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In these three explanations, Reb Levi Yitzchak also provides teachings that can serve as three approaches to the recitation and concept of Yizkor.
There are those who view the Jewish past as “ancient” history, with few lessons or consequences for the present or the future. For them, the past is “complete.” It is gone. It does not “linger.” For them, spirit of Judaism is a lost in ancient winds, lacking any relevance or contemporary mode of expression. Their Jewish past is over and done, having ceased with the passing of parents and grandparents. For them, the completion of the past holds no sway on the present nor promise or hope for the future.
Then there are those Jews who find a more meaningful, if incomplete, method of remembering the past, of reciting Yizkor. They can recall a past that still “lives” in warm and tender feelings and sentiments. But it remains in the past. They refuse to allow the past. no matter how warmly recalled, to impact their present or future. These Jews respect the past, may even study and analyze it; they may research and publish studies about the world of our fathers and shtetl life – the world of yesterday. These are the Jews who recite Yizkor recalling the siyyum but who never utter hadran ha’lach – “I shall return to you.”
For them, the past is sealed. It exists without the anxieties of kasha alai peridatchem – without the inspiration to carry on the legacy of those who taught us to count.
The only genuine method of reciting Yizkor compels us to do more than simply remember. It empowers us to be able to translate our memories, emotions and love of the past into new realities. Solomon exclaimed, “Why awaken or rouse the love, unless you are willing to create a new vessel to contain it?” Recalling the past has meaning only when one is able to translate the ahavah into a new chefetz.
The hard tears we cry as we remember tell us clearly that our present is only possible because of the past, and that any future must likewise be connected with the present. Remembering those who came before us, with their love and devotion, must simultaneously include an acknowledgement that their past is not only our present, but also the future for the next generation.
The past is complete, the future our hope.
We only linger in the present as we balance between the two.
About the Author: Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran is an educator, author and lecturer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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