Preparing for the High Holidays, Remembering to Forget?

by Rabbi Jodie Siff

The Hebrew month of Elul, which began the night of August 16th and continues until Erev Rosh Hashanah, September 15th, is both an end and a beginning. It caps off the Jewish year gone by and is the gateway to the year about to begin. By tradition, there is a focus during Elul on taking an account of our deeds just past, as well as preparing ourselves for the Days of Repentance, the High Holidays, ahead. The goal of the month is to do the work of trying to repair relationships we might have damaged, even as we look ahead to a New Year and hope for an inspired connection. Holding the dichotomy that both remembering and forgetting are the keys that unlock teshuva – repentance and return. How do we hold both remembering and forgetting at the same time?

We must struggle to remember: Did we hurt someone during these last months but did nothing to make it right? Had we taken upon ourselves some task or obligation but failed to complete it? Did we drift away from a friend or family member or alienate a neighbor? During this time of reflection, we challenge ourselves to remember difficult interactions. Once they are remembered we can revisit the experiences and ask ourselves how we want to address our actions. At times this is a communal question and at other times it is highly individual.

So often we disregard that it is just as crucial to forget. We spend way too much time and energy harping upon the grievances of our past, holding on to silly arguments we had with a friend, business deals gone bad, or lost opportunities. The capacity to forget and move on is one of our greatest assets, and it can save us hours of self-inflicted hardship. Letting it go, can prevent us from being frozen in regret and recrimination and dwelling on what we see in the past that prevents us from living in the present.

Often times we remember the negative things we do more often than the positive and forget the positive more often than the negative. But the everyday positive things that we do, the little acts of care or kindness that we perform, are what is hard for us to remember. The money we donate to a go-fund-me, the smile we give to someone, the blessing of truly listening when someone asks a question or answers one– these are easily forgotten by us.

So, as Elul continues this week, don’t forget to remember all the tasks left undone, all the repair work needed to fix the broken relationships of the past. But, at the same time, remember to forget any trivial indignities you might have endured or any silly arguments that caused a rift or a rupture with friends or family.

Preparing myself for the new year
Is such a slog
Through so much pain,
So much grief,
So much bad news,
The question: where do we go from here?

Like an apple,
The year was filled
With bites of sweetness.
Yet it’s core was indigestible
The stem, too tough to swallow.

Yet the core of my apple,
Of this past year,
Contains seeds
Which when not consumed
But rather freed and planted
Give rise to apple trees,
Give rise to the possibility
Of generations more of blessing.

May the seeds of this year
Be planted
And blossom
Into Justice.
Into Love
Into Joy
Into Peace.

-Rabbi David Winship

That’s the invaluable prep work that will ensure a year of blessing and meaningful change.

Rabbi Jodie Siff