(A conversation submitted by Ariele Sager Rosen, daughter of Rabbi Steve Sager. Ariele is a Jewish Studies teacher in Israel, where she lives with her family)
The world is filled with remembering and forgetting
As it is with sea and dry land. Sometimes memory
Is the dry land that is firm and founded
And sometimes memory is the sea that covers everything
Like in the flood. And it is forgetting that is the dry land like Arrarat.
Our memories challenge us to keep sacred what we view as important–those that are rich with relevance and invaluable additions to our lives. They are the strands of consciousness that make up the fabric of our story, the fibers of the parchment of our “Torah” that is our lives.
But what of the forgotten memories? The poet, Yehuda Amichai, offers us two parallel realities in his poem. In one, we hold onto memory to keep our feet firmly planted on “dry land.” In the next, we hold to forgetting, as it saves us from the flood waters of our own memories.
The Talmud cites a midrash (Berachot 32b:15-19) that gives us another glimpse into remembering and forgetting, as the people of Israel are worried that God has forsaken them.
“But Zion/Jerusalem said: The Lord has forsaken me and the Lord has forgotten me. Shall a woman forget her suckling baby, that she should have no compassion on the child of her womb? Even these may forget (be forgotten), yet I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:14–15).
The people of Israel ask, how can there be forgetting in God’s pristinely planned world? Could the Holy One forget his people? To this, God explains that the whole world was created for His people, and just as a woman could not forget her offspring, so too God will not forget us.
But wait! If God never forgets and if there is no forgetting in the world, does that mean that even the less good things are remembered? What about our sins? What about the Golden Calf, the epitome of sins?! Does it remain forever here in the world, never to be released or forgotten?
“Perhaps you will not forget my sin of the Golden Calf?” replied the Jewish People.
To this God answers, of course I will forget such a sin! As the verse states, “Even these may forget (be forgotten).” There is forgetting in the world, and it includes that of the Golden Calf.
But wait, continue the people, does that mean that “you will (also) forget the events (at) Sinai?” To this God responds “but you I will not forget.” The giving of the Torah is forever etched in my memory. Forgetting cannot touch it.
This incredible midrash sheds light on the divine ability to move between remembering and forgetting, placing importance on relevance and the ability to move on from our past.
We have the power to remember and the power to forget. We may choose to remember the important events of our Torahs–and we are allowed to release thoughts unwanted. Sometimes we hold onto a memory for dear life, and other memories we beg to move on.
As we move through our journeys, our memories become the stories we tell.
In this season of remembering, we move towards “Yom Hazikaron,” The Day of Remembrance, the Torah’s name for Rosh Hashana. We reconcile with our own thoughts, sorting through the experiences of our year. We are awash in our memories, trying to stay afloat in the sea that covers everything. We continually search for the dry land where we can finally find our footing.
May we all learn to recognize our sea and dry land.
May we find comfort in the dearer memories, finding solid ground–firm and founded–a place from which to build for the new year.
May we have the confidence to release that which does not bring us contentment–and find serenity in that decision.
And may we all remember our teacher, rabbi, and friend (and father), Rabbi Steven Sager of blessed memory, in this season of remembering.
Shana Tova U’Metuka/A Sweet New Year