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Memory, Mourning, and Memorials

09/14/2021 01:19:46 PM


Good afternoon! How’s everyone hanging in there? We still have a while to go before the gates of repentance clang shut, before our prayerful fasting is over, but the Day of Atonement is more than half hour. What have you gotten out of these hours? What do you still hope to get out of the next hour or three before we say goodnight?

Soon, we turn toward Yizkor, one of the most popular services of the high holy day lineup, second probably only to Kol Nidrei. Traditionally, Yizkor is said not only at Yom Kippur, but also during the morning festival services – the last days of Passover and Sukkot and on the day of Shavuot. However, even at Reform synagogues I know that do draw a minyan for those festival mornings, Yom Kippur Yizkor is the one most attended, the one people make a point of giving names to the rabbi or ritual committee for. Is it the fasting and the solemn liturgy of this day that lends itself to being the primary Yizkor observance?

Or perhaps it is our scripture. The afternoon Torah reading comes from the Holiness Code, the commandments to not stand idly by the blood of our neighbors and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The Haftarah of course comes from Jonah, who is sent to a non-Jewish city to redeem a sinful people. The people do repent and live, and Jonah is mad about it. The book ends with God scolding Jonah for his lack of compassion for the people of Nineveh, that he would wish for their destruction rather than their redemption.

A linked message in each of these passages is that life can be fragile and fleeting, and we are all likely to make egregious errors throughout our lives. We depend on the grace and compassion of others and of God to get by, and so we must remember to be compassionate and extend grace to others. The day comes for us all when we are no longer here to make our own teshuvah, and we should hope that we leave behind loved ones to say our names at Yizkor. We must diligently seek improvement of our own souls and help others to do the same. We must extend kindness and assistance even to those who do not seem invested in the improvement of their own souls. We must love every person as a reflection of the Divine, and do the holy work of repairing the world through acts of lovingkindness and justice. Then we honor the memory of those who taught us well, those whose images we are ourselves a direct reflection of, those whose legacies we pass on from generation to generation. And then, we merit remembrance of our own, holy commemoration on our behalf and prayers for our souls when we are gone.

May this Yizkor lift our voices up to the heavens, to the world to come, and may our grief-stricken hearts be soothed this Day of Awe and Memory. Amen.

Sat, May 28 2022 27 Iyyar 5782