01 Oct Faces – Part Two: A suggestion for the Yizkor service on Yom Kippur
Faces gazing down upon us from the facade of a building or a painted portrait on the wall, documented in old black and white photographs inside of a box, appearing in a Super 8 movie projected onto a screen, framed in a color photo on the shelf, animated in a video played on the TV set, stored digitally on a hard drive or DVD or in the cloud… not to mention Facebook.
We have so many ways to remember the faces of those with whom we have shared our lives.
Of course, there is no substitute for the “real thing”, that is the actual human encounter we have with others and in particular with those closest to us. But as we all know – due to geographical distance, and unfortunately, death, this is not always possible.
So we make use of technological advances to help our minds and our hearts remember.
Quite often they are soft and loving memories inspired by the images that sit on a piano, above a fire-place or in a locket around one’s neck. They smile at us from the pages of an album in book form or on the screen of our smart-phone or computer. Those faces have a light of their own, a source of calm and inspiration.
But sometimes those faces are terrifying memories coming from deep within our minds that invade our calm. They are seen in the darkness – both as we dream at night and when our spirits are low. And if we let them, they wreak havoc in our souls and clutter our here and now with stress and anxiety.
The French-Jewish philosopher Emmual Levinas has taught that we find God’s presence in the face to face encounter between two human beings (“Totality and Infinity, 1961). While Levinas writes in the context of real-time, in-person and physical face-to-face encounters, I can’t help but feel that when distance and death leave us with no choice, the face-to-face encounter of the mind and the heart none the less bring us closer to God’s presence.
That encounter is not always pleasant and certainly not always comforting. Yet it is what we strive to achieve during the High Holy Days and most certainly on Yom Kippur. We certainly hope that the outcome is positive and that we grow from the experience, but it’s not always easy.
When you reach the part of the service on Yom Kippur (or any of the other holidays when this is done) known as Yizkor – the part of the prayer dedicated to remembering those loved ones who have departed this world – take a few moments to gather up those images in your mind and in your heart. Greet those faces and briefly relive those moments you shared together.
There might very well be faces that bring you a sense of pain and discomfort and this is the time to let go of that darkness and make room for tikkun – a chance to set things straight.
But there will surely be those faces that shine with light – a light of love, a light of wisdom and a light of comfort.
This then, is a time to feel that light, to make room for wholeness and to honor the memory of those to whom the faces belong.
G’mar Hatimah Tovah