Monday, April 25, 2011

Yizkor Pesach

Salmon spend half of the year swimming with the current or gathering in ponds and inlets. When salmon reach sexual maturity sometime between ages 3 and 5, they fight to swim upstream, back to the location of their birth where they mate and return downstream. They find the spot where they were born to lay their eggs. Amazing! I can’t find my car in a parking lot. After 20 minutes in a store, I spend another 10 minutes wandering around trying to “channel my inner salmon.” I’m the guy setting off my car alarm so I can walk toward the honking after any concert I go to. I even downloaded an app called “Carrr Matey,” which allows me to “drop anchor” when I park, like a beacon that the GPS can find when I go back. This is a terrific app—when I remember to use it before I need it. That’s the tricky thing about memory. No matter what we do to trigger our memory, we need to remember to set the trigger so that our memory can be sparked when we need it.

No matter how our individual short term memory might fall short, our memory as a Jewish people is strong and will not fail us.

Passover is all about memory. The holiday is full of these triggers that help us remember our past and look forward to our future. We herald its beginning with a festive meal, during which we hold a Seder, a structured service. This service reminds us of the story of the Israelites leaving Egypt, being freed from the slavery and oppression of the Pharaoh and his taskmasters. There are symbolic foods served during the meal. These serve either as reminders of the Israelite slavery, or as reminders of the spring that is beginning, and the new life that sprouts every year at this time.

Throughout the week of Passover we avoid chametz and kitniyot, leavened products, and eat only matzah. This is also a dual reminder. Eating ha lachma anya, the poor bread, reminds us that we were destitute. We could not eat the fancy breads that had flavor and nourishment. Only the flat, dry, and tasteless bread was available for the slaves of Egypt. It also reminds us of the exodus; how we had to leave Egypt so quickly that the bread was not given sufficient time to rise. Matzah is a reminder of our freedom at the moment of our escape.

Now that we are approaching the end of Passover, we read about the end of our deliverance from Egypt. This morning we heard the cantor chant shirat hayam, the Song at the Sea. This was the moment our freedom was sealed. As the sea parted and allowed the Israelites to cross on dry land, God frees us from the Egyptians and points us toward Sinai. You see, our freedom is not complete just because we are out of Egypt. We have a lot of work to do, and the mountain that looms ahead of us is the reminder that keeping our freedom in tact is only viable if we remain faithful to God. We sing shirat hayam, a song of praise to God, but our journey is only beginning.

Our Haftarah this morning was read from the book of II Samuel. Its theme is also freedom from enemies. After winning battle after battle against the Philistines, David composes a song of praise to God, not too dissimilar from the Song at the Sea. He ends with these two verses:
For this I sing Your praise among the nations And hymn Your name: Tower of victory to God’s king, Who deals graciously with God’s anointed,With David and his offspring evermore
(2 Sam. 22:50-51).
Here his theme shifts. He is no longer singing about freedom, but of redemption. Migdol yeshu’ot malko, A tower of salvation is built to God’s sovereignty. A symbol of the permanence of freedom from our enemies. There is no more to fear because God is with us. All future generations of David will receive God’s grace. Every generation goes through hardships, but we persevere for the sake of future generation. Like a tower standing secure, we will be a beacon for future generations from now until the end of time.

As we move into Yizkor at the end of our Passover observance, we again evoke our sacred memory. We remember our loved ones who served as a beacon for us, and whose memory serves as an enduring blessing. Though we may not be able to see them or touch them, the memory of those who influenced our lives is a real and palpable thing. As a people we trigger our collective memory so that the lessons from our journey to freedom will not be lost on us. We look back to those who accompanied us on our way so that we can teach their lessons to today’s companions. We look back so that we can move forward in a way that will honor their memory and the freedom they have helped us attain. We sing songs of praise to God for the blessings of our loved ones who continue to bless us through the power of memory.

May the memories they leave with us help us to mold our lives into the models they would wish us to be.

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