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Saturday, September 20, 2014
Remembering on Rosh Hashana
The whole month of Elul, we anticipate the holiday that marks the Jewish new year. The shofar is blown at the prayer services throughout the month. Sephardim have the custom of reciting special prayers late at night or early in the morning for all of Elul, while Ashkenazim begin the week before. For the whole month through the holiday of Shmini Atzeres, the psalmLeDavid Hashem Ori is added on to the end of both the morning and evening services. People also think about the significance of this time that is designated as preparation for the High Holy Days.
One of the things we work on is earning forgiveness. That is not merely a matter of fasting and prayer. It is also a matter of earning the forgiveness of our friends, neighbors, and relatives because G-d does not offer forgiveness for offenses to other people. Each person has to consider what s/he may have done to hurt someone else and seek out the person to ask forgiveness. While readily forgiving is the right thing to do, the burden is not on the victim. Anyone who suggest that "forget and forgive" is what the month of Ellul is about completely distorts the way things work. The spiritual work of attaining forgiveness calls for a person to remember and then to forgive. We have to remember what we've done, not call upon others to forget it to feel exonerated. This is clear from the prayer service. There is a special prayer to be said on the eve of Yom Kippur in which a person declares s/he forgives everyone. However, those who think they can relax because the person harmed will make this blanket statement are specifically excluded, as are those who still owe the individual a debt.
One of the names of Rosh Hashan is Yom Hazicharon, the day of remembering. The prayer services are divided into sections devoted to kingship, shofar, and remembering. We try to focus on remembering the good things, but we know that we can't simply forget about the past that was not all it should have been. This is not a morbid idea but one of facing the truth and resolving to improve for the future. Included in that is the necessity for a spiritual accounting of how we've treated other people and how we may have hurt them. Putting things out of our own minds does not necessarily put it out of the minds of those we have hurt. What we are supposed to do is remember and take what steps we could to remedy the situation and attain forgiveness. Each year is a new beginning, but it is built on the past. Remembering allows us to fix the past to prepare for a better future. We should have cleared any bitterness to truly appreciate the sweetness of the honey on Rosh Hashana.