Take a moment and think about a favorite memory you have. Perhaps it’s a personal memory from childhood or from a significant event in your life. Reflect back to the sights, smells, and tastes of that moment in time. Now, consider a collective memory, a time when you were with others, in a shared experience. Perhaps it was a special birthday party, a fun vacation, or a Passover seder.
Just this past week, many of us shared a collective memory, as we sat around a seder table, retelling the story of the Jewish people, a people who moved from slavery to freedom, a story that, for generations, has inspired who we are as a people and who we hope to become.
The idea of memory is central in Jewish tradition. Did you know that the word “remember – זכור – Zachor” is repeated nearly 200 times in the Hebrew Bible? We are told to remember the Sabbath, to remember the Exodus from Egypt, to remember the covenant, to name a few.
Historian Yosef Haim Yerushalmi suggests that the commandment of remembering has been fundamental to the survival of the Jewish people, a people who was dispersed among the nations for millenia. How can we explain the survival of the Jewish people through persecution, loss, and migration if not for the emphasis on memory; how else could we have endured without remembering our history and our collective desires for the future?
Looking at the word memory, we find the word “me” in the first two letters. Memory is an act that is personal; memory has us reflect upon a past event and then connect ourselves to it. It is not only the big historical events that we are instructed to remember; we are also instructed to remember our personal losses.
Five times a year, we are provided with an opportunity to remember our beloved deceased; on their yahrzeit (the anniversary of their death) and then four additional times during the year, during Shavuot, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Passover.
This Friday morning, on the seventh day of Passover, we will come together as a community to observe Yizkor. We will congregate to remember those in our lives who are no longer among the living, those who have impacted our lives in profound ways, those whose memories we carry with us each day, as we strive to make their memories a blessing.
This Friday evening, we will also come together to honor our beloved Rabbi Dan who has served Temple Beth El as a rabbi for more than 25 years. I invite you to take another moment now and reflect upon a favorite Rabbi Dan memory, a ME-mory when Rabbi Dan connected with you, personally. Perhaps it was a lifecycle event, a pastoral visit, an inspiring sermon, or a model seder? We are so grateful to him for his leadership, wisdom, and generosity of spirit in which he envisioned and created a multitude of memories over the past two and a half decades.
One of my favorite ME-mories of Rabbi Dan dates back nearly thirty years ago, before he was a rabbi. We were college students studying at The Hebrew University’s Junior Year Abroad program. There we experienced the beauty and joy of living in the land of Israel, toured the country on various field trips, and performed as two of Joseph’s brothers in the musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Memories remain integral to Jewish life and Jewish history. Memories can inspire us in ways that we might have imagined. Memories can bring us back to a multitude of emotions, some happy, some sad. Memories can serve as a way to guide our future decisions or goals. How we utilize these memories is up to each of us.
As we welcome in Shabbat this week, I invite you to think about the role that memory has played in your own life. How will you use the gift of memory to enrich your connection to Judaism and your connection to those you have loved and will continue to love.
Rabbi Amy Grossblatt Pessah