Yizkor is the memorial service recited for the deceased at several points throughout the year. Not only do many find it to be a moving, emotional experience, it also has the power to elevate spiritually the souls of the departed. Yizkor is predicated on the concept of the immortality of the soul. Although the deceased can no longer perform mitzvot (good works / blessings / acts of faith and charity), they can benefit from prayers, acts of charity, and other good deeds that their survivors perform on their behalf. Yizkor is a time for personal reflection and committing to particular acts of virtue and charity as a source of merit for the departed.
There are four holidays on which Yizkor is recited. It is said on Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), the last day of Chag HaMatzot (Feast of Unleavened Bread), Shavu’ot (Penticost) and on Shemini Atzeret (a separate holiday at the end of Sukkot).
The Yizkor is opened with the recitation of a selection of Biblical verses pertaining to the nature of our lives and after-lives.
“Lord, what is mankind that you care for them; people, that you notice them? Mankind is like a fleeting breath, their days like a passing shadow. (Psalms 144:3-4)
In the morning they blossom and grow, in the evening they wither and dry up. (Psalm 90:6)
Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)
Mark the blameless, note the upright, for the end of such a person is peace. (Psalm 37:37)
God will redeem my soul from the grave, for he will receive me. (Psalms 49:16)
My flesh and my heart will fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)
The dust returns to the earth as it was, but the spirit returns to God who gave it. (Ecclesiastes 12:7)
Then I, in rightousness, will see your face, and be blessed by a vision of you when I awake. (Psalm 17:15)”
These verses are followed by the recitation of Psalm 91 “Yosheiv Ba’seiser”, whose theme is that God is the refuge of mankind.
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”
The Yahrzeit Candle
“The soul of man is the candle of God.”Proverbs 20:27
A candle symbolise the human soul, and this is one of the reasons that candles are such an integral part of religious practices throughout the world.
Those who have lost loved ones, light 24-hour memorial candles known as Yahrzeit candles, using a flame from a pre-existing candle to light the Yahrzeit candle. As you light the memorial candle, reflect upon the memory of loved ones. The Yahrzeit candle reminds us of the fragility of life and encourages us to embrace our lives and our loved ones.
El Maleh Rechamim, Av HaRachamim – God Full of Mercy, Father of Compassion
The theme of Yizkor is that we ask God to remember our relatives and to include them in the “bond of life” in paradise alongside the Patriarchs, Matriarchs, and all the departed righteous. We then commit to do charity, for God, and on their behalf. For this, the prayer “El Maleh Rechamim, Av HaRachamim – God Full of Mercy, Father of Compassion” is recited. A variation of this prayer is recited at a burial, an unveiling, and during the Shabbot mincha service prior to the deceased’s Yahrtzeit-Memorial.
Lord All Mighty, Our Father and our King, who dwells on high, God of all creation, God full of mercy,
Remember the souls of our fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, family and friends, and all those who have gone before us,
Lord of mercy, shield them in the cover of your wings forever, and bind their souls with the Binding of Eternal Life with you, O God,
and with the souls of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah, for whom You are their inheritance.
Grant them eternal rest within the wings of Your Divine Presence,
alongside all of your saints, the enlightened and righteous men and women, the holy and pure souls of all the martyrs who have died for the glory of Your most holy name, and shine like the splendour of the heavens, as cedars of Lebanon, and giants of Torah.
let them be an everlasting memory – their righteousness in Your eyes, their sacrifice and their merits, for you and for us all; Let us not forget their deeds as we continue to live in charity, in accordance with Your will, and for the memory of their souls.
Most Gracious Father of Compassion, in remembrance of them and for this, let them rest in peace, until the day of resurrection, and may they be welcomed with your saints in paradise.
After that, Psalm 23 “The Lord is my shepherd” which has a theme of resting and trusting in God’s comfort, is recited.
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
The Mourner’s Kaddish ends the Yizkor service.
Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world
which He has created according to His will.
May He establish His kingdom within us this day,
and may his kingdom come speedily and soon;
May His great Name be blessed forever and for all eternity.
Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored,
adored and lauded be the Name of the Holy One,
blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns,
praises and consolations spoken throughout the world;
May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life,
for us and for all God’s children;
May the Prince of Peace, in His celestial heights,
grant peace within us and the whole world.