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  • Remember, Forget, Live: Thoughts for Elul

    Posted on September 12th, 2011 Ruth Abusch-Magder No comments
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    Forget-Me-Not Flowers

     

    -by Ruth Abusch-Magder

     

    Remember Amalek.

    Blot out the memory of Amalek.

    We are to remember and to forget. Remembering and forgetting are linked in an eternal paradox. Without remembering there would be no need to forget but if we truly forget we will not know that we have done so.

    At Purim we remember and then we forget. We return twice over to the words of the megillah, listening to each. We do not miss a word. The memory is made fresh, bold with repetition. And then we drink, we make merry. We forget the serious dangers, the threat to our very existence. It is too much. It is too easy for us to become Haman. When we focus on the remembering it can be easy to overlook our own potential to do evil, to remember that we too can be destructive. It is easy to forget our own power and potential –for good and for evil.

    Jewish sociologist Shaul Kelner marks tzom Rabbin yearly, fasting to commemorate the Rabin’s assasignation. It is his modern tzom Gedaliah. He worries about forgetting. He values the remembering and the lessons it brings to mind.

    There was a very small notice in the Jewish press this morning. The rally remembering the assasignation of Yitzhak Rabin has been cancelled for this year. In the 16 years that have passed the numbers attending this memorial event have dwindled. The memory and the lessons are fading.

    This week Americans are remembering the events of a decade ago, on the 11th of September, 2001. For some there has been no forgetting. Not a day goes by without memories, fear and loss. For others the rituals of the day shaped not only the remembering but also the forgetting. It is our national Tisha B’Av and we are still working to create a meaningful way to both remember and forget.

    The hassidic rabbi of Slonimer, Rabbi Shalom Noach Bereovsky z”l, reflected on Tisha B’Av in his commentary Netivot Shalom. Playing with one of his favorite themes he writes:

    Now, we have taught that there are two paths to teshuvah: the way of “turn from evil” and that of “do good”….But there is a superior path, as the righteous have taught: turn from evil by means of doing good. …we were created to delight in God and bask in the light of the Shekhinah, and this is the objective of our lives of service. When we merit to delight in God, all other fineries and delights pale to nothing in comparison, and evil flees in turn. (translation Rabbi Jonathan Slater)

    Furthermore, as Rabbi Jonathan Slater explains, the Netivot Shalom is playing with the themes found in the prophecies of doom that are read ahead of Tisha B’Av. “R. Shalom Noach, following in the tradition of his forebears and hasidism in general, inverts the sensibility of the season, and the meaning of Isaiah’s vision. Mourning the past is meaningless and ineffective; grieving our own failures and coming into a relationship with our own lives in this moment is liberating – even on the Ninth of Av.”

    We are still too close to know how the remembering and forgetting with regards to the events from 9-11 will shake out. Six years from now, ten years from now, fifty or a thousand years from now, how will we remember, how will we forget? Yet so many of those who were not directly traumatized directly by the events of 9-11 have spoken of one of the lasting effects of that day, the ability to live  -as R. Shalom Noach would have us do -more fully in the moment.

    It is Elul and soon the Yamim Noraim will be upon us. The Shofar calls us daily to remember. We look back over our own lives and remember our own worst moments. The Shofar calls us daily to forget. In order to turn away from evil and turn towards good we need to let go of our own patterns of behavior, we must forget our memorized patterns of behavior. In order to be truly forgiving we must forget the slights and injustices that we have experienced. We cannot afford to be paralyzed by our memory nor set adrift without any sense of the past. Rather we must work to be liberated by the paradox of both remembering and forgetting so that we may live most fully.

     

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