D’var Torah: Pesach
The Chief Rabbi explains why Yizkor is more about life than about death
There is more to ‘Yizkor’ than meets the eye.
On the last day of Pesach we’ll be reciting Yizkor as we do on Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzaret and the second day of Shavuot. Yizkor, of course, is our prayer for departed relatives. During our festivals we enjoy immensely the presence of mishpacha (family) and we also miss very deeply those who have passed away. So it is totally appropriate that, at the conclusion of the festivals, we pray for their souls.
The term Yizkor is taken from the opening word of the prayer ‘Yizkor Elokhim”, May God remember… so and so. Of course we are familiar with the fact that we are calling upon Hashem to remember those souls. But actually, there is far more to Yizkor – something that not everybody is aware of – a dimension of Yizkor which is concerned with what we ourselves wish to do.
Every time the Torah mentions the concept of ‘zechira’ – remembering, it actually alludes to action which must accompany that memory. That is why in the very brief and moving Yizkor prayer we make a pledge to give to charity, to practice good deeds, “v’ad hascarat neshama” – for the sake of the remembrance of that soul. In this way we guarantee that the piety of that person will be perpetuated in this world. It is in this spirit that Kaddish is recited or services are led during a period of mourning or on ‘yahrzeits’, and that is why we light candles in memory of the deceased – in order to symbolise the fact that the light that they shed continues to burn brightly here on earth. In addition to that, we perpetuate their kindness through the good deeds that we perform, showing that their guidance and their inspiration will continue throughout all generations.
I believe that there is a very important message that we should all take from this – it relates to our own legacies. Nobody can live forever. So when the time comes for us to be called to our maker, what will be the test of the value of the lives that we have led? It will all be determined according to the extent to which we have inspired other people with our guidance.
So therefore, while Yizkor of course is all about death, it’s actually far more about life!
I wish you all Chag Sameach.