The two primary paragraphs of Yizkor — the titular “Yizkor” and the well-known “El Maleh Rachamim” — are contrasting devotions.
El Maleh Rachamim requests repose. The key word is Menucha, or rest. We ask that God grant our relative’s soul “fitting rest … a rest in the Garden of Eden … so that they rest in peace”. It is God — whose Presence, Wings, and Mercy are invoked six times — whom we hope shall provide such rest.
But rest, provided by God, is utterly absent from the initial Yizkor paragraph. There, we ask God to remember our loved one, to bind them in the bonds of life, and to place them alongside righteous human heroes, like Abraham and Sarah. This is a far more active expectation of the afterlife. Our loved one is mentioned, remembered, and invoked; they are bound in life; they stand alongside Biblical figures whose legacy is anything but restful. Here, God’s name is inserted but once, while over 10 separate human figures are invoked.
Our tradition brings two hopes into Yizkor. First, that our loved one finds peace and stillness; that any lingering regrets, anxieties, and unfinished business of their all too human life melt, ultimately, into a place of comfort and understanding. That is a gift that God, master of compassion and source of all comforts, can provide. Second, that our loved one finds renewed vitality and activity, even in death. That they are remembered, that they impact our lives, that they stand to us as enduring models (complex models, perhaps, not unlike our Biblical ancestors) whose memory informs our own future. That is a gift we provide, when we commit to saying Yizkor and commit to Mitzvot and Tzedakka in their memory.
For those for whom you are saying Yizkor:
What do you pray they receive full rest from?
What do you pray they serve as a stronger, more vital influence upon you?