There is a tale of a woman whose husband tragically passed away. Despondent, she visited her rabbi and said, “I can no longer bear the burden of my grief. The pain is too much for me. What prayers, what rituals, what cure do you have to banish the sadness from my heart?” The rabbi thought and thought, and finally, he spoke, “Bring me a challah from a home that has never known suffering. We will use it to drive the sorrow out of your life.”
The woman set out immediately to search for this magical challah that would rid her of her sadness. She came to a beautiful mansion and thought to herself, “Surely, the people who live in such a place have never known troubles. This must be where the precious challah can be found.” Steeling her nerves, she knocked on the door and, when it opened, she saw a well-dressed couple who appeared not to have a care in the world. She introduced herself and said, “I am looking for a home that has never known suffering. Is this such a place?” The demeanor of the couple suddenly changed. Their faces fell, as they answered, “We are sorry. You have come to the wrong house, for we have known the worst kind of tragedy possible. Our daughter died when she was very young, and our hearts are still torn from her loss.” Shocked, the woman started to leave, but then thought, “Who is better able to help these people than I, who has had misfortune of my own?”
She asked for permission to enter their home to talk, and they gladly welcomed her. They put out refreshments, some wine, fruits, cheeses, and, a freshly baked, golden challah. And as they sat and ate together, sharing of the challah, they also shared their feelings. They spoke of their sadness and their struggles, but also the many fond memories they had of their loved ones and the joys they shared together. They spent hours together, talking and reminiscing, until it was time to say goodbye. As the woman was leaving, the couple invited her back whenever she desired to talk. And as she walked home, she resolved to seek out those, who, like herself, were bent with sorrow, so they could share each other’s burdens. And ultimately, she became so involved in ministering to other people’s grief, she forgot about her search for a magical challah, never realizing that her quest had already, in fact, begun to drive the sorrow out of her life.
While there is no magic cure-all that will rid us of our sadness and bereavement, the presence of family and friends provides a healing balm to our suffering souls. This is why four times a year we come together to commemorate Yizkor, with today’s memorial service being the most prominent observance. Surrounded by family, friends, and our temple community, we express our grief and recall those who brought so much to our lives. As we reflect on who we are and who we could be, we think of those who helped mold us into the people we are today. We close our eyes and feel their arms around us, as we recall the comfort of their embrace. We imagine their hands sweetly caressing us when we are in need of consolation. We remember the way they made us laugh, their smile that could brighten up a room and brought light to our hearts. We recall their joys at our successes, how proud they were of our accomplishments. But most of all, we treasure the values and memories of our loved ones that helped transform us into the people we are today.
Every individual carries with them unique memories. No one’s story is exactly the same. We might think that no one can understand the depth of our sorrow, what it means to lose a loved one who meant so much to us. But one look around this sanctuary tells a different story. For no one passes through this world unscathed by sadness. Many in this room have recently suffered a loss. And others, whose losses are more remote, still feel the loneliness brought about by their loved one’s passing. Both sharp pain and a dull ache hurt us.
In our mourning and sorrow, we discover our shared bond. Grief is universal. The pain we feel also twists at the heart of our neighbor. This is why even though mourning may feel like something private, something personal, our tradition teaches us that we do not grieve by ourselves. We come together as a community, united by the bonds of faith and fellowship to express our innermost longings to God. Yizkor, our time of remembrance, reminds us that no one grieves alone.