When the first light burst from its hiding
place, she said to her neighbors: “I will go and
say kaddish for my son; if not, my mind will go
to pieces.” They said to her: “Wait in your
house and we will find you a synagogue that
will hear your cry.”
The woman’s neighbors were busy with
their own family matters and, fearful that their
requests would be denied, didn’t keep their
promise and didn’t find her a synagogue. In
their hearts, they knew they were acting poorly,
and they were too ashamed to go and visit her.
One day at minchah, the woman entered
our synagogue. When the ba’al tefillah
finished, she stood in the women’s section and
said kaddish out loud. The men turned to her
in confusion, not having seen or heard a
woman enter, and they wanted to hush her.
She said to them: “Whenever I speak of him, I
remember him all the more!” They didn’t let
her stay among them.
When she returned home, I found her,
walking as I was in her courtyard. When I saw
that her face had changed, I said: “Why are you
following your son in mourning down into the
grave?” She wanted to answer me and could
not. She struggled to say something, and only
a groan broke through from her throat. As she
looked at me with animal eyes, the Rosh
Hashanah melody — the words from zikhronot
— arose before my eyes: That’s why my very in-
nards yearn for him.
That night, I went to the rabbi of the synagogue and pleaded for mercy on her.
He said to me: “What’s with you, wanting
to change the order of creation? As for kaddish,
it is our custom that is said only by men standing next to the bima, and women can, from
their place, answer ‘Amen’”; and he brushed
me off. None of the teachings or arguments I
laid before him helped. Finally, I pleaded with
him: “If we say ‘I will have mercy on him, mercies’ for the absent ones, all the more so for
those who are standing right before us!” And I
walked away, with a broken heart and a
Remembering to Let Go
It’s easy to get lost in the myriad biblical quo- tations that fill the pages of the zikhronot section of the musaf prayer service on Rosh
Hashanah. These biblical verses comprise an extended proof-text with regard to God’s role in
the history of humanity and, in particular, to the
narrative of the Jewish people.
It’s also easy to get lost in the theology.
There are verses that speak of God’s honoring
God’s promise of salvation to Noah, Abraham,
Isaac, Jacob, the Children of Israel, and
Jerusalem. God is described as the One-Who-Remembers-the-Covenant. God, in fact, remembers all.
One might expect as much from Jewish
prayer. But for those who are unwilling or unable to pray using a solely theological focus —
or for those who are interested in exploring
other aspects of the spiritual practice for the
Day of Judgment — this zikhronot section presents an opportunity to reflect upon memory
and the act of remembering in our daily lives.
Religious encounters often ask that we imi-
tate the deity. In fact, we humans often choose
to describe that deity, in our case, God, as a just
entity — engaged in keeping our world relatively
safe and preventing it from coming apart.
Indeed, a deity worth imitating.
After 35 years in Israel, Rabbi
David Lazar will begin the year
as rabbi of the Great
Synagogue in Stockholm,
Sweden. In Israel, he played an
active role in the development
of the Masorti/Conservative
Movement and was the
founding director of RIKMA: