by Simcha Paull Raphael
On the last day of Passover it is traditional to recite Yizkor prayers in memory of deceased loved ones. This year for those who observe eight days of Pesach a Yizkor candle is lit on the night of Friday April 29, and Yizkor prayers are recited in synagogue on Saturday April 30. For those in Israel, and those in Diaspora who follow Israeli and Reform custom of celebrating seven days of Pesach, the Yizkor candle is lit on the night of Thursday April 28 and Yizkor prayers are said in synagogue on the morning of April 29.
It makes sense that at Passover we remember lives of deceased parents and relatives, with whom we may have celebrated many years of Passover Seders. Though Western culture has a discomfort with the topic of death, and an unwillingness to speak openly about the subject, Judaism provides very effective ways of mourning and remembering the dead. In fact, the inherent wisdom of Judaism in observing Yizkor during times of holy days – Yom Kippur, and on the last days of Sukkot, Pesach and Shavuot – is that even in the midst of joyous celebration, we reflect upon the lives of those who have died, honor their memory, and attune to their souls in the world beyond.
I find that Passover, in particular, is a poignant time for remembering loved ones, telling stories about their lives, and sharing memories of years gone by. As a bereavement counselor and death awareness educator, I encourage people to talk about deceased loved ones throughout the day even after reciting of Yizkor, even if it means feeling bittersweet memories of their loss. Even more, I find it helpful to remind people that Yizkor is more than just a psycho-emotional bereavement practice, it is also a way for spiritual attunement, for opening one’s heart and mind to hearing the wisdom which our loved ones might offer to us at this time of our lives. Perhaps each year, each season of our life there are different messages we need to hear from our loved ones who are no longer with us.
So as Passover comes to an end this year, remember that – in addition to lighting a candle and saying traditional prayers – Yizkor is designed to be an opportunity to remember the deceased; to honor one’s own feelings of grief and loss; to share memories with family members and friends; and also a chance to attune to the soul and spirit of the person who has died, and the legacy they have left behind.
With this in mind, I offer the following kavannah for Yizkor – it can be read in a synagogue setting prior to Yizkor or used a personal kavannah for your own Yizkor Jewish tradition, in its wisdom, teaches us that between the world of the living and the world of the dead there is a window and not a wall. Unfortunately, in our culture of scientific materialism, we often believe that dead is dead, and after death, the channels of communication between us and our loved ones who have died are forever ended – a brick wall! But, like the rituals of Shiva, Kaddish, and Yahrzeit, Yizkor opens windows to the unseen worlds of the dead. Yizkor creates a sacred space and time wherein we can open our hearts and minds to the possibility of a genuine inter-connection with beloved family members and friends who have left behind the world of the living. Yizkor is a window. Prepare to open that window…
As you recite Yizkor prayers let your senses and imagination serve as the vehicle of inter-connection. For whom are you saying Yizkor today? Can you imagine that person’s face before your eyes? See their smile, visualize how they might be carrying their body standing next to you. Do you recall the sound of their voice? Hear their words as you stand in prayer. Feel their presence right in this moment. In your mind, in your heart, allow a conversation between the two of you to unfold. What needs to be communicated this year? What’s the message you need to hear today? What are the silent prayers of the heart? What remains unspoken? Speak. Listen. Take your time. There is no reason to hurry. This is a timeless moment. Let all the radiance of their love to be with you right now.
Yizkor teaches us to remember the dead. Long after people die, their legacy lives on inside of us. Within the wellsprings of our infinite souls we find the window of connection between the living and the dead.
Simcha Paull Raphael, Ph.D. is online at http://www.daatinstitute.net