Yizkor Yom Kippur 5776
Rabbi Rachel Timoner
Congregation Beth Elohim
This is the season of our turning. Turning inward, turning upward, turning outward, turning to essence, to truth, to who we were in company with those we loved, to who we are now in their absence, to who we are now because they lived, because they touched our lives. Because they shaped us, accompanied us, raised us, loved us.
When someone we love dies—even if we knew they were dying, even if we worked day and night to care for them, even if it took all of our patience to be with them, even if we sometimes wished that the end would come soon—when someone we love dies, we are stunned. All the world gets strangely quiet and slow, we are curled up, set apart. Time expands and bends. We can hear the sounds around as if from a distance, muffled and warped. Life is zipping past us, new beginnings whizzing by, strange and curious in their speed, their unimportance. As our breath comes in and out in and out in and out, it is as if we were wrapped in a fragile silent shelter.
Then, at some point, when the relatives go home, or we have to go back to work, or the kids start to clamor for attention, we step into the whooshing rush,
unprepared and fragile, ripped away from the womb of quiet sorrow. We can feel ourselves turning, reaching backward to that stunned silence, afraid that we will lose it in the crashing clutter of life. Afraid that we will lose again the one we loved by forgetting to remember.
But we adapt because we have to, and we gird ourselves. We get out there and we meet the pace of the racing world. And soon, it can become difficult to take time at all to slow down and remember. At the edges of our consciousness, we fear that we will forget, that the holiness of our love, the preciousness of the one we loved, might just disappear behind today’s demands.
That is why four times in the year Judaism carves out space for us to remember. We have Yizkor four times in the year: on Yom Kippur and at the end of each of our festivals: Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot, we gather like this to remember. And this year at CBE we will do this four times and you are invited. Because our soft bodies need this slowing down, our broken hearts need this sanctuary, our full minds need this quiet space, this turning to face the ones we loved and lost, this remembering them in time.
So on this day, this Yom Kippur, for this hour, we turn back. We slow ourselves again to feel the fragility of the loss, to allow our tender hearts a
sanctuary, to permit the tears to flow, the ache to fill us, as we remember. To remember the years of holding hands, of being kissed goodnight, of walking side by side, of being held.
Turning, we find memories beautiful and sweet, a sunny afternoon in the park, playing in the ocean, laughter at daybreak. Turning, we find memories that are complex, unfinished. We find memories we don’t want, memories of regret, of words said and unsaid, deeds done and not done. Many of us carry guilt about the last months of their lives. Could we have done more? Did we make the right decisions? Could we have prevented some of their suffering? As we feel our way around these memories on this Yom Kippur, we feel where and when we can turn toward forgiveness. We allow our open hearts on this Day of Atonement to seek forgiveness of our dead, and to forgive our dead. We say to our loved ones in our mind’s eye, I am sorry. Forgive me. If there’s any way that I hurt you, that I failed you, if there’s any way I didn’t show you my love, forgive me.
And… If and when we’re ready, for words they didn’t say, for words they did say, for deeds they didn’t do, for deeds they did do, we say to our loved ones in our minds eye, I forgive you. It’s never too late to turn. It’s never too late to forgive them. It’s never too late to forgive ourselves.
Turning, then, we find quotidian memories that are solace. The day in, day out memories of what it was like to live with the ones we loved. Making breakfast. Brushing teeth. Sitting at the dinner table. Falling asleep. These memories accompany us, tuck us in at night, wake with us, sit with us. Turning, we find memories that are the best of friends.
Turn now, turn now, in this quiet sanctuary, on this day that is yours, with this heart that is open, turn now, to remember.