Yizkor is said four times a year: on Yom Kippur, the last day of Sukkot, the last day of Passover, and the second day of Shavuot. There’s also a custom to light a yahrtzeit candle for our loved one the night before Yizkor is said, and to say “L’EEloy nishmat [Hebrew name ben/bat father’s Hebrew name]” which means, “may this be an elevation of the soul of [insert name of loved one]”. A candle is compared to a soul in a number of places in Jewish literature and lighting a candle is a Jewish way to memorialize a loved one.
Staying In for Yizkor
Yizkor is one of the strangest events that happens in a synagogue. Most of the members leave the sanctuary, and only some stay to say a special prayer that only applies to them. The reason for this is that if someone has both of their parents alive, and is thus not obligated to say Yizkor, it would be an “ayin hara” to stay in and have all the bereft congregants feel envious.
I’m in the Yizkor Club – the club no one wants to be in. I’ve been saying Yizkor since I am 7 years old, aware of the pity for being so young. Even now at 39, it’s somewhat depressing that a person my age has to say Yizkor, even though it’s actually one of my favorite things to say. I’ve always connected very strongly to what Judaism teaches us about the afterlife, and in Yizkor, it’s so poignantly and openly discussed – essentially, permission to dwell on death.
It’s kind of like the elephant in the room. Talking about the loved ones that we miss, especially decades later, is something that’s not socially appropriate most of the time, and those of us who have lost a loved one treasure the opportunity to talk about them, cry for them, and mourn a mini-mourning. More, Yizkor is my chance to offer help to my deceased father by asking God to remember him in the next world. This is incredibly empowering in a situation which mostly leaves one feeling helpless.
It always suprises me how short Yizkor is.
God, please remember the soul of my father, my teacher, Moshe ben Aryeh Leibush, who has gone on to his world. Because of this, I will commit to giving tzedakah in his merit. May his soul be bound up in the bonds of life, with the sould of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah and with the other righteous men and women who are in the Garden of Eden; and let us say Amen.
That’s it. But the old ladies in shul always hung around for longer, leaving me wondering what on earth they were doing for so long. So since I didn’t want to leave conspicuously early, I just used those moments to meditate on my loss, and my hopes for the future.
It was in those moments, I discovered the Kel Malei Rachamim prayer that delves even more beautifully into what is going on with the souls of our loved ones in the next world.
God who is full of mercy, who dwells on high, please find a good peacefulness, on the wings of the Shechinah (Divine Spirit of femininity), in the lofty heights of the holy and pure, who shine like the brilliant brightness of heaven, to the soul of Moshe ben Aryeh Leibush, who has gone to his eternal rest. Because of this I commit to giving tzedakah on behalf of his soul. May his resting place be in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, may the Master of mercy care for him under the protection of His wings forever, and bind his soul in the bond of everlasting life. God is his inheritance and may he rest in peace, Amen.
These last few lines are so incredibly moving and comforting for me. They remind me anew each time that death is not an end, that what we see is not all there is, that I matter in continuing the legacy of my father, that Jewish continuity effected by me and my siblings matter to him, and that I am not at all helpless in the face of loss and tragedy.
May God remember, and may we remember.
What has your experience been with saying Yizkor?