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The Yizkor is a Jewish prayer that asks God to remember deceased loved ones. It is a special prayer recited in the synagogue four times a year. This article will list those instances and supply some extra information about the prayer. You can also get more details at Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah. The prayer is said because once the soul of a dead loved one has passed from this physical world, it can no longer do any more mitzvahs or acquire merits. Descendants of the dead are responsible for bringing merit and elevating departed souls through Torah study, prayer, and mitzvahs, which can take them out of purgatory (Gehinnom).
History of the Yizkor Prayer
It was initially primarily recited among Ashkenazi Jews. It is recited on Yom Kippur, the Shalosh Regalim, and the three pilgrimage holidays (Shavuot, Passover, and Sukkot). As Shmini Atzeret approaches, the conclusion of Sukkot is a critical time selected for the recitation of this prayer. It is essential to find out why these times were chosen.
The typical explanation is that the Yizkor was initially instituted in medieval times to give people an opportunity to those who wanted to provide offerings in honor of their deceased loved ones. The Yizkor prayer speaks of giving tzedaka, not in their memory but to ensure the values for which they lived continue. In Numbers, Chapter 28 (a section of The Torah reading for festivals) speaks of donations that the Yizkor expands.
Yom Kippur is a solemn day fitting for remembrance of deceased ancestors. The day’s end allows us to feel cleansed of our sins at the beginning of the new year. The day seeks to instill an essence of renewal. Shavuot is a celebration of the giving of the Torah. It is a significant religious holiday because it signifies the inception of the spiritual journey of the Jews and the end of their slavery through a renewal of possibility and purpose. Passover happens in spring to celebrate nature’s devotion to renewal as withered and empty branches flourish into green abundance.
Shmini Atzeret is a precursor to the Simhat Torah that marks the beginning of the reading of the Torah. This holiday also has a strong theme of renewal. Finally, the holiday of Shmini Atzeret leads into Simhat Torah, when we begin the reading of the Torah anew. Once again, the end and beginning, the renewal, is a central theme of the holiday.
The Jewish Attitude Towards Death
The theme of renewal reveals the profound Jewish attitude towards death. When believers do kriah, it must be done standing to signify the reality of how we meet death with the courage to carry on. The ritual encourages believers to draw central lessons and inspiration from the past lives of their deceased loved ones.
In Judaism, the essence of renewal surrounding the dead applies to both the deceased and those surviving them. During the mourning meal of transition (seudat ha’avarah), which is usually after the funeral, mourners who do not feel hungry are encouraged to eat. This demonstrates their commitment to reinvigorating life as the deceased person’s descendants.
Renewal of the Deceased’s Spirit
There are many and varying Jewish beliefs about death and life after death. All the beliefs maintain that life does not end with death because people possess a divine spark that merely takes another form at death. This spark does not vanish and leaves the earth. The Yizkor exists because the certainty of eternity does not shield believers from the pain of loss.
The recital of the Yizkor on Shmini Atzeret is hauntingly beautiful because it is an extra eighth day of gathering ancient believers instituted to have an extra day with God. It is reminiscent of how we wish to have spare time with our deceased loved ones. It reminds believers that God feels the same way towards them. This prayer on this holiday puts believers in the mental space to pray for God to embrace their loved ones in a Divine embrace even though they may be feeling brokenhearted by their departure.
Believers consider the recital of the Yizkor a religious obligation that is both joyful and sorrowful. While one feels a yearning for the company of their deceased loved ones, they take comfort in doing something to the merit of the departed. The Yizkor also allows people to bring a lot of joy and merit to the souls of their departed loved ones by committing to follow in their footsteps and keep their values alive.
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