ZAKAR זכר / Remember – Cindy Elliott

A Word for the Month of TISHREI – A Month of Remembering


When nothing else subsists from the long-distant past, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered…the smell… of things remain poised a long time, like souls… bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory.  ~Marcel Proust

Out of the Land of Heaven
Down comes the warm Shabbat sun
Into the spice-box of earth. [1]

Rabbi Moses Mendelssohn tells us that, “The sense of smell, in the Holy [Hebrew] Language, corresponds to the power of memory in the soul, for the idea of memory is the remaining impression in the soul, after the tangible experience has passed.” [2] We see a glimpse of this in havdalah [3], a ritual marking the departure of Shabbat and the ushering in of a new week. As part of the havdalah ceremony, we breathe in aromatic, sweet spices with hopes to carry the sweet scent / memory of Shabbat into the days until we can once again welcome in this sacred ‘sanctuary of time’ [4].

For the rabbis the Bible was not only a repository of past history, but a revealed pattern of the whole of history… They knew that history has a purpose, the establishment of the kingdom of G-d on earth, and that the Jewish people has a central role to play in the process…they had learned from the Bible that the true pulse of history often beat beneath its manifest surfaces, an invisible history that was more real than what the world, deceived by the more strident outward rhythms of power, could recognize. [5]

In Biblical Hebrew there is no word for history, but there is a word for remember, zakar. Author Yosef Yerushalmi tells that, “Only in Israel and nowhere else is the injunction to remember felt as a religious imperative to an entire people.” Why is that? Maybe it is because as Rabbi Sacks says, “The guardian of conscience is memory.” And what was Israel told to remember? Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your G-d, failing to observe his commands, his laws, and his decrees…(Deuteronomy 8:11). For Israel was called to be a kingdom of priest and a holy people, nowhere was it suggested that it become a nation of historians. [6]

In the Bible, ‘remembering,’ particularly on the part of G-d, is not the retention or recollection of a mental image, but a focusing upon the object of memory that results in action. [7]

Calling to mind that Hebrew is an action language ‘to remember’ is much more than a mental exercise. It is to bring to mind and take to heart. In other words, your remembering leads to action, that is acting on behalf of the one brought to mind. We see this many times over in Scripture in G-d remembering; G-d remembers Noah and brings a wind over the earth [8], “I [G-d] will remember my covenant…never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh” [9], G-d remembered both Rachel and Hannah opening their wombs [10]. And we see that often with G-d ‘to remember’ is connected with compassion. Miryam, the mother of Yeshua, reminds us of this,

He has sustained his servant Yisra’el,
remembering his compassions.
Luke 1:54

Zakar draws a powerful word picture:

Fall is the time of gathering in the harvest and collecting seeds for the coming year. The Talmud calls these days “seedtime,” when in Israel seeds are planted for the coming year. [11] This is also the time that many of us turn over the soil of our garden, preparing the earth for future seed. Using both a tool and our hands we open up the soil and expose what lies beneath.

Remembering does the same thing. Remembering calls to mind those things that have been buried, covered, or simply forgotten. But it is only with the Hand of our Father that our hearts can turn over our thoughts, uncover memories, and expose what may be hidden or forgotten – and bring about both teshuvah and healing.

You shall live in booths for seven days…
Leviticus 23:42

The art of remembering is especially relevant to the celebration of Sukkoth. During the festival of Sukkoth G-d commands us to live in booths – to remember when we were sojourners in the desert. But what exactly are we remembering?

He spread out a cloud for shelter and fire to give light in the night.
Psalm 105:39

Rabbi Eliezer refers to these booths as Ananai H’Kavod, the ‘Clouds of Glory’ with which G-d guided and protected the Israelites during their time in the wilderness. Though Rabbi Eliezer’s language is beautifully poetic – and supported by Scripture – it may cause us to forget that though guided and protected by the ‘Clouds of Glory’ this wasn’t an easy time for the people of Israel. The reality was one of homelessness, of wandering, and insecurity.

