“Memory is the scribe of the soul.”-Aristotle
Judaism ascribes much meaning and power to words. This coming week, as we celebrate the Jewish New Year, there is a tradition at the meal to pronounce blessings for the coming year, as well as curses calling for the destruction of our enemies. Jews have not lacked for enemies or colorful curses to bestow upon them.
One of my earliest introductions to Yiddish was the imaginative curse: “May you grow like an onion, with your head in the ground and feet in the air.” (Vaksn zolstu vi a tsibele mitn kop in dr’erd un di fis farkert!) However, the worst curse used by the Jews is the phrase “Erased shall be his name and his memory.” (Yemach shemo ve’zicroh).
One can think of much more graphic, violent, demeaning curses than what might seem like an innocuous wish for someone to be forgotten. However, the curse of erasure is reserved exclusively for the most horrific villains in the history of Judaism.
The Ohr Hachayim (on Deuteronomy 29:19) explains why this might be so. Erasure, he describes, is nothing less than the cutting off of a soul. Every human has a soul. That soul is a divine spark, the eternal part of his being, his personality, that will survive long after his body has turned to dust. To have ones soul cut off means the destruction of that eternal soul, it means the removal of the divine element in man. It means that when the person dies, there is no hereafter. It is pure oblivion. It is the destruction of an immortal being. It is considered the worst punishment imaginable, worse than all the suffering of this world or the next.
The flip side is that barring such a horrific destiny, we all possess a part of God within us, that under normal circumstances will connect us to Him forever. He wants us to nourish the soul, protect it, grow it and return it better than how He gave it to us. The coming week is considered particularly timely for introspection as to how we’ve been treating our soul this year and what strategies we might pursue to improve our performance in the coming year.
May we all have a year inscribed for blessing, good memories, health, happiness and great success.
Shabbat Shalom and Ktiva Ve’chatimah Tova,
To all those that I may have harmed, offended, annoyed or in any way disturbed – I ask your forgiveness – and your blessings.