Rosh Hashana Prayers: Zichronot
In this section of the Shmone Esrei we confront the judgment more directly. God remebers all that was done, said, and even thought. All is revealed in front of Hashem, and all goes into consideration in His judgment of us.
However, as we will see in the verses below, the image of a scale on whci God weighs Mitzvot against Aveirot is inaccurate. God is not an accountant who simply counts pluses and minuses. We wouldn’t need God to judge us. Everything could be simply input into a computer with a programmed judgment delivered. God is involved in the din, has to be involved in the din, because numbers are not what count. God looks at us in terms of our environment, how we were raised, our psychological makeup, what went into each mitzvah that we observed, and each mistake that we made. The image of us in front of God is whole, complete. He measures our growth, how we have used the gifts He has given us, and how many of our weaknesses have been overcome. God’s involvement in this Din reflects His deep care and concern for us. It is an expression of His love.
However, the fact that everything that we have done over the past year exists in front of Hashem, and has not been forgotten or diluted should strike terror in our hearts. We are overwhelmed by this reality, and it becomes difficult to articulate our prayers and present ourselves in front of Hashem. Our mouths open, but it is difficult to speak. Our hearts are heavy inside but cannot find relief. The sound of the Shofar becomes our cry. It voices our terror, pain and need. God’s love, expressed by His attention to us as described above, assures us that our moans and cries will be heard and accepted.
(See Derech Hashem, Volume 2, Chapter 3, for a description of each human being’s place in the overall creation, each having a specific role to play in the fulfillment of the purpose of creation.)
God does not forget. Therefore, when it says that God remembers it does not mean that He remembered after forgetting. Zikaron is the mechanism of integration, the way all the details are drawn together into a whole. Memories connect the different aspects of our lives, our past and our present. They are the key to our wholeness as a person. (By the way, Malchus is wholeness!) God’s memories are our key to being part of the past, present and future of the universe. They are the key to our eternity. By mentioning Zichronot on Rosh Hashanah we are connecting ourselves to every Rosh Hashanah past, present and future. In doing so, we become connected to something much greater than ourselves. We are connected to the very beginning of existence.
1) בראשית פרק ח פסוק א
ויזכר אלהים את נח ואת כל החיה ואת כל הבהמה אשר אתו בתבה ויעבר אלהים רוח על הארץ וישכו המים:
בראשית פרק ח פסוק א
ויזכר אלהים את נח ואת כל החיה ואת כל הבהמה אשר אתו בתבה ויעבר אלהים רוח על הארץ וישכו המים:
“And the Lord remembered Noach and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark, and the Lord caused a wind to pass over the earth and the water subsided.”
רמב”ן בראשית פרק ח פסוק א
א) ויזכור אלהים את נח ואת כל החיה ואת כל הבהמה – הזכירה בנח מפני שהיה צדיק תמים וכרת לו ברית להצילו. ונח יכלול זרעו אשר אתו שם, ולא הזכירם כי בזכותו ניצולו. אבל הזכירה שאמר בחיה ובבהמה אינה בזכות, שאין בבעלי נפש זכות או חובה זולתי באדם לבדו. אבל הזכירה בהם, כי זכר את דבר קדשו שאמר והיה העולם, והרצון אשר לו בבריאת העולם עלה לפניו ורצה בקיום העולם במינין אשר ברא בו, והנה ראה עתה להוציאם שלא יכלו בתיבה. ולא הזכיר העוף והשרץ, כי זכירת החיה שוה עמהם, ויגיד עליו רעו:
The Ramban says: “The remembrance of Noach was because he was a perfectly righteous man, and God had made a covenant with him to save him. …However, the remembrance of the beast and cattle was because ‘He remembered His holy word’ (Psalms 105:42) which He had spoken causing the world to come into existence, and the Will which was before Him at the creation of the world arose before Him and He desired the existence of the world with all the species that He created therein.”
Even those things that did not have merit of their own to be saved were simply because they were part of the creation that Hashem had willed into existence. The “will” mentioned by the Ramban, was the desire to share His good with an other. It was a will of chesed. As God remembers, He remembers all, back to the moment of creation, the moment of deepest chesed. Even as we realize the God is remembering us to judge us, we understand that we are being reconnected to that moment of chesed, closeness and love.
