I am most thankful to David Fleischman, Barry Glaser, the other members of our Brotherhood, and all other volunteers for your hospitality during our 2nd seder. And, to Ruthie Seidner, I say kol ha'kavod for your leadership that night. You uplifted us. Thanks so very much. At the conclusion of Passover this week, I felt inspired to offer this Yizkor reflection. I am delighted we shared some of our Pesach experience with Temple Sholom; their welcome this week was so warm.
I have wonderful memories of my grandparents' seder. Hunting for the afikomen. Eating chocolate-covered, marzipan-filled rainbow cakes. And pulling the string (over and over again) on their hanging music box which so beautifully played Hatikvah. Please take a moment to reflect silently on your favorite Passover memories. I knew at an early age that Passover was more than a seder and more than rituals. I knew then that Pesach was about family. And making memories. And today, as a matter of Yizkor, we remember not only important individuals who have passed on, but we also reaffirm the power of family and the memories we created together.
Judaism tells us the essential instrument of history is the family. From the wisdom of the late and great Rabbi David Hartman, alav ha-shalom, we learn that parents (and I would add grandparents and elders in our community) are significant to us as young people and not because we feel helpless or incompetent as children. A parent or a grandparent or an elder is important to us because, without one, we have no Egypt, no Sinai, no Moses, or in other words, no memory.
We adults become important to the children among us because without us, Rabbi Hartman tells us, young people cannot hope to live fully in the future because they have no past. The prooftext for this charge is v'hig'gad'ta l'vinkha: You shall tell your children. During Pesach we shall tell our children our people's story, our Exodus, so they can learn what happened in the past, so they can remember one important thing: that God freed us from slavery to be a force for good.
And, so the central mitzvah of Passover, to tell our children, v'hig'gad'ta l'vinkha, is really ultimately about memory. How fitting then that we conclude our z'man cheruteinu, our time of freedom, with the practice of yizkor, the practice of memory. By instilling memories, Rabbi Hartman tells us we give to our youth a "suitcase filled with mental photographs, soulful images and emotional artifacts that tell the story of their lives, that tell of the moments we shared with loved ones now gone."
So, if Passover evokes memories of the essential moment in which God catapulted us from dark, narrow places to the open, light-filled spaces of freedom, then Yizkor can help lift us from the narrow, dark confines of our grief. By helping us to open up our suitcases filled with beautiful memories of people we've loved and lost, by recalling souls who now, we pray, are at one with God and rest in peace.
But just as the journey to freedom can be fraught with challenges, so can mourning and memory. And here Yizkor can also help. Consider the wisdom of today's Torah portion.
On the third day of their journey in the desert, the children of Israel began to thirst but found no water. Then they came to a place called in Hebrew, Marah, bitterness. And there they found water, but the water was bitter, impossible to drink. So the children cried out to Moses, saying: "What shall we drink?" Moses turned to God and God showed him a piece of wood; Moses threw the wood into the water and the waters became sweet.
Our Sages tell us that the Children first found no water in the wilderness--not because the water wasn't there but because they simply couldn't see it on account of their worry and despair. And it was not that the waters of Marah that were bitter but the Children themselves felt bitter, and thus whatever they tasted was bitter to them." (Itture Torah; Ex. Rabbah 50:3)
Indeed, the journey over that shadowy, perilous bridge of loss can continue over time to hurt us, maybe even embitter us, or worse cause despair. But Yizkor challenges us. That our feelings of loss do not have to make our whole world a hurtful and bitter place, or one bereft of hope. Quite the contrary, as the Torah teaches us: if we remind ourselves of the positive, transformative power of memory, the world can be a place of sweetness and nourishment and healing.