Office of the Chief Rabbi

Thought for the Day: To forget, or not to forget?

“Our prospects for the future depend, to a large degree, on our recollection of the past.” On today’s ‘Thought for the Day’, the Chief Rabbi acknowledges both the relief offered by human forgetfulness and the perils of suppressing distressing memories.  

” “Thank God for forgetfulness”.

That’s the comment that was passed to me one evening when I met a person who, one year earlier, had endured a painful family tragedy. When I enquired as to how he was coping, he replied, “Things are really tough, but thank God for forgetfulness”, and I knew just what he meant.

“Our ability to forget or compartmentalise can, indeed, be cathartic and part of the healing process”

The Biblical Joseph called his first child Menashe, meaning forgetfulness, to thank God for enabling him to forget the painful tribulations of his youth.

If we would remember everything all the time, we just could not survive.

Amongst the small number of people who have been identified as having Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, through which they have nearly total recall, some describe their gift as a curse. That’s because they vividly recall bitter and tragic experiences, which their minds constantly rewind and replay.

Our ability to forget or compartmentalise can, indeed, be cathartic and part of the healing process.

However, sometimes we forget the past at our peril.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this through the unfolding of the migrant crisis during the past weeks and months. With echoes of previous human torment and distress ringing in our ears, and hundreds of thousands of migrants desperately searching for a safe and secure haven, European nations are remembering and translating the lessons of the past into policy and action. Across the Continent, we are witnessing a deeply compassionate response to this desperate humanitarian crisis.

“Preserving survivors’ testimonies for posterity is an urgent act of remembrance”

Given the empowering energy of remembrance, the work of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation to ensure Britain keeps its promise to remember the Holocaust is very significant for all of our citizens. The Foundation will take from vision to fruition the Prime Minister’s pledge that the lessons of the Holocaust will be learned for generations to come.

Part of the Foundation’s vital work is its Survivor Testimony Project. Many Holocaust survivors have not yet recorded their story and are now being encouraged to come forward. With time running out, preserving their testimony for posterity is an urgent act of remembrance.

This Sunday evening the Jewish community will mark the start of Rosh Hashana, our New Year, which is also called Yom Hazikaron, Day of Remembrance. We believe that on this day, God will recall our past deeds and judge us accordingly.

There is an urgent need for every day to be a Day of Remembrance, for each and every one of us. Our prospects for the future depend, to a large degree, on our recollection of the past.

Yes, thank God for remembrance! “

Print Friendly, PDF & Email