WWOT – Weekly Words of Torah: Passover/Yizkor

To inspire, guide, engage, enrich, and empower Conservative Jewish Women
By Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, Executive Director, Women’s League For Conservative Judaism

Yizkor means “may (God) remember,” from the Hebrew root zachor. Originally, Yizkor was recited only on Yom Kippur. Its primary purpose was to honor the deceased by committing to giving tzedakah, or charity, in their memory, 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 loving-kindness. Since the Torah reading on the last day of the pilgrimage festivals, the holidays of Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot, mentions the importance of donations, Yizkor was added to these holiday services, as well. Hence, Yizkor is recited four times a year in the synagogue: on Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of Passover, and the second day of Shavuot. In Israel, it is recited on the combined Simchat Torah/Shemini Atzeret, the seventh day of Passover, and on the only day of Shavuot.

There is something about this mysterious, awe-inspiring service that draws people, probably the pull of remembrance. There are powerful superstitions, bubbemeises (Yiddish for old wives’ tales), which pervade many communities when it comes to the Yizkor service. Some people say that, if one’s parents are alive, one should not stay in Services for Yizkor. God forbid, one should tempt the ayin ha-ra, the Evil Eye, by hearing and seeing others mourn for their departed. God forbid, one should sit down while virtually everyone else was standing for the Yizkor prayers, somehow making the mourners feel bad. There is no legal requirement for those whose parents are alive to leave the service. In fact, many rabbis today suggest that everyone stay for Yizkor, so that the entire congregation can offer the prayers for the martyrs of the Jewish people, and offer moral support to friends and family who may be deeply touched by the memorial service. There are many who are deceased who may not have anyone saying Yizkor for them – such as people who were killed in the Holocaust. Therefore, there is always someone to say Yizkor for; perhaps, we can all consider remaining in the Sanctuary for Yizkor. In addition, let us remember those who have sacrificed their lives for the creation of the State of Israel, and we, too, can recite Yizkor for them. May all their memories remain a blessing.

Weekly Words of Torah is a brief paragraph prepared weekly by our new Executive Director, Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, presented in our “This Week @ Women’s League.” WWOT will provide meaningful thoughts related to the Weekly Torah Portion, an event on the Calendar, a Prayer, or something of Jewish interest, to inspire, guide, engage, enrich, and empower Conservative Jewish Women. If you have any particular interest in future topics, or want to send Rabbi Wolintz-Fields an email, you can contact her at ewolintz-fields@wlcj.org. Read previous Weekly Words of Torah here.