As the Days of Awe rapidly approach, I give thought to the year soon passing and anticipation of the new year to come.
The years 5775 and 5776 were bitter years for me. In 5775, one of my dearest friends in Rishon Lezion died after suffering in agony from pancreatic cancer for more than one year. Six months later, her husband who had no will to continue living without her, joined her in death. His heart could no longer beat. Five of their children recited kaddish for the tragic loss of both parents.
In 5776, just days before Rosh Hashanah, my beloved and sainted wife of 56 years died from pancreatic cancer. She had suffered physically for nine months prior to her death, while I suffered mentally watching her deteriorate week by week.
On the previous Rosh Hashanah I had fervently prayed “zochrainu l’chayim, melech chafets b’chayim”… remember us for life, O King who desires life. And to that prayer I cried out with tears “Al tashlichainu l’et zikna”…. Do not cast us away in our old age.
Elderly Jews can relate to that prayer as we beg for God’s mercy to grant us more years of life.
We speak of “life” but what does “life” mean? We have a body. Some believe that there is a soul within that body. Upon a physical examination, all the parts of the body can be seen. But not the hidden invisible soul. So what kind of life do we pray for?
Good health, peace, prosperity, love and devotion, success, happiness, nachas from children…. these are some of the blessings that make a life worthwhile.
When I pray for peace, I mean “shalom bayit”…. Peace within the family. I have stopped praying for peace between us and the Palestinians because I consider it a “bracha l’vatala”… a wasted blessing in vain . It will not be in many of our lifetimes.
5776 was the most bitter year of my life. In a few more days on the 20th of Elul, I must light the first yahrzeit candle at home, go to the cemetery and implore my beloved Rahel to intercede with the Almighty for me, our children and our grandchildren for a new year of life and blessings.
Do I honestly believe that the dead can intercede? No. But I do it out of habit and tradition. I am not able to conceive of a physical heaven or a physical Sheol (hell). I believe that if we are happy on this earth, this is our heaven. And if we suffer on this earth, this is our hell. There is no paradise such as exists in Islamic belief. And wherever we may be, God is always with us, loving us, blessing us, offering us hope..
Zochrainu l’chayim is replete with meaning. We want a new year of life to inspire us to mitzvot, to deeds of righteousness and holiness. We want a life of brotherhood and tolerance by a Jew for another Jew. We want our Israel to be an example of humanity to the nations of the world. It is our raison d’etre, the sole reason and purpose for our chosen-ness…to be a real “or la goyim”… a light unto the nations.
We have so much to offer to mankind. The word “Bible” comes from the Greek “ta biblia”, the books. Jews refer to it by its Hebrew name, Tanach, the division into three separate parts representing the five books of Moses, the books of the prophets, and the written novellas, fictional and non-fictional.
What an amazing thought it is to me that every monotheistic religion in the universe is based upon everything that is written in the Hebrew Tanach.
God has given each of us a mission. Everyone’s mission is different. On Yom Kippur we read about the mission of Jonah who ran away from his mission only later to realize that one cannot flee from God nor from the mission He has assigned to us.
“Melech chafets l’chayim”…. The King who desires life. That is God’s wish for us. And acknowledging it, we cry out for His mercy…”zochrainu l’chayim”.. remember us for life. “Kotvainu l’chayim”…inscribe us for life. “Chotmainu l’chayim”…seal us in the book of life.
May the coming Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayers lift up our hearts, voices, and yes…even the invisible soul, before the Throne of the Most High. May our wishes be fulfilled and our prayers heard and answered.
The English words “happy New Year” are incorrect from the Hebrew “shanah tovah”… a “good” New Year.
So may it be for all the Household of Israel. Ken yehi ratzon !