Two older Jews are talking. “Izzy, you won’t believe it! My
doctor prescribed this new pill, a memory drug, finally, I feel like I am 30
Izzy responds, “what is it called?”
is it called…well its called…no…the memory pill…it’s called,
no…that’s not it either. Hmm. What is that flower called… they often come
in dozens? Long stemmed, usually red?”
roses”, now screaming into the next room,
honey, what’s the name of that new memory pill?”
FDA is now investigating a drug that may well become the most controversial
pharmaceutical since Prozac came on the market. It’s called Propranolol, and
it has, believe it or not, the ability to erase bad memories. Discovered by two
Professors at the University of California, Irvine, it is best described as
follows (from an article):
propranolol begins with understanding adrenaline, specifically how adrenaline
impacts memory. Try to recall the most intense moments of your life (car
accidents, fistfights, et cetera). In most cases, you will remember the details
from those events far more vividly than less meaningful, more conventional
episodes from everyday existence. This is (at least partially) the product of
adrenaline; the cerebral rush of adrenaline that accompanies intense
circumstances burns those memories into your brain. Adrenaline makes us remember
things. (Esquire magazine)
There is a fascinating disagreement that this study
may shed some light on:
The Talmud (Yoma 86b) cites two opinions regarding
one who repented and confessed on Yom Kippur - if he needs to repeat that act by
the next Yom Kippur as well. Rabbeinu Yona (11th century Jewish
leader, scholar and philosopher) (Shaar 4 #21) and others follow the lenient
view while the Maimonodies (2:8) agrees with the latter. Besides the simple
difficulty with this seemingly redundant requirement, is the verse that both the
Talmud and the Rambam bring:
“lit. my sins are by me constantly” (Psalms 51)
Why would this repeated Teshuvah/Repentence,
presumably already accepted - for otherwise all would agree that repentance is
critical – be referenced as חטאתי/ my sin(s)? Also, if it is a constant (תמיד), why
only on Yom Kippur are we obliged to repeat the act of return?
Today when saying the Vidoys/Confessions, do we remember? על חטא...בלשון
הרע, do we remember the gossip that we said this year or the
pain it caused others? על
אסורות , do we
remember the food we should have not eaten or the grace after meals ignored? The
Sabbath lights unlit, charity not given?
Remember that first time you
spoke back to your parent as a child, the rush, the beating heart, the
This is the indictment.
What happened to the element
of risk in committing a sin? Our failure of recall - as these scientists who
discovered this new drug now have taught us - is precisely what this verse and
the Maimonodies’ view are perhaps stressing- constantly, by every Chet, there
should be a rush of adrenaline, that sears that moment into our conscience.
We may fulfill repentence one Yom Kippur, and indeed G-d has
“forgotten” –but have we? Never!
As the great documentary
filmmaker, Ken Burns, said recently, “History is not what was, but what
Far more then just the scientific, Propranolol
pushes us to ask the tough philosophical question: how much are we, as
individuals, made up of and by our memories?
From the same article:
How big is your life? That is
neither a rhetorical nor impossible question. The answer is easy: Your life is
as big as your memory. Forgotten actions still have an impact on other people,
but they don't have an impact on you. Reality is defined by what we know, and we
(obviously) can't know what we don't remember. What this means is that
propranolol provides an opportunity to shrink reality. It doesn't make past
events wholly disappear from the mind, but it warps their meaning and context.
So if people's personalities are simply the aggregation of their realities (and
if reality is just an aggregation of memories), it can be argued that
propranolol is a drug that makes people's lives artificially smaller. This makes
certain kinds of people nervous, including those involved with the President's
Council on Bioethics. (esquire)
If the above is true and
indeed our life is predicated on our memories, then we must ask ourselves what
it is that we remember. Yizkar, whose root is by the Laws of Yom Kippur (See
Shulchan Aruch, The Code of Jewish Law ad loc), is, again, a memory test.
Who do you remember and what
do you remember about them? The constants, the excitement brought to study, to
Mitzvot. The danger and fear when we were caught doing what we ought not to have
done; the bleakness when those we loved were disappointed in us; their joy in
Well over a decade ago Shlomo
Carelbach (famed Jewish folk singer) spent a Shabbos near our home in Thornhill,
Canada. It was, perhaps, one of the most memorable Shabbosim I have had. I also
witnessed something extraordinary: over the course of Shabbos, Shlomo met well
over 500 people and by Shabbos’ end he remembered everyone’s full (first,
middle and last) name. He was brilliant, but he did not possess a
photographic memory. What he did have was an
adrenaline rush of love upon meeting every Jew.
Every year George Will and
others have a column on “the Year in Review”. These not only provide a quick
and fun perusal of recent, and sometimes forgotten, events, but a window into
the souls of those writers as well. How do they remember? What do
Looking back at this year what
do we remember? Our successes? Our pleasures, where we dined? Or do we
recall those who needed (and perhaps still need) our help and our prayers? Do we
remember Israel; the Jews of Iran; the triumphs of our loved ones; our sins,
yes, but our great spiritual victories as well? The moments spent learning,
A few days
ago I continued in what has become a yearly tradition; I gave the invocation at
the Buffalo 9/11 Memorial.
It is an
honor that I dare not take lightly.
I recall a
few years ago when I was first invited, after a man in a golf cart drove me the
mile and a half to Ellicott Creek podium where everyone was congregated, I was
met by the organizer of the event. She told me that I “have two minutes”.
Assuming she meant that I was on in two minutes, I asked if I could
quickly gather my thoughts. “I am so sorry,” she explained, “you are on in
a half an hour, I meant that you have two minutes allotted for you
When I did
get up to speak I told the audience about this exchange. “What could I
possibly say or accomplish in these two minutes?” I asked. “However, if 9/11
has taught us one thing, it has taught us that plenty can be accomplished in
such a short time. Our world can change, crumble before us. Or it can be
uplifted through acts of heroism and charity.”
Rabbosai, is our two minutes, when we can change everything. What can be
accomplished now, in these sacred, waning moments of Rachamim shall not be lost
in hunger nor abandoned in weakness. Chazak V’Amatz!
 Many of these questions
can be found in the classic commentaries to Rambam.Also difficult is that
Rambam is following the view of an Amora (ראב"י)
on whom he has already stated (הל'
ביהב"ח פרק ב
הל' יח) we do not follow,
see Keseph Mishna.
 Heard from someone who studied with him in Lakewood Yeshiva.
Yomi takes place nightly at the Young Israel of Greater Buffalo, 105 Maple Road,
after the evening services. For complete schedule call 634-0212 or visit their
web site at yibuffalo.org