“Preparing for Yizkor”
By Judy Aronson, AJRCA Professor of Jewish Education
On Yom Kippur, the Sabbath of Sabbaths, we read from several sections of Torah. In the morning service we begin with Leviticus 16:1 : “And the Lord spoke unto Moses, after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the Lord and died”. This is the translation in the JPS Holy Scriptures from early editions in 1917 and 1963. Both were gifts to my son Neal Aronson on the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah in 1967. Neal died in June of this year and in my mourning, I am suddenly troubled that the death of two sons of Aaron is treated so casually. The text continues with instructions to Moses for his brother Aaron. If he concerns himself about ritual assiduously “that he die not”, he will escape the fate of his sons.
Although I have wondered before about Nadav and Avihu and their “alien fire”*, now I care more about the reaction of their unmentioned mother. From my recent experience, she is bewildered, perhaps asking herself if there was anything she might have done to protect her sons from their indiscretions. She may not have photographs of them growing up to remind her, but she surely recognized that the sons of Aaron were burdened with many responsibilities. Had she raised them to take such risks? Although she has neither name nor voice, I have enough anger for both of us.
Many years ago, I read an article by the great Rav Soloveichik in the Boston Jewish Advocate. One of his dear friends had died unexpectedly at an early age. The Rav was angry with G-d. How could he take away such a good man? He spoke of their friendship and how important it was to him. Of course he also taught that there is an end to that anger when one recites Kaddish Yatom. Many times in my life when I have lost a dear one, I reflected on this teaching and resigned myself to the importance of not staying in the dark place.
I have always looked forward to the fast. By the start of Minchah, I am on a high, pumping endorphins and feeling liberated from my body. At Yizkor, I picture the people I have loved and lost with gratitude for all they have done for me. Since June, I can barely utter the words of Kaddish, my throat literally closing up, leaving me mute. Admitting this, I recognize that I am obliged to move forward in my life.
Using the Machzor, a special Siddur that literally means “Cycle” I will be guided to a New Year facing a future that will bring challenges and blessings. May this happen for all of us.
For strength I turn to the pen of Marge Piercy and her poem called Kaddish
Blessed is the earth from which we grow,
Blessed the life we are lent
Blessed the ones who teach us,
Blessed the ones we teach.
Blessed is the word that cannot say the glory
That shines through us and remains to shine
Flowing past distant suns on the way to forever,
Let’s say amen.