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Do You Remember? -- Chronicle Online/The WORD 10/05/23

Weekly On-line Rabbi's D'var-Torah

October 5, 2023 20 Tishri 5784 Yizkor Shemini AtzeretHow do you best remember things? Do you set an alarm on your phone? Do you write things down on a piece of paper? Do you say something over and over again? Do you tie a string around your finger? These are all tried and true methods of remembering. The Jewish tradition has a special way of helping us remember our loved ones who have passed away. It’s called the Yizkor service and we recite on major Jewish holidays—Yom Kippur, Shemini Azeret (end of Sukkot), Passover, and Shavuot. \The word “Yizkor” means to remember, to recollect, to call to mind. The origin seems to be of pricking or piercing. So, the idea of memory may come from that of penetrating the brain. On holidays, when we would most likely be with our loved ones if they were still alive, we take a few minutes to remember them. We think about how different holidays are without them. This tradition likely goes back to the 9th century. In a Midrash based on Deuteronomy 21:9, the rabbis taught that the living have an obligation redeem the dead, and we do that by remembering them. By the end of the 13th century, across Europe, lists of the victims of the Crusades were read on Yom Kippur. It eventually spread to the Three Pilgrimage Festivals as well. The traditional Yizkor service is comprises a few verses from the Book of Psalms; individual prayers for specific relatives; the El Maleh Rachamim (Memorial Prayer); Psalm 23; and, finally, the Mourners’ Kaddish. It’s a brief service. It’s just enough to imagine that we have invited our deceased loved ones into the sanctuary with us during our Festival liturgy. Because death is an uncomfortable subject, there are many “traditions” that give people permission to skip out on Yizkor. Some say that if you are in the first year of mourning, you shouldn’t attend. Some say that if your parents are still alive, you shouldn’t attend. The truth is that Yizkor is a relatively late addition to the liturgy. There are no ancient laws governing the Yizkor service. So, these “traditions” are not really traditions at all. They are just a way for some folks to avoid talking about death. Yizkor challenges us to talk about our deceased loved ones and honor them even when it’s uncomfortable. Often times, the Yizkor service is recited on a weekday morning, which makes it difficult to attend. However, this week, Shemini Atzeret falls on a Saturday (October 7). So, if there is someone you miss—a parent, a grandparent, a sibling, a child, a friend—please join us this Saturday morning for the Yizkor service. And then you get to invite your loved one into the sanctuary with us. I think you’ll find it comforting. I know it will give you the opportunity to remember your loved one. Shalom, RAF.

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