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And You Shall Love: Reflections at Yizkor

14 2 25
19.09.2021

I’ve always been mystified by those mitzvot in the Torah that seem to mandate a certain kind of feeling. Among them: Lo Tachmod, “You shall not covet” … v’Samachta b’chagecha, “you shall rejoice on your holiday” … and v’Ahavta et Hash-m Elo-kecha, “you shall love Hash-m your G-d.” There are a few others.

I can understand commanding certain actions – or, for that matter, inaction: eat kosher or do not eat treyf, remember the Shabbos and keep it holy, etc. But feelings? Feelings, to me, are something entirely different. Don’t feelings just happen? And, if so, requiring a particular emotional response in a specific context seems perhaps among the most difficult of mitzvot.

Here we are at the New Year and, as I say Yizkor over these chagim, I wonder, as I have for the last forty years, how should I be feeling at this moment?

Feelings … Nothing More Than Feelings
My father, Avraham ben Yaakov a”h, passed away when I was a boy and, every year since, I have honored his memory by, among other things, saying kaddish on his Yahrtzeit and reciting Yizkor four times a year. However, I often felt like I was doing these predesignated memorial moments “wrong” or like something was missing.

Yahrtzeits, in particular, were always about rushing to get things done: make it to shul on time three times a day, daven for the amud, light a candle, learn Torah, go to the cemetery, run, run, run. It was always about “checking boxes,” so much so that there was very little time or space left to feel anything. One feeling I did have was relief at the end of the day when everything was done and I had fulfilled my obligations as my father’s only son. That all seemed incongruous to me.

For many years at Yizkor, I was the youngest person left in the room after most of the congregation filed out, which was the custom in my shul growing up. I would subtly look away as people left, enviously wishing that I too could be “let out” for the noisy ten-minute break that seemed then like the only fun people had on Yom Kippur. I remember vividly feeling the glare and the “nebach-sympathy” from the “old people” who remained for those few minutes in a half-empty sanctuary as the old-world chazan slammed the bimah and called out “Yizkor ….” The only place I didn’t want to be at that moment was right there.

Over the years since my father’s passing, I realized that feelings would emerge on their own........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)


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