Yom Kippur Yizkor 5768
This day of Yom Kippur is intended to help us grow as human beings, created in God’s image. We do this by introspection, evaluating how true we have been to the values instilled within us, and where we fall short, make amends. If we are honest, we will admit to those areas of our behavior that have been sinful, commit to remedy them and seek forgiveness. If we are observing this day with depth and integrity, we confront the quality of how we live our lives with the backdrop of our own mortality.
The primary other time when this kind of soul searching occurs is when we are facing our own deaths or that of loved ones. The following poem, written by Rabbi Karyn Kedar, whose thoughts informed my Yom Kippur evening sermon, entitled “From A Mother To Her Girls,” speaks to this moment. It is written from a daughter’s perspective and the connection between parent and child seems to have been strong and positive. I believe it addresses many of our losses. You will not relate to all of what she writes, but perhaps some of it. She begins:
“The morning you wake to bury me
you’ll wonder what to wear.
The sun may be shining, or maybe it will rain;
it may be winter. Or not.
You’ll say to yourself, “black, aren’t you supposed to
wear black?” Then you will remember all the times we went
together to buy clothes: the prom, homecoming,
just another pair of jeans,
another sweater, another pair of shoes. I called you my Barbie dolls.
You will remember how I loved to dress you.
How beautiful you were in my eyes.
When we lose loved ones, especially when we have experienced the gift of years with them, we immediately recall time shared. While often they will be major events- weddings, birthdays, B’nai Mitzvah, or anniversaries, but frequently they will be the more mundane moments- time spent shopping, enjoying a meal, holiday observance, a story that was repeated over and over, a childhood experience, a trip that was shared. Then after specific recollections will hopefully arrive a sense of calm: the knowledge that there was a special relationship, one that will be missed, but whose memory provides a warmth and glow. Rabbi Kedar continues:
The morning you wake to bury me
you will look in the mirror in disbelief.
You’ll reach for some makeup. Or not. And you won’t believe that
this is the morning you will bury your mother.
But it is. And as you gaze into that mirror, you will shed a tear. Or not. But look. Look carefully, for hiding in your expression, you will find mine.
You will see me in your eyes, in the way you laugh.
You will feel me when you think of God,
and of love and struggle.
Look into the mirror and you will see me in a look, or in
the way you hold your mouth or stand, a little bent, or maybe straight.
But you will see me.
When loved ones die, we are disoriented. The simplest task is difficult to accomplish. Tears flow one moment, while at other times we feel like we want to cry, but the tears do not come. They are gone and our world is just not the same.
At the same time our loved ones live on in us. When it comes to parents and siblings, there is often physical continuity. We look like them, walk and talk like them. If you want to see what I will look like when I am in my 90’s (I should be so fortunate to reach that age in health), just look on the pulpit. But beyond physical links, we all carry aspects of dear ones who are gone within us, whether we realize or not. It can be in an expression, facial or verbal. It can be in situations, where we have learned from the best how to respond. When relationships are solid and healthy, we can even grow from our losses. Rabbi Kedar teaches:
So let me tell you, one last time, before you dress,
what to wear. Put on any old thing. Black or red, skirt or pants.
Despite what I told you all these years, it doesn’t really matter.
Because as I told you all these years, you are beautiful the way you are.
Dress yourself in honor and dignity.
Dress yourself in confidence and self-love.
Wear a sense of obligation to do for this world,
for you are one of the lucky ones and there is so much to do, to fix.
Take care of each other,
Take care of your heart, of your soul.
Talk to God.
Wear humility and compassion.
We honor our loved ones most by leading our lives fully. There is a time to mourn and a time to rise up from mourning. Loss is something that each of us incorporates and even compartmentalizes in our lives. It has its place, but cannot dominate our being, for that would not be a way to honor loved ones.
Deeds of goodness are the more lasting tribute. They were not saints. They had strengths and weaknesses, moments when they were endearing and others that simply had to be endured. Still we take the positive lessons they taught by word and deed and incorporate them in our lives. The fact that we are here and they are not is a gift to be appreciated and out of tribute we can make a difference.
Lastly we honor them by preserving that which was most precious- families, friendships and your relationship with God. Then Rabbi Kedar concludes:
When you wake to bury me,
put on a strong sense of self, courage and understanding.
I am sorry. Forgive me. I am sorry.
Stand at my grave clothed in a gown of forgiveness,
dressed like an angel would be, showing compassion
and unconditional love.
For at that very moment, all that will be left of me to give is love.
The major theme of this day is forgiveness, always a challenge. When death comes, forgiveness is more possible than ever. Perhaps we were hurt by them. We need no longer carry that baggage. What would be the purpose other than to continue as victim? Put it down and grant forgiveness. Reciprocally, we can ask forgiveness for what we have done wrong with the knowledge that it can never happen again.
What does endure is love. Even when they are gone, the love we have and the love they gave continues to be a source of positive spiritual energy within us.
On this Yom Kippur afternoon, may the lessons of this day and those of memory, bring us comfort and strengthen us for our New Year.