Shabbat in Pesakh II: Bring Your Memory

Holidays are special. Families gather, or they don’t, and either way, the past is more present with us. Pesakh occurs during the full moon and, like the ocean under that same moon, the tides of life grow more intense. It is not unusual for older people to die on the eve of a holiday. There is something about these times, when our gaze wanders further, toward the horizon, and grows thoughtful.

Jews are a people of memory, and during Pesakh, even more so. We are to remember the Exodus from Egypt every day, and every Shabbat – and during this time of re-living it, kal v’homer, as our Sages say, “how much more so.”

On this Shabbat morning, the holy day which is the last day of Pesakh, we will recite the prayers of Yizkor, one of four times a year when we speak ancient words that express our hope not to be forgotten after our deaths, and remember our loved ones who have gone before us. If we forget them, it seems, in some way, as if they did not exist.

Curiously, though, the term yizkor does not mean “may I remember”. It literally means “May G*d remember”. This begs the question: does G*d forget? 

And such a clumsy question it is. In order to ask such a question one must presuppose an anthropomorphic G*d, a bit greater, perhaps, than the greatest human being, but not that much if this Divine Being, like us, has trouble remembering. 

I invite you to let your gaze upon that question grow wider, to encompass more of the true horizon and depth of the possibility. Keep in mind that on Pesakh, as on the other Festivals, we are commanded to remember. What does it mean to pray that G*d should remember, if that prayer is not the expression of a sense that memory moves through us and beyond us, part of something greater than us – and that something which is of us and beyond us and to which we belong as waves belong to the sea is G*d?

In the Torah text for this Second Shabbat during Pesakh we read:

שָׁלוֹשׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה יֵרָאֶה כָל-זְכוּרְךָ אֶת-פְּנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחָר–בְּחַג הַמַּצּוֹת וּבְחַג הַשָּׁבֻעוֹת, וּבְחַג הַסֻּכּוֹת; וְלֹא יֵרָאֶה אֶת-פְּנֵי יְהוָה, רֵיקָם.

Three times in a year all your zakhur shall appear before ה your God in the designated place; at the feast of Matzah, and on the feast of Weeks, and on the feast of the Sukkah; and none shall not appear before ה empty;

אִישׁ, כְּמַתְּנַת יָדוֹ, כְּבִרְכַּת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֲשֶׁר נָתַן-לָךְ.

everyone shall give as you are able, according to the blessing of ה your God as you have known it. (Devarim 16.16-17)

The word zakhur is usually translated “males”, since the root z.kh.r can indeed mean “male”. But it also means “memory”. And memory has no gender….Three times a year, then, we are obligated to bring up, conjure up, offer up, our memories. If we do not, it is as if we have come to this great moment empty. But if we do, then all that has come before us sings through us, and we will know what it is to be Memory. 

On this Shabbat of the last day of Pesakh, may you remember all the lives you have known, and may they sing through you – and thus may you know the fullness of the blessing you bring to the world.

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