In our act of remembering we build a structure that is frangible and flimsy. We construct a roof made of a thin layer of leaves or thatch and dwell in it for 7 days. On Shemini Azeret (the eighth day) we dwell in this fragile structure and pray for rain.

For 358 days of the year, the majority of us have a solid roof over our head. We have heat, air, a bed, food… And in those 358 days of security – we begin to forget. But for these seven days of zeman simchatenu, our time of joy, we live in this frangible structure and are reminded how truly fragile life is and in remembering Rabbi Eliezer’s words, are reminded that we are always, always, always sheltered in the shade of G-d, always in His presence. He is always our security, we are never forgotten. Radically loved by G-d! And, we joy!

The beautiful little flowers, Forget-Me-Not, plead negatively for love, please don’t forget me! But in Hebrew the Forget-Me-Not flower is called zikhrini. It is considered a positive plead when one asks their beloved to “remember me.” I have read that David Ben-Gurion [12] used the classic phrase from Jeremiah 2:2 at his wife’s funeral.

Zakharti lakh hesed ne’urayikh
I remember the love and kindness of your youth.

While in the sukkah may we remember (zakar) the affection and promises of Our Beloved. May we be reminded that our Abba remembers us, even though at times we may forget Him.

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, And the Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a woman forget her nursing child And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. “Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.”
Isaiah 49:14-16

I turn the soil in my heart
to expose what is hidden
concealed in the darkness

but I have been lazy
allowing clutter to fill my mind
engaging distractions
and now these rememberings
some true, some  junk
some outright lies
they are ever fighting and pushing
wrestling with each other

so much drama

Abba, I need a master gardener

Let your hand
turn the soil of my heart
and together
may we work through my thoughts and my memories
separating truth from lie
and as I remember You*
Your words
Your truth
I can remember who I am

no drama
no theatrics
just truth

renew my heart
lay bare
and bring to Light
all that needs healing

fill my heart Abba
with what is good
what is right
what is truth

engage my heart Abba
with what is noble
and has eternal worth

Search me, G-d, and know my heart; test me, and know my thoughts. See if there is in me any hurtful way, and lead me along the eternal way.
Psalm 139:23-24 ~ see also Hebrews 4:12-13

* We cannot know who we are without first knowing G-d. It is only through the Light of G-d that we can come to know our deepest identity – no masks, no excuses, no lies. Through His Light we see our wounds, our emptiness, our weakness, our selfishness, our sins…we also see our true worth, our chosenness, our value, our possibilities, and the inalienable fact that we are a much loved child of G-d.

1. Leonard Cohen, Out of the Land of Heaven, The Spice-Box of Earth, 70
2. Rabbi Moses Mendelssohn, Commentary to Exodus
3. Havdalah means separation or distinction in Hebrew.
4. Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath, 29.
5. Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory, 21
6. Adapted from Yoself Hayim Yerushalmi, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory, 10
7. The JPS Torah Commentary, 56.
8. Genesis 8:1
9. Genesis 9:15-16
10. Genesis 29:22, 1 Samuel 1:19
11. Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzi’a 206b, as shared by Jill Hammer in The Jewish
Book of Days
12. First Prime Minster of Israel.

7 thoughts on “ZAKAR זכר / Remember – Cindy Elliott

  1. Thank you for this enriching article. I love the repetitions of Adonai Adonai G-d of compassion and favour, slow to anger…….Ex 34:6-7 in the liturgy for this time. Without knowing how kind and compassionate He is, how could we risk the journey of self discovery and repentance that you describe. Those words carry me through the 10 days of awe and Yom Kippur. They describe a G-d I want to return to and in the parable of the forgiving father, Yeshua gives us a picture story of such a return. As the prophets tell us our destination in returning is Adonai, our welcoming heavenly Father. You hit the nail on the head. Knowing who G-d is and his character gives us the courage for the return journey back to Him. Wishing you courage and every blessing for a tzom kal and a “fatted calf” to follow.

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