In this holiday season, when we recite Yizkor, Jews are particularly concerned with memory. We remember those who have touched our lives and those whose glow continues even after they are gone, as a star illuminates the earth after its destruction. We are stardust in both senses: in a literal, physical sense, and in the sense that we are the product of people’s influence, stars we knew and those we did not know, whose glow enlivens us.
If there is a substitute for love, wrote the poet Joseph Brodsky, it is memory. But memory is not so much a substitute for love as it is the preserver of love. An image will suddenly return to us and we cherish it; an instant recreated in memory to relive the warmth of those we have lost.
Yizkor, you shall remember. The phrase is both a command and a gift. You shall remember because there is no tradition, no continuity, no future without memory. But also because memory will return you to precious moments and refresh your gratitude for the times you shared and bring you anew, alongside the pain of loss, a rush of love.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow his teachings at www.facebook.com/RabbiWolpe.