The last day of Passover is one of four occasions in the Jewish liturgical calendar when special memorial prayers are recited in memory of loved ones who have died. Known as Yizkor, from the Hebrew root pertaining to remembering, the prayers themselves are no different from holiday to holiday. So one might reasonably ask, why keep repeating them?
Perhaps repeating the same words, in this context especially, reminds us that it’s not the words that change, it’s we who change. Each year and each holiday bring with them a new context or frame of reference. And since how we remember the dead is entirely dependant on us, it’s a particularly useful practice.
Remembering is about more that recovering or holding on to old facts. Memory is an aggressive act in which we construct and reconstruct our relationships with those no longer physically present in our lives.
Whether we loved them, or we hated them -whether the memories are pleasant or painful, they are still with us. As Abraham Joshua Heschel taught,
As Abraham Joshua Heschel taught, “death is the end of doing, not the end of being”. So with each holiday, we can reflect on how our memory of those who have died is shaped by our ongoing experience and the experience of the particular holiday.
Passover is about liberation. This Yizkor, stop for a moment and remember a departed relative or friend in a way that liberates you or which recalls how they helped to liberate you when they were alive. Perhaps the memory of them serves to liberate you still. These last days of Pesach are the perfect opportunity to remember how.