Thursday, September 17, 2020
Twenty-Eighth Day of Elul 5780
Today, we are going to consider the second section of the shofar service, the section called Zichronot, usually translated as “Remembrance.” The word in Hebrew has the added meaning of “calling attention” or “making note of.” In this section, the sound of the shofar calls our attention to God and, just as significantly, marks the ways that God takes note of us.
The very first use of the verb “remember” in the Torah comes in the story of Noah. After Noah had spent one hundred and fifty days on the ark with all the animals he had collected, the Torah tells us that “God remembered Noah” (Genesis 8:1). The ancient rabbis wondered about this phrase. Certainly it is not possible that God had forgotten Noah before this. The rabbis interpreted it to mean that this was a turning point in the relationship between God and humanity (Rashi on Genesis 8:1).
The rabbis believed that God threatened to destroy the world with the flood because God was acting according to justice alone, and saw that human beings were wicked and deserved to be punished. It was not until God saw Noah in the ark, alone in the world, that God’s sense of compassion was aroused. In that moment, God chose forgiveness and caring over strict law and justice.
This is the sense in which we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah to ask God to remember us. We ask God to turn away from strict justice, by which we all must be found guilty, and to view us instead through the divine attributes of love and compassion.
At the same time that the sound of the shofar reminds God to have compassion on us, it should also awaken us to remember God. It should call us to the task of t’shuvah. The Rambam wrote in the 12th century that we should hear the shofar blasts as a wake up call that says, “Awake, awake, O sleeper, from your sleep. Arouse yourselves, slumberer, from your slumbers. Examine your deeds, return in repentance, and remember your Creator!” (Hilchot T’shuvah 3:1).
Practice for this day:
What have you forgotten? As you think about your behavior – the ways you treat people and the ways you expect others to treat you – do you find that you sometimes forget to give people the benefit of the doubt, or to forgive other people’s faults (as you see them)? Remember that we are all fallible and we all depend on others to forgive us. Think of specific scenarios in which you wish to be more forgiving. Think also of specific ways in which you need the forgiveness of other people and the forgiveness of God.