רש”י בראשית פרק ח פסוק א
(א) ויזכור אלהים – זה השם מדת הדין הוא, ונהפכה למדת רחמים על ידי תפלת הצדיקים, ורשעתן של רשעים הופכת מדת רחמים למדת הדין, שנאמר (בראשית ו ה) וירא ה’ כי רבה רעת האדם וגו’ ויאמר ה’ אמחה, והוא שם מדת רחמים:
ויזכור אלהים את נח וגו’ – מה זכר להם לבהמות, זכות שלא השחיתו דרכם קודם לכן ושלא שמשו בתיבה:
ויעבר אלהים רוח – רוח תנחומין והנחה עברה לפניו:
על הארץ – על עסקי הארץ:
וישכו – כמו (אסתר ב א) כשוך חמת המלך לשון הנחת חמה:
Rashi points out a number of ideas on this verse, each of which has relevance to Zichronot on Rosh Hashanah;
“And the Lord remembered:” This name represents Divine Judgment which was transformed to Divine Mercy due to the prayers of the righteous.
When we recite this verse as part of Zichronot we are hoping that our prayers will accomplish the same transformation from Divine Judgment to Mercy.
“And the Lord caused a wind to blow,” a spirit of comforting and calming passed before Him.
We hope that as God remembers on Rosh Hashanah that He will cause the same spirit to pass before Him for our sake.
The Zohar 1:69b remarks; “When justice has been done and the punishment carried out, He remembers those who had thought themselves forgotten and who were giving up hope of Divine Salvation.” The opening moments of Rosh Hashanah are filled with strict justice. Many who felt abandoned during the year, those who suffered and were lost are sure that in these moments of Divine Judgment they will be forgooten again, and will fall to another year of suffering and pain. The Zohar says that no, in Zichronot, as God remembers. he reaches out to those who thought themselves forgotten.
But the Zohar is teaching us far more. It is reminding us that the first and most important step of Teshuvah is to not feel that because of our sins we have destroyed our relationship with Hashem and that there is no hope of restoration. Those who feel that they are lost, and have forfeited their connection to Hashem cannot do Teshuvah. Hopelessness is the most powerful enemy of Teshuvah. That is why the Zohar includes those “who were giving up hope of Divine Salvation.” As we read Zichronot, we must remember that the connection is not lost. We cannot give up hope of being able to fix our world.
2)שמות פרק ב פסוק כד
וישמע אלהים את נאקתם ויזכר אלהים את בריתו את אברהם את יצחק ואת יעקב:
“God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Avraham, with Yitzchak, and with Yaacov.”
Every groan in the world, in its very essence, is a cry of prayer to Hashem. Even though it is a natural response to suffering it is still considered prayer. We can see this from this verse; The people were crying from suffering, and not from the fact that their children were being slaughtered for their blood to be used for Pharoah’s baths. They were unmoved by their children’s suffering. Their children were dying and they were crying from their work! They had lost some of their basic humanity. Yet, their groans were enough to make God remember the covenant with the Avot. The most basic groan is a powerful voice of prayer. We mentioned earlier that part of what happens during Zichronot is that we groan a basic groan, unable to express my prayers in words. Such groans are also a form of prayer and can accomplish worlds.
The covenants with each of the three Avos are alive, which is the reason that we can derive benefit from their merit, which is the essence of Zichronot, connecting the past and the present.
3) ויקרא פרק כו פסוק מב
וזכרתי את בריתי יעקוב ואף את בריתי יצחק ואף את בריתי אברהם אזכר והארץ אזכר:
“I will remember My covenant with Yaacov, and also My covenant with Yitzchak, and also My covenant with Avraham will I remember, and I will remember the land.”
This verse is in the curses listed in the portion of Bechukotai. Rashi points out that Yaacov’s name is spelled with an extra “vav”, taken from Eliyahu Hanavi as a security that Eliyahu will come and bring the news of the forthcoming redemption to Yaacov’s descendants. Why did Yaacov take security from Eliyahu as security for the news of the redmption instead of from Moshiach as security for the actual redemption? Plus, is Eliyahu the one who determines that he will bring the news, won’t it be God Who will send Eliyahu when He so desires? How does it help to take security from Eliyahu?
