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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Recollection and Response

Old Testament writers often describe God in human terms, though we know from other statements in scripture that many of the human qualities they ascribe to God cannot possibly be true of him in precisely the same way they are true of us.

Memory is a good example, as Ashrei points out:

“To remember, so we are inclined to think, is primarily to preserve in our consciousness a fact or an experience. A ‘good memory’ is one which retains precisely and vividly that which has been seen, heard or learned. In short, we tend to regard memory as simply one comprehensive archive. Retention of the past has great significance per se. However, it hardly exhausts the full range of memory.”

When the Old Testament speaks of God “remembering”, it does not merely refer to his ability to retain information, as it might with us.

The author of Genesis, for instance, is not referring to recollection, but to sympathetic response:
“There is memory which is not the recollection of an emotion but which is itself an emotion; and as such it may, strangely enough, relate to present and future no less than to the past. When the Torah tells us (Bereshit 30:24) [Genesis 30:22], ‘And G-d remembered Rachel, and G-d hearkened to her, and opened her womb,’ are we to understand that she had been forgotten at some point?

Does the verse (Bereshit 8:1) [Genesis 8:1], ‘And G-d remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the cattle that were with him in the ark,’ describe some change in the range of His knowledge? Clearly, vayizkor in these verses signifies attention rather than knowledge. They tell us that G-d heeded Rachel and Noah, respectively; and they suggest that zikkaron may denote response and relationship.”
I find that useful.

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