Torah Musings: What G-d Remembers


What G-d Remembers

Sarah Pachter

One Sunday afternoon, I was watching my daughter Nava’s basketball game from the bleachers. The players were young and beginning to learn the fundamentals of the game. Mistakes like dribbling down the court the wrong way and handing the ball right into the opponent’s hands happened frequently.

One of the players on the other team was taller and more advanced than all the others. Nava’s coach kept encouraging the team to guard that player. Because she was exceedingly skilled, she got “double-teamed”—two people guarded her simultaneously.

When you are good, you can, and must, be able to handle more challenge.

I always wondered why we bless our daughters on Friday night to be like Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, and Leah. Each faced tremendously difficult challenges. Why not bless them to have a more typical life, for example, to eventually have a big house, large income, and to live comfortably? Instead, we bless them to be like our matriarchs, who although some had tremendous wealth, all experienced numerous tests from Hakadosh Baruch Hu—why? What are we doing to our girls?

On the other hand, if our children were to become star players on the basketball team (or any team), we would enjoy enormous pride—even if that meant more opponents encircled them.

Perhaps, by blessing our daughters to be like our matriarchs, we are giving our girls a “double-team” brachah in disguise. Sarah, for example, is barren, elderly, and deemed unable to procreate. Suddenly, she is told she will have a child, and she reacts with laughter.[1]

The Torah writes that Hashem remembered Sarah and she became pregnant.[2] Rebbetzin Holly Pavlov notes that the word pakad is used for “remember” rather than the more typical word, zachor.

Pakad usually describes a deposit. This word was chosen because our mitzvot are similar to deposits made in a bank. When a person does a mitzvah, that deed belongs to him. Hashem holds our deposits, ready to return them to us at a later time. In Sarah’s case, it was in the form of a child.[3]

Unlike a typical deposit, we don’t get to decide when we cash in; only Hashem controls when and how. Sarah was 90! Was she not a righteous woman who must have merited a baby much earlier? This term pakad does not indicate a lack of righteousness on Sarah’s part. Rather, it connotes how nothing escapes Hashem’s memory, even if we forget.

Rabbi Yoel Gold shares a remarkable story.[4] Every Erev Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Amon from Deal, New Jersey, would go with his wife to visit her mother’s kever. One afternoon at a different time of year, Rabbi Amon and his wife were traveling from Deal to Brooklyn to visit their grandchildren. On a whim, they decided to stop off to visit the kever.

The cemetery was empty, and they were able to park right next to the kever. After Rabbi Amon finished davening, he looked around and noticed a hearse pulling into the cemetery with a few cars trailing behind. The family members exited the car and asked Rabbi Amon if he would complete their minyan. After the prayer service, Rabbi Amon helped them put the coffin into the grave. The men said kaddish, and everyone began leaving with the coffin still not covered.

“One minute, you didn’t bury the person,” Rav Amon said.

They replied, “Oh, don’t worry. We have tractors to do that.” Then, they walked away.

Rabbi Amon had remembered learning in yeshiva that this scenario was referred to as a mes mitzvah. If there is no family to bury a person, it is a mitzvah to do so, even if it is because the family walked away. Rabbi Amon therefore spent over an hour burying the deceased until the entire grave was covered. Before leaving, he wrote down the name of the person.

On his way out of the cemetery he kept thinking, Why did this happen? I don’t normally come at this time of year. What’s the meaning of this?

He made some calls to dig a little deeper and spoke to Rabbi Herman Neuberger, his mentor and rebbe from Ner Yisrael. When Rabbi Amon told him the name, the line went silent.

Rabbi Neuberger finally spoke, “Forty years ago, when you grew up in Seattle, Washington, and you enrolled in Ner Yisrael, your father lost his job. I tried to help by finding someone who would supplement your tuition. The person who ended up sponsoring your tuition for all your years in yeshiva was precisely the fellow you just buried.”

Rabbi Amon was amazed at how everything had come full circle. “He paid for my education, which is where I learned this halachah about burying the deceased. Eventually, I was able to repay him and give him an appropriate burial.”

My husband shared a beautiful thought by the holy Chassidic master Rabbi Yisroel Friedman of Ruzhin. On Rosh Hashanah, we describe Hashem as a zocher kol ha hanishkachot. Hashem remembers all that is forgotten. When you forget, Hashem remembers, but when you remember, Hashem forgets.

When you remember favors you did for others and hold them accountable by expecting something in return, then Hashem does not have to “remember.” But if a person helps people and “forgets” by letting them off the hook, then Hashem is a zocher. Hashem says, “ I’ll remember decades later, when everyone else has forgotten. I will make sure that you will be repaid in full.”

Indeed, Hashem remembered Sarah on Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Remembrance, with the conception of Yitzchak. Perhaps this explains the obscurity regarding these pesukim. When we are good, Hashem remembers. It may not seem this way when Hashem sends challenges to help us become who we are meant to be. Sarah was so righteous that Hashem gave her, and all the matriarchs, many challenges. Essentially, he “double-teamed” his best players.

Despite the challenges, though, Sarah lived her life full of mitzvot, not expecting anything in return from those she helped or even from Hashem.

The Noam Elimelech explains that this is why Sarah laughed upon hearing she would conceive. It was not because she lacked confidence in Hashem or herself, but because she had forgotten about her deposits. She didn’t expect anything in return from anyone—including Hashem. Precisely the moment she forgot, Hashem pakod, remembered, and returned her deposit in the form of a child. Humor is derived when the unexpected occurs, and therefore laughter flowed forth from her.

May we all “forget” in order to allow Hashem to be the ultimate zocher. May He be the one to remember our actions, even years later. And through this, may our mouths be filled with laughter from the unexpected, positive “double-team” brachot from Hashem above.

[1] Bereishit 18:10-12

[2] Bereishit 21:1

[3] Bereishit Rabba 53:18