Memory and Tzedakkah
by Rabbi Debra Rappaport, Shir Tikvah Congregation
Until Rabbinical School, I believed that the Yizkor Service occurred once a year, on Yom Kippur. The afternoon when we’re fasting and deeply aware of our own frailty and mortality, we collectively remember our loved ones who have departed this life. While in fact the Yom Kippur Yizkor service was the original one (and the only one currently observed by many), our ancestors added three other times during the year for memorializing all of our close relatives who have died as well as Jewish martyrs. During the three Pilgrimage Festivals (hagim) of Sukkot, Shavuot, and Passover, our Israelite ancestors would make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem with their offerings. On the last day of each of these hagim, a Yizkor service provided – and still provides – a chance to remember all who have died.
Why do we do this collective ritual? Each one of our deceased loved ones is remembered individually on his or her Yarzheit, the anniversary of their death. Why then do we remember them collectively as well? The Hebrew root of Yizkor is zakhor, which means “remember”. Judaism is filled with calls to remember, especially at Passover, when we teach the story of our becoming a people, beckoning the next generations to join in our collective identity.
Rabbi Ron Wolfson explains, “Originally, Yizkor was recited only on Yom Kippur. Its primary purpose was to remember the deceased by committing tzedakah [charity] funds on the theory that the good deeds of the survivors elevate the souls of the departed. It also enhanced the chances for personal atonement by doing a deed of lovingkindness. Since the Torah reading on the last day of the pilgrimage festivals [the holidays of Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot, when the ancient Israelites made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem] mentions the importance of donations, Yizkor was added to these holiday services.” (source: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/yizkor-the-memorial-service/)
The Yizkor prayer reads, “May G‑d remember the soul of my [father/mother/loved-one], my teacher [insert Hebrew name] who has gone to his/her supernal world, because I will — bli neder without obligating myself with a vow — donate charity for his/her sake. In this merit, may his/her soul be bound up in the bond of life with the souls of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, and with the other righteous men and women who are in Gan Eden; and let us say, Amen.
This year, Yizkor Pesach is today (Friday, April 29th) for Reform Jews and those in Israel, and tomorrow (Saturday, April 30th) for Conservative and Orthodox Jews in Diaspora.
Who will you be remembering?
Will you consider a gift the Minneapolis Jewish Federation in their memory?