Who Remembers Those We Remember?
The evening before yizkor is recited we traditionally light a yartzheit candle in the memory of our loved ones. Some years ago, my family was sitting together and my father-in-law said: “After I die, what will happen to the candles I light for those who went before me? I am the last surviving sibling—who will continue the ritual of lighting yizkor candles for my parents?”
We know that our loved one would not have been the same without their loved ones who went before them, and we want to perpetuate their memories as well. But we cannot light yahrzeit candles for every person our parents lit candles for and for every person they lit candles for and for every person they lit candles for. We cannot do that because <class=”hebrew”>אין לדבר סוף (ein l’davar sof), there would be no end to the matter.
Instead I designed this ritual for the first time a yizkor candle is lit for our loved one.
We start with two candles. We light the first one in sacred memory of those for whom our loved one used to kindle yizkor candles. We think about how our more distant ancestors shaped our loved one. We acknowledge and appreciate the legacy of those who went before.
We then use the first yahrzeit candle to transfer fire to the second yahrzeit candle, the one in memory of our recently departed loved one. We literally light the second candle from the flame of the first, just that one time. From then on, every time we light the candle in their memory, it will also be in memory of all those for whom they used to light candles. The flame encompasses all the flames from before.
My father-in-law passed away last January. We used this ritual in his memory on the next yizkor, Pesah. We found it powerful and helpful. I hope you find it as meaningful as we did.
Reading for lighting a yizkor candle for the first time after the death of a loved one
(or before any Yizkor, if it was not done before)
**2 Yartzheit candles are needed
נֵר ה’ נִשְׁמַת אָדָם
A person’s soul is the light of Adonai
The life-breath of a person is the candle of Adonai.
I stand here tonight, still raw from the death of my beloved _____________
Take time to think or speak about him/her/them
Light a yahrzeit candle:
The first candle that I light represents the yizkor candles that ___________________ used to light. I think about all those who went before ___________________, some of whom I knew, some of whom I did not know, but all of whom were part of making __________________ into the person that he/she/they was. I appreciate their legacy.
Use the first yahrzeit candle to light the second yahrzeit candle:
In sacred memory of all of those for whom ____________________ used to light memorial candles, I now kindle the flame for my beloved __________________ for the first time. From now on, this flame in honor of ___________________ also will honor all who went before him/her/them.
כִּי־עִמְּךָ מְקוֹר חַיִּים בְּאוֹרְךָ נִרְאֶה־אֽוֹר׃
With You is the fountain of life;
by Your light do we see light.
Don’t let the light go out!
It’s lasted for so many years!
Don’t let the light go out!
Let it shine through our hope and our tears