Passover Sermon—Yizkor 2006 Thursday, April 20, 2006 22 Nisan 5766
Good Yom tov.
As we conclude the eight day holiday of Passover, congratulate yourselves for taking the time on a sunny day, to come indoors to attend morning services. To do G-d’s will by reciting Yizkor, the memorial service prayer.
We are about to perform the recitation of the prayers for the deceased found in our Holiday Prayer Book, which is a long-established tradition.
Before we begin, I would like to do a spiritual warm-up exercise to create the mood to help us get into the spirit of these prayers and in touch with our feelings to sincerely reach out to the souls of our departed loved ones.
Let’s begin by asking a few questions. What is the purpose of saying the Kaddish prayers? What are the objectives for us being here today and what will the end result be from praying over the souls of the departed? First, to answer these questions, we need to also consider that we are about to consciously merge the reality of our existence here today on earth at Kneseth Israel with the outreach potential to touch the spirits of those who came before us who reside in the afterlife, in the heavenly realms.
Let us take a closer look. Yesterday during Chol Hammoed, a former congregant phoned me and my family from Los Angeles, California where they were vacationing, to wish us Happy Passover greetings. "Rabbi," they said, "we’ve been to Universal Studios, Disneyland and Magic Mountain. You and your family should try to come out here for a relaxing and fun-filled vacation; it’s such a different world." In short, they shared highlights of their adventures at Universal Studios in Hollywood, the world’s largest movie studio and theme park, Disneyland—the happiest place on earth, also known as the Magic Kingdom and fix flags, and amusement park."
"Rabbi," they continued, "everything here is full of imagination, and melodrama….it is hard to know what is reality and what is fantasy. The purpose of movies, they say, is to make you laugh, cry and sit on the edge of your seat…..but ultimately, everything is geared to everyone living happily ever after. Furthermore, we went on a train ride through the studios and saw the set of the movie, the "Ten Commandments," which we found particularly fascinating. Giant mirrors simulated the biblical narrative of the splitting of the sea. However, the water was only a tiny stream, but the visual effects made it look like the real ‘Red Sea,’ it was quite theatrical."
"Then we went on the ‘Revenge of the Mummy’ ride, a roller coaster, filled with Egyptian imagery. All of these sights made me think about the Jewish experience during times of Pharaoh and how far we have come. At Magic Mountain in Six Flags, we met our favorite cartoon characters like Tweety Bird and Bugs Bunny. I realized that inside these figures were real people, costumed-up to be part of this make-believe world."
After this phone call, I thought about the connection between these inspired tourists, the theme parks and the meaning of Yizkor. Are there any similarities? Indeed the concept of "happily ever after" and pleasure seems to tie in with the ultimate goal for reciting prayer. We are told by the sages that every time we recite these prayers and give charity, the soul of the deceased promoted to a higher level of happily ever after, like a sequel to a favorite movie that is constantly receiving attention accolades and fanfare.
Furthermore, if we believe that our mission on earth and the raison d’être of our own creation is to lead a life of good deeds and fulfill G-d’s commandments, we are in constant preparation for the next world. This next world, Olam Haba, is a world known for its peace, which is why we say, "May they rest in Peace, "a place for eternal happiness.
The reason to visit these tourist places might be to escape reality for a finite time and have fun. Whereas, the soul in the afterlife is dealing with an infinite eternal reality. No matter what our belief or cultural origins, it can be said that all human beings grapple with issues surrounding a meaningful life and thoughts of the afterlife. So what are our visions of life and death, and how do we define these concepts?
By reciting today’s prayers, we can express our feelings about life death. The prayers can help us maintain ongoing connections with our ancestors, remember those who have passed away, transcend the human experience of mortality and continue a dialogue with the mystery of death. Is the "Happily ever after," the same as a world of spiritual paradise? There are countless books, articles, poems and teachings by theologians and rabbinical philosophers since creation that address this issue. In one way or another, they have all explored, "What does Yizkor make you think about, how does it make you feel?"
We can also ask ourselves, do the concepts of the afterlife seem unusual to us? Can we relate to them? Do any of the words we recite bring us any new emotions? If so, how do they make us feel? Whether it’s positive or negative? What does the concept of heaven make us think about? Does it help us with the reality of death and dying?
When you were children, what did you imagine existence in the afterlife would be like? As you grew older, what did you think about the giant questions and answers of life after death? Do you consider it a final homecoming with welcoming friends greeting you? Is it a place where answers to life’s mysteries are revealed? Do you envision puffy clouds, giant thrones, floating angels? Do you believe that after one dies, one is incarnated into something else? Do you believe in the reuniting with loved ones? Do you suppose that we start living again in a new path and stop suffering? Do you consider consequences and retribution? What happens to a person’s energy? Does it continue on in some other form after death?
As we now proclaim our trust and belief that one day G-d will bring the deceased to life through the resurrection of the dead, we can move forward with greater optimism and conviction.
As Willie Loman comments to his friends in Arthur Miller’s 1949 play, Death of a Salesman, "a man can’t go out the way he came in… a man has got to add up to something."
Wishing everybody an uplifting a meaningful Passover.