The news of the redemption is the gift of hope. That hope will move people to change and rethink their way of life. It will fill them with promise and potential and the belief in that potential. That is why this verse does not come at the very end of the curses but close to the end. Eliyahu will come just before the end.
Yaacov took the security from Eliyahu because it was the message of hope that was most important to him. He asked for that assurance from Eliyahu and not from God, because the bringing the news of the forthcoming redemption is the most significant aspect of the mission of Eliyahu in this world. By asking Eliyahu, Yaacov is working under the assumption that each detail of creation will fulfill its purpose. Eliyahu must be able to bring the news of Moshiach.
Hope is part of Zichronot as is the idea that each of us must fulfill our purpose in creation. We can always hope because we know of God’s commitment to His creation, manifested by His caring enough to judge us and by our connecting back to the first moments of creation. This also includes the idea of each fulfilling the purpose for which he was created.
4) תהלים פרק קיא פסוק ד
זכר עשה לנפלאתיו חנון ורחום ידוד:
“He made memories of His wonders, compassionate and merciful is Hashem”
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch: Men in particular are given God’s everlasting care, because they are endowed with more freedom to develop than the animals, and therefore experience more changes in the course of their lives than the latter. The mighty acts in which Hashem revealed Himself as חנון and רחום, therefore, were wrought not only for that generation which actually witnessed them, but He established זכר, a continuous memorial of those revelations so that the succeeding might learn from them to look up to Him at all times as רחום וחנון. All the institutions which Hashem has appointed as זכר ליציאת מצרים are such זכר לנפלאותיו.
The mitzvot we have to remember the Exodus from Egypt are a gift from Hashem to help us remember the miracles He has performed for us, they are for our benefit. And yet, we receive reward for observing those commandments. That is His compassion and mercy.
There is another dimension as well; Even as we are speaking of God remembering we mention how God created memories for us to maintain our awareness of His miracles and might! This is because on each Jewish Holy Day Hashem influences us and interacts with us through the same Middah, or attribute, with which He related to us on the original Holy Day. Pesach is a time of freedom, because that is how Hashem relates to us on Pesach. Shavuot is a time of Giving the Torah because that is what Hashem is offering us on that day. On the days that Hashem appointed to help us remember, He gives the original day eternity by relating to us the same way on that day every year. This idea of eternality is the essence of Zichronot. With this verse we are saying that Hashem creates eternal moments in the life of the Jewish People so that He can continue to relate to us as He did in the past on that day.
5) תהלים פרק קיא פסוק ה
טרף נתן ליראיו יזכר לעולם בריתו:
“And He provided food for those who fear Him, He eternally remembers His covenant.”
The Radak explains that this verse is refering to the spoils of Egypt; “God gave the riches of Egypt to those who feared Him because He remembered His covenant with Avraham (That the Jews would leave Egypt with great wealth.)” When the Jews left Egypt with money, the past was changed. They were collecting payment for their work. They no longer had to look back on their long labor as slavery, but as work for which thay were paid. God changed their perspective on the past.
How ironic that even as we speak of memories we speak of changing them! But this is the whole idea of Zichronot and its role in Teshuvah; Hashem keeps the past eternally alive through Zichronot, and it is that which allows us to change the past with our Teshuvah. The past is not dead. It is still alive and fixable!
6) תהלים פרק קיא פסוק ה
טרף נתן ליראיו יזכר לעולם בריתו:
“He remembered His covenant for them and relented, in accordance with His abundant kindness.”
It is important to know the context of this verse in order to appreciate it:
This chapter of Tehillim is a review of Jewish history, focusing on the fact that we constantly forget Hashem despite all that He has done for us. Beginning with verse 43 which is the immediate context of our verse; “Many times Hashem saved them, and they did not listen to Him, they went as their hearts desired. They were humbled by their sins. And He saw their suffering, when He heard their prayers, and He remembered for them His covenant…” Rashi explains that He remembered them when they did Teshuvah.
