Reflections of a loved one

My father’s third yahrzeit/anniversary of passing is this week and I find myself ruminating about him in particular and loss/passing in general.

We are taught that on a yahrzeit, one needs to think about the individual’s contribution to humanity and family. In other words, an anniversary of passing should not be just another ordinary day of the week, but rather a day filled with reflection of what lessons one has learned from the individual whose yahrzeit one is commemorating, and then a dosage of introspection of self as to how to implement those lessons.


As a general rule, I do not use the term deceased as it implies cease to exist, which to me, means over, kaput, finished and done with. In fact, I would argue that the person’s energy, aspirations and wishes exist more than they did while the Soul was enmeshed in a physical body, as the physical person has many corporeal needs such as sleep, food and livelihood (or golf when retired). The Soul that is not bound in a physical form on the other hand, can just focus on the relationship it has with its family with little to no distractions.

If this is true on a regular day, then it is especially true on a yahrzeit where the Kabbalah teaches that all the spiritual achievements of one’s life — including every positive thought, word, or deed — radiate and are revealed in the world and in the Heavens on the day of the Yahrzeit.

This approach underlines the basic view of Judaism that, in reality, there is no “death” in matters of G dliness. The corporeal body is buried in the ground as it is mortal, but the Soul, which is immortal as it is a spark of Godliness, is eternal and the term death does not apply to it. Rather, the Yahrzeit, and even the very day of passing, represents a transition or a passing, but certainly not a death.


While the spiritual radiance from above can influence those below, relatives of the person who passed can similarly benefit those above. On this day, every Mitzvah performed and every effort to improve one’s spiritual life brings great merit to the deceased. This is especially true for one’s father and mother.


On one hand, we learn from our sages that the Soul of the departed rises from one spiritual world to a higher one. This is what we mean when we say, “May the Neshoma/Soul of your loved one have an aliya. It is therefore a day where we celebrate the fact that the Soul has attained new heights in the heavenly realms. On the other hand, the Yahrzeit and the heavenly elevation emphasizes the loss sustained by the family, which results in a feeling of emptiness and contemplation.


During this day, one should work to align one’s life on this earth to the path followed by the Soul above, which is constantly on the ascent. Meaning, just as the Soul continuously rises year after year, going from strength to strength, so must those associated with the Soul steadily rise in their advancement in doing good deeds and being a better person.

Interestingly enough, it actually works something like this. When a child/relative performs a good deed in honor of their loved one, the Soul then gets rewarded by Hashem/God and is elevated to higher spiritual loftiness, which in turn allows the Soul more leverage in imploring Hashem/God to help their loved ones in need. It is a positive cycle of good.


On the eve of the Yahrzeit, each mourner kindles a candle that should remain lit for the entire twenty-four hour period.

Some take it upon themselves to fast on the day of the Yahrzeit. Most do not. I cannot even if I wanted to as the Yahrzeit falls out during the holiday of Sukkot when it is forbidden to fast.

If possible, a son should lead all the prayer services of the Yahrzeit day. If one does not lead the services, one should at least pray with a Minyan (quorum of ten Jewish males over age thirteen) and recite the Mourner’s Kaddish at the designated times during the service.

One kindles five candles for each level of the departed’s Souls on the prayer leader’s stand in the synagogue when leading the prayer services.

Many study Mishnayot (Mishna laws) in honor of the Soul, especially the chapters that begin with the letters of the Hebrew name of the departed.

Some visit the grave site on this day to recite prayers and Psalms.

May my father’s Soul be elevated to new heavenly heights.

Please feel free to share.

About the Author
Rabbi Yakov Saacks is the founder and director of The Chai Center, Dix Hills, NY. The Chai Center has been nicknamed by some as New York's most Unorthodox Orthodox Center.
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