Yizkor/Yom Kippur 5774 – Sept 14, 2013 – Yizkor:  May G-d Remember –  Isaac Bashevis Singer once commented:  “We Jews have many faults, but amnesia is not among them.”  Yes, we remember and I leave it to neuroscience to explain why we remember what we remember, but remembering is exactly why so many people are here for this section of the Yom Kippur service—to remember and to ask the G-d remembers, as the name of this service implies…  Yizkor…May G-d remember.

 This statement has a certain irony, for if we are asking G-d to remember, is it possible that G-d can also forget?

Indeed the words of the Yizkor piyyutim were considered to have theurgic power, by those who authored them during the Crusades of Medieval times and by those who added to them following the 17th century Chmielnicki massacre.  But remembering involves the concepts of “time” and “space” and while we relate to time as something that comes and goes, something that passes, we think of space as Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman puts it “a huge, undifferentiated terrain in which we must locate ourselves and through which we may pass back and forth, if we like, endlessly visiting and revisiting sites that exist simultaneously on a map.”[1]

For us, memory leans primarily on time, as temporal.  Rabbi Michael Simon[2] tells a story that is perhaps applicable to time and memory.  It goes like this:

“It had been some time since Jack had seen the old man, Mr. Belser.  College, girls, career, and life itself had gotten in the way.  In fact, Jack

moved clear across the country in pursuit of his dreams.  There in the

There, in the rush of his busy life, Jack had little time to think about the past and often no time to spend with his wife and son.  He was working on his future, and nothing could stop him.

“Over the phone, his mother told him, ‘Mr Belser died last night.  The funeral is Wednesday.’  Memories flashed through his mind like an old newsreel as he sat quietly remembering his childhood  days.

‘Jack, did you hear me?’

‘Oh sorry, Mom.  Yes, I heard you.  It’s been so long since I thought of him.  I’m sorry, but I honestly thought he died years ago,’ Jack said.

‘Well, he didn’t forget you.  Every time I saw him he’d ask how you were doing.  He’d reminisce about the many days you spent over ‘his side of the fence’ as he put it,’ Mom told him.

‘I loved that old house he lived in,’ Jack said.

‘You know, Jack, after your father died, Mr. Belser stepped in to make sure you had a man’s influence in your life,’ she said.

‘He’s the one who taught me carpentry,’ he said.  ‘I wouldn’t be in this business if it weren’t for him.  He spent a lot of time teaching me things he thought were important.’

 

‘Mom, I’ll be there for the funeral,’ Jack said.

As busy as he was, he kept his word.  Jack caught the next flight to his hometown.  Mr. Belser’s funeral was small and uneventful.  He had no children of his own, and most of his relatives had passed away.

The night before he had to return home, Jack and his Mom stopped by to see the old house next door one more time.

Standing in the doorway, Jack paused for a moment… It was like crossing over into another dimension, a leap through space and time.    The house was exactly as he remembered.  Every step held memories.   Every picture, every piece of furniture.  Jack stopped suddenly.

‘What’s wrong, Jack?’ his Mom asked.
‘The box is gone,’ he said.

 

‘What box?’ Mom asked.
‘There was a small gold box that he kept locked on top of his desk.
I must have asked him a thousand times what was inside.  All he’d ever tell me was ‘the thing I value most,’ Jack said.

It was gone.  Everything about the house was exactly how Jack remembered it, except for the box.  He figured someone from the Belser family had taken it.

‘Now I’ll never know what was so valuable to him,’ Jack said.

 

‘I better get some sleep.  I have an early flight home, Mom.’

About two weeks later, returning home from work one day, Jack discovered a note in his mailbox.  ‘Signature required on a package.  No one at home.  Please stop by the main post office within the next three days,’ the note read.

Early the next day Jack retrieved the package.  The small box was old and looked like it had been mailed a hundred years ago.  The handwriting was difficult to read, but the return address caught his attention.

‘Mr. Harold Belser’ it read.

Jack took the box out to his car and ripped open the package.  There inside was the gold box and an envelope.  Jack’s hands shook as he read the note inside.

‘Upon my death, please forward this box and its contents to Jack Bennett.  It’s the thing I valued most in my life.’

 

A small key was taped to the letter.  His heart racing, as tears filled his eyes, Jack carefully unlocked the box.  There inside he found a beautiful gold pocket watch.

Running his fingers slowly over the finely etched casing, he unlatched the cover.

Inside he found these words engraved:

‘Jack, Thanks for your time! – Harold Belser.’

 

Jack paused, and then it came to him.  He said,

‘The thing he valued most…was…my Time.’

Jack held the watch for a few minutes, then called his office and cleared his appointments for the next two days.
‘Why?’ Janet, his assistant asked.   ‘I need some time to spend with my son,’ he said.   ‘Oh, by the way, Janet…thanks for your time!’ “

 

For us, time, a precious gift from G-d, is to be used well, neither wasted nor lost.  Through time, we mortals accumulate memories—some we remember some of which we forget.

The Rabbis conceived as G-d’s memory, however, as primarily spatial.  The tri-consonantal root of the word Yizkor, is yud, zion, kuf, and while we constantly use phrases like “zecher or zikaron l’maasei v’reishit” or “li-y’tziyat Mitzrayim,” we are using remember in the temporal sense.  But G-d, Melech HaOlam….the ruler of the universe is also “mei-atah v’ad olam”…..the ruler from now unto eternity.  This rabbinic insight means that when our powerful liturgy asks G-d to “remember,” it is more akin to pointing out to the Eternal One a point of interest on the vast map of eternity.  For G-d neither sleeps nor slumbers[3]; and G-d does not forget.

So as we enter the Yizkor service, we look inward to our individual and personal histories.  We virtually flip through the personal picture albums of our minds, and recall the loved ones we have lost during our lifetime, we relate to “zecher” as remembering; but G-d looks at “zecher” as an indication of a pinpoint in the time/space continuum.

Isaac Bashevis Singer wasn’t completely correct.  As a people, perhaps we don’t forget, but as individuals, we not only have selective memory, but, as in the case of my Aunt Shoshana (zichrona li-v’racha), who passed away  this week from complications of Alzheimer’s Disease, we are not always equally blessed with the ability to remember, even the simplest functions of living themselves.  But G-d always keeps humans “in mind”—so to speak.  Our prayers imply a chutzpah that we can believe our words urge G-d to look across the vast divine map of eternity, across the generations, to evoke the divine memory of those we love.

So, let us now allow our eyes to close for a moment, so we might evoke the memories of those we have lost.  Let us search for the memories of their look, their touch, their scent….let us remember their courage, their humor, their wisdom…let us place these memories upon our hearts and feel the miracle of our hearts cracking open…  May G-d be with us as we mourn those who have passed in our days and in years gone by.  May the One of Infinite Memory, shelter the souls of our loved ones mei-atah v’ad olam….from now unto Eternity.

 

Ken y’hi Ratzon

Amein.

Rabbi Yocheved Mintz

Congregation P’nai Tikvah



[1] Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, PhD, editor:  May God Remember:  Memory and Memorializing in Judaism.  2013.  Jewish Lights Publishing, Woodstock, VT.  Page 25.

[2] Rabbi Michael Simon, Temple Beth Kodesh, Boynton Beach, Florida.

[3] From Psalm 121:3