A Word with Rabbi Moshe Taub



Yizkar Drashah

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 again!”

“Really!?” Izzy responds, “what is it called?”

 “What 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?”

“You mean roses?”

“Yes! roses”, now screaming into the next room,

“Rose, honey, what’s the name of that new memory pill?”



The 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):


Understanding 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:

(תהלים נא) "... וחטאתי נגדי תמיד"

“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[1]?


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 חטא...במאכלות 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 adrenaline?

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 is.”



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 our victories.

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[2]. 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 they remember?

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, doing Chesed/kindness.

Let us always remember by never forgetting and never forget by always remembering.




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 speech.”

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.”

Neilah, 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!


[1] 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.

[2] Heard from someone who studied with him in Lakewood Yeshiva.


Daf 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 

Home ] Up ]