Rosh HaShanah

By Rabbi Dorit Edut

“Zokhreinu Lehayyim Melekh Hafetz Behayyim-Remember us that we may live, O Ruler Who delights in Life – V’Khotveynu B’Sefer Hahayyim Lema’ankha Elohim HayimInscribe us in the Book of Life, for Your Sake, O Living God.”

These are the words of a special insertion in the High Holy Day Amidah. It probably dates from the post-Talmudic period and seems to have become part of our liturgy only after much debate. And yet there was such affinity for
these verses, especially during times when our lives were very threatened that this plea for life was sustained.

There was also another thread that was being preserved here, which refers to asking God to inscribe us for life in God’s Book of Life. The very first reference in the Torah to any such book comes in Exodus 32:32 when Moses asks God to forgive the sin of the Golden Calf:

“Now, if You will forgive
their sin (well and good); but if not, erase me from the Book which You have written.”

While God reassures Moses, it is interesting that even Moses, the greatest leader of our people, in the moment of greatest crisis of his life, is not sure exactly what will happen to
him or to the Jewish people. Will God forgive them? If not, Moses no longer wants to live, to try to lead a people when God is angry with them and who probably will not survive without God’s grace. Moses also seems to take responsibility for all that had happened and is willing to sacrifice himself, to have his life erased from the Book of Life, if God will not forgive him as the leader of the Jewish people. In the recent movie “Defiance“,
about Jewish refugees and partisans, living in the Belarusian forests during the Holocaust, there is a similar scene. Facing death from typhus, food shortages, bitter cold, and the Nazis, the rabbi prays:

“Dear God, Please stop
choosing us as Your people; we cannot go on like this. Please remove from us Your blessing of holiness.”

At such times, it may seem better to die than to face a life of despair, suffering and torture. And yet .
. . the partisans survived and lived to tell their story today; the Jewish people of Moses’ time left the record of their history in the Torah . . . and here we are today. Can we take it for granted then, that we will be here next year and for many years to come? I think, the answer to that is “no” – we can only know about the present. The future belongs to God – and that is why we turn to appeal to God to please keep us alive.

But why do we ask God “to remember” us for life? What does this idea of remembering have to do with our survival? Why do we need to remind God the Omniscient and Omnipotent to remember? Can this act of remembering in itself have such power that it will affect our ability to live?

An answer I found was in a traveling art exhibit entitled “The Fabric of Survival”. It is a series of fabric collages depicting the life of Esther Niesenthal Krinitz and her small Jewish community in a Polish village before, during and after the Holocaust. You are brought into her world to realize that on quite ordinary-looking days in a quiet countryside, this young Jewish girl faced the question of survival in the face of great forces of evil. She chose not to go with her family to the railroad station but rather to flee with her younger sister into the woods. In her story you see the great courage she had and the many blessings she experienced that enabled her to survive these terrible events. It is through our memory, in other words, that we can find the courage to go forward when we gain perspective
of what we have experienced, our strengths, and the many blessings from God.

When we appeal to God to remember, it is not just to see us as we are now, but to remember more deeply: Why did you create us, God – this unique being, this people chosen by You long
ago? Remember, God, that You gave us life – and that You value life – so please make Your choice to give us life of opportunity to do good.

Leshana Tova VeTikateivu BeSefer Hahayyim!