashah, crying for the fleshpots they enjoyed in Egypt, the cucumbers, garlic, and leeks (Num. 11:5). Did they forget about the slaughter of their firstborn, the harsh labor, the separation of families? In a moment of hunger and thirst for something they didn’t have, they forgot that they had actually been slaves in Egypt.
Luckily for us, even God has selective memory. How does He recall what His beloved people were like during the wilderness experience? What of our apostasy, cowardice, and subversion of authority, on top of this week’s complaining? “The people took to complaining bitterly before the Lord. The Lord heard and was incensed.” (Num. 11:1)— and He killed us off by the thousands.
Give God a few centuries and He remembers that honeymoon a little differently. “Thus says the Lord, ‘I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown’” (Jer. 2:2). In the moment of exile, God feels a little homesick too, and remembers only the faithful remnant who finally crossed the threshold and entered the huppahwith God, filled with hope and faith in one another.
It is this sentiment that we recall when standing before the Holy Ark as the Torah is returned in our prayer service. “Return us to You and we shall return, renew our lives as in days of old” (“Hashivenu Adonai elekha venashuvah, hadesh yamenu kekedem”) (Lam. 5:21). My recording of this prayer offers a vocal midrash—layering voice upon voice, generation upon generation, in a setting of universalistic percussion, to remind us that memory-making is up to us now, to help us embrace hope, have faith in the human spirit, and trust in God.