Sunday, March 4, 2012
Last week, at the suggestion of a friend, I deleted my Google search history (not that there was anything inappropriate there - only keywords under strict rabbinic supervision). I had not even known that this record existed, but digging deeply into my account, I found that everything that I had electronically sought since August of 2007 was just sitting there in this history file. It was a wee bit scary and vaguely fascinating, and then it was gone. Perhaps.
We are witnesses to a paradigm shift with respect to memory. Whereas our "permanent records" once contained only a few bytes of information, in the near future virtually everything about us will be readily available - where we were, who we were with, what we were thinking at the time, and so forth.
Judaism is essentially all about memory. We read and study the Torah over and over, recalling stories that go back 3000 years and more, and making them come alive for the present day. We celebrate holidays that invoke collective, national memory - tales of creation, revelation, and redemption. We name our children after deceased relatives, renewing personal memories in the circle of life. We endlessly recall the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, gone since 70 CE*, in liturgy and ritual. And on and on.
The Shabbat right before Purim is called Shabbat Zakhor, the Sabbath of "Remember!". On it we read a passage from Deuteronomy that includes the commandment to remember Amaleq, the tribe from which Shushan's bad boy Haman descended, specifically to erase this tribe from global memory. This is ironic, particularly since the book of Esther tells us that Haman and all of his sons were destroyed. There have been no Amaleqites for perhaps 2500 years, and yet we continually remember to blot them out.
As technology redefines memory, we Jews will sail into this curious, unforgettable future using the same approach that we have always taken. Our memories have kept us alive and sustained us for millennia, even when we remember so that the world may forget.
Rabbi Seth Adelson
(Originally delivered at Temple Israel of Great Neck, Friday evening, 3/2/2012.)
* CE = "Common era" - Jews prefer not to use the Christian formulation AD, or "anno domini," Latin for "in the year of our lord," i.e. Jesus.