The minutes preceding the Yizkor prayer are a time for meditation and introspection. In many shuls, the rabbi uses these minutes to explore those feelings and talk about the place that memories of departed loved ones direct our choices, influencing the way we guide our families and honor our ancestors as we continue their cherished legacy.
Published by Yeshiva University, The Koren Yizkor: Memory and Meaning, is an unprecedented volume that includes the complete Yizkor text, Tehillim for the cemetery, Kaddish, and other relevant tefillot, as well as a collection of essays by longtime chancellor of Yeshiva University Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, on themes of memory and meaning.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the Kressel and Ephrat Family University Professor of Jewish Thought at Yeshiva University, completes the work with a beautiful English translation and eloquent preface. The volume is sponsored by the Michael Scharf Publication Trust of Yeshiva University and was released by Koren Publishers Jerusalem last month.
“There is the specific Jewish way of remembering,” Rabbi Sacks wrote in the book’s preface. “Most cultures’ memories are about the past, but whenever the word Yizkor is mentioned in the Torah, it refers not to the past, but to the present and to renewal. In each case, it was about the future, not about the past.”
“That is what Yizkor is: a Jewish act of thanksgiving for a life that was and that still sends its echoes and reverberations into the life that is,” he added. “For when Jews remember, they do so for the future, the place where, if we are faithful to it, the past never dies.”
In his introduction to the Yom Kippur section, Rabbi Lamm writes that Yizkor reminds us that every person, whether large or small in stature, influences the world, or some part of it, in profound and important ways.
“Do not imagine that only the great and dramatic events are significant. In the Eyes of G-d, and in the eyes of history, we do all we can. For nobody is a nobody and everybody is a somebody. We influence our children, or others’ children. And they, in turn, will influence others. The fact that we are here today is a tribute to them; had our link in the chain of generations been severed, we would not be here today. We must, then, watch our step.”
Designed in a convenient personal size, Memory and Meaning is dedicated to commemorating the departed. The beautifully written pieces shed light on what Jewish law, thought, and tefillah — particularly as encapsulated in Yizkor — tell us about family relationships, memory, bereavement, and hope.
The Koren Yizkor: Memories and Meaning is a magnificent and erudite addition to the growing list of innovative and substantial joint projects undertaken by Yeshiva University and Koren Publishers in Jerusalem.
Rochelle Maruch Miller is a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times. She is a journalist, creative media consultant, lecturer, and educator, and writes for magazines, newspapers, websites, and private clients. She welcomes your comments at Rochellemiller04@aol.com.