Off the Pulpit

The New First Day

On Rosh Hashana we celebrate the creation of the world and ten days later, on Yom Kippur, we recite Yizkor, a prayer of memory for those we have lost. It might seem that we go right from joy to sadness, but there is a lesson in the linkage that can help us in difficult times.

What is the beginning of creation? “Let there be light.” Creation happens against a background of darkness. In order to make something in this world you must insist on light even when all the world seems sunk in night.

On Yizkor, we do not only mourn for those who died. We promise to give tzedakah in their memory and to honor the ideals by which they lived. Having learned the lesson of creation, we understand — you must create light from the darkness. Someone will be helped because I remember. Sadness will not be the final statement.

In a world beset by pain, the Jewish approach is neither to ignore tragedy nor to give it the last word. We grieve, but then we move toward the Neilah service, when sins are forgiven and another year dawns for us all. And there will be evening and morning, on this new first day.