A drash from Rabbi Peter Knobel: Yom Kippur 2011
Yizkor is the most personal and precious moment in all the Yamim Noraim. We are together but we are alone with our thoughts and our memories. With our mind’s eye, we see those we love as present. The chasm between the past and present is bridged by heart’s memory. We can feel their touch and hear their voices. Their love fills us with joy. Memory is a time machine which allows us for a brief moment to recapture life lived in relationship. Today we remember our grandparent, our parents, our husbands, our wives, our partners, our children, our friends and our colleagues. We take inspiration and consolation from the fact that while people die, love does not die.
We recall the wise words, the bad jokes, the endearing gestures, the stories of their youth and their life lessons. The hard edges of their personalities have been softened by the passage of time. Their foibles are remembered as humorous quirks and their eccentricities have become fodder for funny stories. Do you remember what he/she did, what he/she said ……?
Memory places our lives and theirs into a larger context. Our stories, our memories, our successes and our failures are part of a greater narrative. They are part and parcel of the sacred narrative of our people. They are our personal and collective haggadah. They are our personal stories about our journeys to this place. We, like Abraham and Sarah, heard the words go forth. We too have lived in Egypt enslaved by tyrants and entrapped by circumstances and ensnared by narrowness of vision. We have despaired of liberation but believe that we shall be redeemed. At this moment, we are reminded of the words of the Union Prayer Book : “In the divine order of nature, both life and death, joy and sorrow, serve beneficent ends, and in the fullness of time we shall know why we are tried, and why our love brings us sorrow as well as happiness.”
At this moment I am thinking about my grandmother—a tiny little woman who lived with us and took care of me while my parents worked. I remember twice a year she made brisket and potato pancakes. We ate them as quickly as they arrived, hot and golden brown from the kitchen. What I remember most is her sitting in the sun parlour with her siddur davening each day. She taught me to say the Shema and a child’s prayer. “Dear God, take care of mommy and daddy etc.” I say both prayers to this day although the people for whom I am praying have changed. When my uncle died I inherited her tattered siddur. It bears the gift of tradition, continuity and love.
At this moment I remember my father- in- law, Elaine’s father. I recall him asking me how much money I could make being a rabbi. He wanted to know if I could support his daughter. Then he gave me great advice. To be a successful rabbi, you need to two things. You need a good sense of humor and you have to be a good politician. They were very wise words. When I lived by them, my work was successful. When I forgot them, tzurus.
At this moment my soul is transported backward to all the great men and women who over the almost 70 years of my life have touched me and made me the person I have become – my parents and teachers, my uncles and aunts, my friends and colleagues. I especially recall the members of my two congregations who taught me what it is to be a caring human being, open to the possibility of change and recognising that strong differences of opinion do not need to interfere with mutual respect and deep friendship.
These were people who understood life as a gift, who loved us with all our flaws, who saw us through the lens of love, who counted blessings rather than curses, who loved rather than hated, who held fast to dreams and would have resonated to Jack Layton’s final words to the people of Canada : “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”
We take all those who have been part of our lives and are now deceased into our hearts. We see them through the eye of memory. Our ears still resonate with the loving sound of their voices. They are with us now. They continue to inspire and encourage us. Their memory is a blessing. Amen.