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 how 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 a double-sided volume that includes the complete Yizkor text, Tehillim for the cemetery, Kaddish, and other relevant tefillot, as well as a collection of essays by the venerable longtime chancellor of Yeshiva University (1976–2013), Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, z’l, on themes of memory and meaning.
Designed in a convenient personal size, Memory and Meaning is entirely dedicated to commemorating the departed. The beautifully written pieces shed light on what Jewish law, thought, and tefillah tell us about family relationships, memory, bereavement, and hope. This beautifully written book adds many levels of meaning to the Yizkor prayer, making it a good choice to give to those who have recently lost a parent or loved one, at a time when other gifts are inappropriate but one wants to give something that provides lasting comfort.
The opening essays on every individual’s potential and on doing right by oneself are a reminder for those sitting shivah of their own self-worth during this difficult period of adapting to loss, sorrow, and the inability to make up for lost opportunities.
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,” wrote Rabbi Sacks 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.”
Analyzing the Yizkor prayer, Rabbi Lamm speaks of the essence of Jewish mourning:
“As we recite the Yizkor, we affirm that each individual is the immortal concern of the eternal Creator … we each are endowed with the power to employ our distinctiveness, our uniqueness…
“No feverish activity can change the past … We just utter a few words and in the silent privacy of our own hearts offer a prayer and reunite in stillness with our cherished memories. This wordless rendezvous with the past, with our roots, with our parents and our loved ones, can only enlarge and refine us.”
“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. Over the last eight years, the partnership has released a 20th anniversary edition of Rabbi Lamm’s masterwork, “Torah Umadda; the Derashot LeDorot,” a selection of essays based on the weekly sermons delivered by Rabbi Lamm, z’l, early in his rabbinical career; The Philosophical Quest of Philosophy, Ethics, Law, and Halakhah, a collection of essays by Rabbi David Bleich, Herbert and Florence Tenzer Professor of Jewish Law and Ethics, in a variety of topics relating to Jewish philosophical thought; a multi-volume set of topics on contemporary Jewish law, authored by Yeshiva University’s esteemed roshei yeshiva; and four volumes of the MiTokh Ha-Ohel series, a collection of original essays on the parshiyot, haftarot, and tefillot for weekdays and Shabbat, authored by rabbanim and professors from every division of Yeshiva University.
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.