What's Happening at Local West Orange Synagogues?
This week's focus returns to Congregation Ohr Torah, located at 270 Pleasant Valley Way in West Orange.
Why do we say Yizkor on the last day of Pesach? In the Prayers of "Yizkor," we ask Hashem to "remember" the souls of our loved ones who have passed away.
These include all of our primarily family members who have passed on and our extended family including who have perished in the Holocaust or other national tragedy.
Being that Hashem never forgets, Yizkor is really an opportunity for us to bring to mind intensely, to re-create, if only for a few brief moments, connections that once existed between ourselves and loved ones, who have passed away.
The original custom was to recite Yizkor only on "Yom HaKippurim," correctly translated as the "Day of Atonements (plural)" - meaning Atonement for the Living and Atonement for the Dead.
This custom was based on the posuk פָּדִיתָכַּפֵּר לְעַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר, "Atone for Your People, Israel, whom You have Redeemed." (Devarim 21:8)
The verse is split - "Atone for Your People, Israel" refers to the Living; "whom You have Redeemed" refers to the Dead. However now we have extended the custom to also include other holidays like Shemini Atzeret, Pesach and Shavout.
Yet during each of these chaggim it seems as if Yizkor is something that is just tacked on at the end. Shouldn’t it be the first thing we do? Should we start off every Chag with saying Yizkor and remembering those who help bring us to this point?
I am not sure why we wait to say Yizkor but I imagine that it has something to do with focus. When it comes to getting ready for most of the Chaggim and especially Pesach, our focus is in preparation for the chag and make sure that we do all the laws in a proper manner.
Based on just the amount of product-related questions people have shows how much of our time and focus is on making sure we properly observe Pesach. Even up to a month before Pesach, people start to busy themselves with cleaning the home and getting ready for the chag. Every corner has to be checked and even the smallest crumb needs to be searched out and destroyed. The matza must be bought and the seder foods cooked and set out in a proper manner.
And then, suddenly, our focus changes. Right after the chag begins our focus turns towards the family and dear friends. On the Seder night we turn and focus on those that are seated around us. We teach the children, each in his or her own way. We ask questions of each other and sing together.
On Chol Hamoed we also focus on family.and friends, Halacha demands us to minimize work and free ourselves to spend time with them. During Pesach we move from the nitty gritty details of life to central focus our relationships.
During the end of the chag our focus again begins to change. We start to think on a much broader scale. Pesach triggers memories. From the very start of Pesach thoughts and images of Pesach’s past constantly come to mind. Sometimes it is a food item that was or more often was not available on Pesach.
Sometimes it is an incident or a special event at happened at Pesach or at the Seder. But more often, and most deeply, we think about people.
We think about Pesach’s past and naturally miss those who are not here to share the experience with us anymore. We think about them, we miss them and we long to be together with them once more. It is a feeling that grows throughout the entire week. It is only at that moment, when the pleasant, and not so pleasant memories that we have been recalling all week finally become an integral part of the holiday that we can properly say Yizkor.
If we began the chag by saying Yizkor we would quickly move on to other things because we have to do so much for the chag itself and the feelings and our emotions would be absent from the Yizkor experience.
Yizkor needs time, Yizkor needs focus and most importantly Yizkor needs the emotions and longing for our loved ones. With this emotion we re-establish connection and pray that Hashem will speedily bring us a techias hamesim and allow us to spend the chaggim with our lost loved ones as we did in the past.