Gary Epstein
And now for something completely different . . .



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Yizkor is one of the prayers in the Jewish liturgy that resounds most profoundly in Jewish hearts. For many years, Jews who rarely attended synagogue would surface on those holidays when Yizkor was recited. “May God remember the soul of my father/mother/relatives who have gone to their eternal home . . . and may their souls be bound in the bond of everlasting life together with the souls of [the patriarchs and matriarchs] and all the other righteous men and women in the Garden of Eden.”

We remember the departed with love, with gratitude, with sorrow.  We pledge to give charity on their behalf.  We ask a merciful God to grant them fitting rest in the heights of the holy among the pure who shine like the radiance of heaven.  We ask the Master of compassion to shelter them in the shadow of His wings forever and bind their souls in the bonds of everlasting life.  We ask that they may rest in peace. 

After the massacre of Simchat Torah, we will have thousands more pure souls to ask God to remember.

During the Crusades, when many Jewish communities were destroyed and many Jews were murdered, another special prayer, this one for martyrs, was introduced into the liturgy.  In Av Harachamim, the Father of compassion is asked to mercifully remember the pious, the righteous, and the blameless among the communities who were sacrificed for the sanctification of God’s name.  

But in this prayer, which records the merits of the martyrs and requests God to remember them favorably, another concept is added:

May God exact retribution for the shed blood of His servants, in accordance with the Biblical exhortation of Moses: “He will avenge the blood of His servants, wreak vengeance on His foes, and make clean His people’s land.” “For the Avenger of blood remembers them, and does not forget the cry of the afflicted.”

The juxtaposition is jarring, especially in a prayer addressed to the Master of compassion.  When we beseech God for mercy and compassion on behalf of our departed loved ones, is it wrong to also be crying out for vengeance?  Should we not also show some level of concern, understanding, and empathy for our murderous, possibly misguided, adversaries?

No.  NO.  NO!!!  A thousand times no.

Remembering the past is only meaningful if it helps us to shape and improve the future.  Evil must be remembered, called out, and punished, or evil will never diminish.  Maimonides, based on a medrash to that effect, says that if a wicked person who killed intentionally and was sentenced to death seeks sanctuary among us, we must not provide asylum and not show mercy, because compassion to the wicked is cruelty to all persons.  This is not merely folk wisdom; it is an imperative. A functioning, moral society must observe and enforce the law.  And, in our modern context, the government has an absolute obligation–as its primary obligation–to wage total war against anyone whose primary goal is the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jewish people.  

That is just and it is right.

Each time compassion has been shown to Hamas, it has returned more dangerous, more murderous, more wicked, more cruel, more evil.  And more innocent Jews have died.

Under Jewish law, burial takes place in the cleanest of garments. . .unless the deceased has been murdered because he or she is a Jew.  In that case, the bloody garments in which he or she was attacked should be used as a winding sheet, or shroud, to remind God of the sacrifice we have made, and of His obligation to avenge it.

Yizkor, we beseech God.  Remember our loving parents and show them mercy.  But also,do not forget to exact retribution from murderers and terrorists.

When we speak of the departed who died natural deaths, we append the words, zichronam l’vracha–may their memory be a blessing.  But when we speak of those who have been murdered because they were Jews, we say, Hashem yikom damam–May God avenge their blood.

And God has a similar commandment for us: Zachor et asher asa lecha amalek.  Remember what Amalek did to you.  Extirpate their memory.  Never forget.  Who was Amalek?  Jew-haters who attacked the Jews when they left Egypt, with no objective other than to kill Jews.  God tells us that we may never rest until they are destroyed and their memory erased, once and for all time.

We ask God to remember.  God asks us to remember.  We should pay no attention to anyone who tells us that it would be more proportionate to forget.

Yizkor.  Zachor.  Remember.  Do not forget.

About the Author
Gary Epstein is a retired teacher and lawyer residing in Modi'in, Israel. He was formerly the Head of the Global Corporate and Securities Department of Greenberg Traurig, a global law firm with an office in Tel Aviv, which he founded and of which he was the first Managing Partner. He and his wife Ahuva are blessed with18 grandchildren, ka"h, all of whom he believes are well above average. He currently does nothing. He believes he does it well.