The Purpose of Memory
For Jews, the inspiring figures in both the remote and recent past remain as constant companions and role models. They teach by precept and example. Their story is our story. Their courage, wisdom, and goodness are a permanent challenge.
Memory roots us firmly in the past. The fertile soil of more than four thousand years of history nurtures us, providing us with a clear sense of who we are. Our lives add new branches to the tree of the Jewish people. A living past provides for a meaningful present and hope for the future.
As we recite the Yizkor prayer we mention in our hearts the names of all who were close to us--grandparents, parents, friends, and relatives. By preserving the memory of those who were our teachers we are encouraged to continue the tasks they bequeathed to us. The memorial service is an act of faith that goodness does not die with a person but exists in the memory of those who remain alive.
Our thoughts also turn to those of our people who sought, through their lives and through their deaths, to testify to the undying spirit of the Jewish people and its mission as a holy nation.
In the past custom dictated that only those whose close relatives were deceased attended the Memorial Service. But recognizing that so many who died in the Shoah [Holocaust]have no one to recite Kaddish [prayer recited by mourners] for them, and realizing that memory helps to forge a chain of solidarity and continuity between our generation and the past, all are encouraged to participate [in some communities. In others, the custom remains to only participate in Yizkor if one is reciting the prayer for relatives].
The words of the memorial prayer EI Malei Rachamim ("0 God full of compassion") is a petition for the repose of the deceased and an expression of our faith in the ultimate sacredness of humankind.
Death removes our loved ones from their earthly abode, yet Jewish tradition affirms the faith that the divine spark in every human soul has a permanent dwelling place with the Eternal. The mystery of what lies beyond the grave is shrouded by an impenetrable veil, yet within our hearts is planted the hope for eternity. Memory is the sacred link between past and future and between time and eternity.
Immortality is a word which we can associate only with God, but the blessing of memory and the blessedness of the memory of the righteous can be guaranteed by our devoted recall. The mitzvah of Yizkor is a door that opens on eternity, making the present more significant by allowing us to combine memory and hope.
Did you like this article? MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.