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FORGET ME NOT

by Rabbi Mordechai Saxon    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Unlike every other holiday service throughout the year, the Rosh Hashanah Mussaf prayer is comprised of three central blessings, highlighting three different aspects of the Day of Judgment.

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Unlike every other holiday service throughout the year, the Rosh Hashanah Mussaf prayer is comprised of three central blessings, highlighting three different aspects of the Day of Judgment. The middle of these three blessings is called "Zichronot - Remembrance", for it refers to Hashem's "remembering" all of our actions in order to render a judgment.

At the end of the blessing, we state that Hashem is "zocher kol hanishkachot - remembers all forgotten things". Rabbi Eliyahu Ki Tov, a great Torah scholar and author of the past generation, quotes an explanation of this Divine attribute as follows: Hashem remembers what we forget, but He forgets what we remember. What does this cryptic explanation mean?

Imagine that a person committed a sin, and after remembering his transgression he does teshuvah (repentance). Hashem forgives his sin, "forgets" it, so to speak. On the other hand, if a person forgets his sin, he naturally does not remember to do teshuvah, so instead his sin is remembered on the Day of Judgment.

The same applies with mitzvot. If a person remembers his good deeds and recounts them time and time again, by the time Rosh Hashanah comes he has already gotten his mileage out of his mitzvot in this world, and there isn't much left of the mitzvah for Hashem to remember. And so it is forgotten on high. On the other hand, when a person takes his role in this world seriously, and instead of resting on his previous accomplishments "forgets" his old mitzvot to concentrate on doing more good deeds every day, then Hashem remembers all of his good deeds on the Day of Judgment. Hence, "Hashem remembers what we forget, but He forgets what we remember."

This principle highlights the importance of constantly striving to bring more goodness into the world (doing more mitzvot), and also the importance of being aware of our shortcomings, since it is only through our honest self-awareness that we are moved to improve ourselves.

In this connection, we find an interesting teaching in the Laws of the Ten Days of Repentance: A questionable sin requires a higher degree of teshuvah than a definite sin. In the time of the Temple, a questionable sin even required a more expensive offering than the offering to atone for a definite sin (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 130:1). Why is this the case? Just as intentional sins are clearly worse than unintentional ones, why isn't a definite wrongdoing (where there is no excuse) worse than an act only questionably wrong or marginally improper?

Just as we teach our children not to look at failure as an absolute tragedy, but as a learning experience and an opportunity to grow, sin in and of itself is not the end of the world, provided that we learn from our mistakes and, in the course of teshuvah, become better people.

Hashem creates us with the ability to do self-destructive behavior (sin), and knows that unfortunately that is exactly what we will do. As King Solomon states, "There is no person on earth that always does good and never sins" (Ecclesiastes 7:20). Nevertheless, Hashem grants us the opportunity to improve ourselves and become close to Him through the process of teshuvah - admitting our mistakes, feeling remorse, asking forgiveness, and resolving not to do them again. What is important is that we recognize our errors and correct them. By doing so, we can even bring ourselves to a higher spiritual level than before we sinned, as the Talmud states, "In the place where the penitent stands, even the righteous cannot stand" (Tractate Berachot 34b). This may be the meaning of the verse, "Seven times shall the righteous person fall down, but He shall rise up" (Proverbs 24:16). Failure, i.e. sin, is not the end of life, as long as we continually improve ourselves and rise up from that experience.

But this can only take place when a person is aware of his misdoing and takes the steps necessary to correct them. As long as a person rationalizes by convincing himself that what he did may not have been wrong, he will never improve. That is why a doubtful sin is worse than a definite sin. When a person knows that he has done wrong, he can improve. But when a person thinks that his actions are proper (or at least might have been proper), than he is not moved to remorse and will remain sinful. He forgets about it - but on Judgment Day, it is remembered.

May we be aware of only our own shortcomings, instead of looking at our neighbor's, so that Hashem forgets our improper deeds and instead remembers our mitzvot exclusively.

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Rabbi Mordechai Saxon writes from Atlanta.

You are invited to read more Rosh Hashanah articles.

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