“Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?” This question is posed by the classic New Year’s Eve song Auld Lang Syne. The song originated in Scotland and is sung at times of farewell (to the old year, with an uncertain new year ahead).
The Talmud (Berachot 58b) cites an interesting rule about old friends and how, indeed, they are never truly forgotten. “Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: One who sees a friend after a lapse of thirty days says: Blessed is He who has kept us alive and preserved us and brought us to this season. If [it is] after a lapse of twelve months he says: Blessed is He who revives the dead. Rav said: The dead are not forgotten till after twelve months, as it says (Psalms 31:13): ‘I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind; I am like a lost vessel.’”
Jewish life, however, is long on memory. The first year after a person passes away, there are numerous commemorative markers (shiva - the first seven days; shloshim - the thirty day mark; yahrtzeit - the one year mark). Afterward, the annual observance of the anniversary of death (yahrtzeit) generally keeps a person’s memory alive for many more years.
In some cases, a person who has passed away only comes to mind at the time of their yahrtzeit, just as the return of an old friend into one’s life brings back memories of times past.
The custom of greeting an old friend with a blessing is no longer in general practice. Of course, in this day of telephones, internet and the various social media platforms, it is far less common to completely lose touch with good friends.
This Treat was last posted on December 30, 2010.
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