The Teshuvah was forced by their suffering for their sins. Teshuvah which seems to be only part of a cycle of sin, punishment, prayer and Teshuvah, and salvation isn’t always believed to be Teshuvah. Yet, each time Hashem treated their Teshuvah as real, as He does ours. He allows us to connect to those moments in the past of relationship and love as if they are all that is real at this time. This gift of connecting to certain moments kept alive for us, is the gift of Zichronot.
7) ירמיהו פרק ב פסוק ב
הלך וקראת באזני ירושלם לאמר כה אמר ידוד זכרתי לך חסד נעוריך אהבת כלולתיך לכתך אחרי במדבר בארץ לא זרועה:
“Go and proclaim in the ears of Jerusalem saying: ‘So said Hashem: I remember for your sake the kindness of your youth, the love of your bridal days, how you followed Me in the wilderness in an unsown land.”
The Midrash Tehillim, 36 says; “Said R’ Yannai, ‘If a person lights a candle when it is fully light he derives no benefit. When will he derive benefit? When it is dark outside. So too, the kindness that the Jews did when they followed Moshe into the desert was kept until the times were dark. When was that? During the time of Yirmeyahu.”
This Midrash is teaching us that it is possible to do a “chesed” for God! It is also telling us that the power of Zichronot also works to keep merit alive for a time when it is more necessary.
Rav Tzadok of Lublin in his record of his dreams (#3) records that he once dreamt that the souls of those who live in the generation of the Moshiach will be the same souls as the generation of the desert. The verse in Yirmeyahu speaks of the “youth” of those who left Egypt, and the verse that describes the generation of the Moshiach speaks of renewing their strength to be as the/a youth. Hashem will give the generation that had everything only to lose in the desert after testing Hashem ten times, will be given another chance. Even such a generation is not lost forever.
8) יחזקאל פרק טז פסוק ס
וזכרתי אני את בריתי אותך בימי נעוריך והקמותי לך ברית עולם:
“But I will remember My covenant with youof the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant.”
This chapter in Yechezkel is one of the most powerful and poignant in all of Tanach. It describes someone, God, who finds a newborn baby abandoned, its umbilical cord still uncut, unbathed, filthy and naked. He takes the baby in, cleanes her, bathes her, swaddles her and raises her up until she is grown. He dresses her in the most beautiful of clothes, with jewelry and makeup. She became so beautiful that she was fit for royalty. After he has done all this for her, she rebels against him, rejecting his love and his care.
This is a metaphor, explains the Navi, for the relationship between Hashem and B’nei Yisrael. She has rejected God Who took her in and protected her. When we reach this verse God is saying that I will remember when you were young. I am willing to enter a new covenant with you. No matter what she has done, no matter how much she has rejected Him, Hashem still remembers her youth, and responds to her as if she is still that young child.
Although this is a time for remembering, God chooses to remember the highest and most beautiful moments of our relationship with Him. He keeps those powerful moments alive, waiting for us to return and reach out to Him. We are terrified as we stand in judgment. Hashem is loving as He judges.
9) ירמיהו פרק לא פסוק יט
הבן יקיר לי אפרים אם ילד שעשעים כי מדי דברי בו זכר אזכרנו עוד על כן המו מעי לו רחם ארחמנו נאם ידוד: ס
“Is Ephraim My most precious son or a delightful child, that whenever I speak of him I remember him more and more? Therefore My inner self yearns for him, I will surely take pity on him. These are the words of Hashem.”
The Midrash Vayikra Rabbah 2:2, and Devarim Rabbah 7:12, both describe the word “לי” as being an indication of a relationship that will last in both עולם הזה and עולם הבא. The memories of Zichronot are not simply for this world, they are for the World To Come as well.
All of this is in potential as we stand before Hashem on Rosh Hashanah. This is our opportunity to grasp the highest moments of the relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people and make them last forever, for all eternity, even into עולם הבא!
10) ויקרא פרק כו פסוק מה
וזכרתי להם ברית ראשנים אשר הוצאתי אתם מארץ מצרים לעיני הגוים להית להם לאלהים אני ידוד:
“And I shall remember for them the covenant of the early ones, whom I have taken out of the land of Egypt before the eyes of the nations, to be their God; I am Hashem.”
The Ramban says that even if we don’t do Teshuvah, and their sins have not been forgiven, I will redeem them so that My name will not be disgraced. Hashem will not separate between Him and us.