Q. Why is Rosh HaShanah called “Remembrance Day” (Yom HaZikkaron)?
There are two aspects: Divine remembrance and human. God remembers our deeds and judges us accordingly; we remember God’s deeds and pray to be worthy of His blessings.
Many of our observances are a reminder to remember. Examples are Kiddush, which is Zikkaron L’Ma’aseh B’reshit – “a reminder of the work of Creation” and Zecher Liy’tzi’at Mitzrayim – “a reminder of the going out of Egypt”, and leaving a section of a wall unpainted as “a reminder of the destruction (of the Temples)”.
On Seder night there is of course Hillel’s sandwich, which is Zecher l’Mikdash – “a reminder of the Temple”.
The siddur contains, after the daily Shacharit service, a list of six Z’chirot, things we have to remember: the Exodus from Egypt, the Revelation at Sinai, the challenge of Amalek, the Israelite provocation of God, the sin of Miriam, and the observance of Shabbat.
With the responsibility of remembrance, however, comes a further duty, which is set out in the verse, Binu Sh’not Dor VaDor – “Understand the Years of the Generations” (Deut. 32:7). Don’t only remember, but look for the meaning behind the events.
JH Hertz says in his commentary on the Chumash that Israel is the author of the idea of history, which means that Jews have to be both historians and philosophers.