In the three great themes of Rosh Hashanah, the encounter with memories (zichronot) is nestled between the power of sovereignty (malchuyot) and the triumphant, enigmatic sound of the shofar (shofarot). Zichronot reminds us that each of us is remembered, that our acts are significant, that we come, each of us individually, into the divine presence. In spite of the massive processing power of our machines, there are problems that cannot be solved—even if every computer on earth were to be harnessed in parallel.
Yet we affirm that God is infinite. If this means anything, it means that each of us is noticed, and we can each turn to God not only as Sovereign (for kings and queens appear to ordinary people only in vast assemblies), but as a parent who has time and love for each child. The powerful poem “Unetaneh Tokef” speaks of the Sefer haZichronot (Book of Memories) that is opened on Rosh Hashanah, and the new Mahzor Lev Shalem offers the translation: “which speaks for itself” (143).
The opening words of the traditional Zichronot (160) say (almost reminding us) that God sees all that is hidden and recalls all that might have been forgotten. The text affirms that this “chok zikaron” (the “rite of remembrance”) has been established from of old—perhaps a bridge between the biblical name for the day Yom Hazikkaron and the rabbinic construction of Rosh Hashanah (unknown in the Bible).
The 10 biblical verses all allude to memories, ending with the tender words of Jeremiah, “Is not Ephraim My dear child whom I remember fondly?” for which there are many haunting melodies.
I also share with you a more creative and contemplative approach to Zichronot, which might enrich preparations for Rosh Hashanah or your experience of the day itself. Opening with words by Rabbi Lionel Blue:
We remember a year that is gone with opportunities which can never return. With God’s help we try to face our past without excuses or reproach. We consider the good we did and the good we missed; the hurts we endured and the hurts we inflicted. The Book of Memory is still open and the ending is not yet written. We read it in order to repent. (Days of Awe Machzor, 235)
Then recite Psalm 90, verse 12, and use those words as a transition into your own silent reflections and meditation. Try to allow at least five minutes (and as much more time as you wish), and then turn to a reflective chant or melody. A niggun attributed to Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav has been embraced by many: “Teach us to number our days that we may grow into a heart/mind of wisdom.”
May we grow through our experience during Rosh Hashanah to deepen our love for God, for our families and communities, and for ourselves. May all that we hear and learn in the coming days support us in building a world of peace, joy, learning, and celebration of humanity and all life.
L’shanah tovah tikateivu vetichateimu(May we all be written and sealed for a good year).
A recording of the verse from Jeremiah, “Haben yakir li Ephraim” by Hazzan Yossele Rosenblatt
Recording of “Teach Us to Treasure Each Day” (composed by Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield [z”l]) and performed by rabbinical student Aura Ahuvia.
The niggunfor reflectionattributed to Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav, performed by Rabbi David Zeller (z”l)
As always, I am interested in hearing comments and reflections on these thoughts about prayer and liturgy. You may reach me at email@example.com.