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Remembering: Yizkor’s Two Types of Tears

A meditation on Yizkor prayers by Steven Moskowitz, Hartman Senior Rabbinic Fellow

Editor’s Note: Among the many special and unique prayers of Yom Kippur, Yizkor, the memorial prayers for the dead often draw the day’s largest crowds. Many come just for those sad and sometimes painful words.
There are two types of tears.
There are the tears of pain. These tears burn our cheeks when death stands before us, when the weight of the heartache and loss feel crushing. These are the tears of despair when we feel like we will never be able to live without our loved one. We look back at these tears and wonder how we ever summoned the strength to place a shovel of dirt into our loved one’s grave.
Later the tears of memory begin to roll down our cheeks. These tears do not sting. Instead they are sweet. We find that we laugh and smile when recalling stories of our father or mother, husband or wife, brother or sister, child or grandparent. These tears bring with them the memories of loved ones. They hurt, but do not sting. Their taste is not the salt of bitterness but the sweetness of memory.
There will always be tears. Some will sting. Others will be sweet. These later tears will bring with them memories, stories, images, pictures, words and values. We cry when we remember. But we also gain strength from these tears. Our tears are no longer incapacitating, but ennobling.
May God help us transform all of our bitter tears into the sweet tears of memory.
Rabbi Steven Moskowitz is a Hartman Institute Senior Rabbinic Fellow.

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