It has been a week of festivities and happiness, a week of remembering the difficulties of slavery and the joys of redemption. As we advance through Pesach, the Torah reading carries us onwards to the day of crossing the Red Sea. Historically, the seventh day of Pesach coincided with the day that the People of Israel crossed the sea, and yet, we find no clue in the Torah that the day intends to commemorate that occasion. Indeed, we were commanded to celebrate Pesach for seven days (which later became eight outside of Israel) before we even left Egypt, before we had even purchased the first Passover offering. What does the seventh day represent?
There are times in our lives when we can mark an occasion and quickly move on. There are others when we feel the need to dwell in the moment. When we find ourselves at a major point of reflection, we often would like to take a few days, a few weeks, or sometimes even longer, to stay there and think about it, to plan for the future and contemplate the past. Taking that time can be crucial to understanding what the occasion means to us, and even more importantly, to truly transitioning to a new reality.
As the Israelites left Egypt, they went free of the bonds which lay upon them for two hundred and seventy years. However, the mental transition would take far longer. Famously, we now count the Omer, designed to give the Jews forty nine days of that transition, and even that proved insufficient. Perhaps the transition was never fully over. The past always dwells in us and informs us, feeding into and building our identity.
Nevertheless, this week marks a milestone. As the Jews approached the sea, they could finally contemplate a new reality, free of Pharaoh's domination forever. As they crossed and came out the other side, they would enter their new lives, unencumbered by the evil taskmasters who had abused them for so long. Though they would carry the impact of that experience forever, both the happy and sad, and impart it to their children and descendants, the point of reflection had indeed been reached psychologically. A week was needed to make that happen, to give them the room to think and breathe after the rush of leaving Egypt.
In our lives we often find ourselves in similar situations. Things which are milestones occur, and force us to stop and consider them. As they pass, we adjust to our new reality, but occasionally we return to think about them again, often on anniversaries. Some are sad, some are happy, and many are mixed. Yizkor gives us the opportunity to visit the place where our loved ones who have passed on are still with us, still a part of us. It helps us grow into who we are becoming, and still reference our past.
An ancient tradition states that our relatives come into Shule and sit next to us during Yizkor. Our act of remembering them paves the road for them to rejoin us and sit with us as we reflect on all that they were and all that they gave us. While they never truly leave, we consciously decide to make extra room for them at this time by thinking and speaking of them, and committing to make the world a better place through the gift of charity in their name. Just as after the Jews left Egypt, the good and the bad, the bitterness of slavery and the joys of freedom would be heightened at this time, so too, Yizkor provides us with a time to go back, remember, and live with our loved ones for another moment, even after a great deal of time.