By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER
We memorialize our departed with Yizkor Services four times each year, at conspicuously irregular intervals. The most widely observed among these is Yom Kippur. Not two weeks following Yom Kippur, Yizkor is repeated on Shemini Atzeret. Six (in a leap year, seven) months later, we recite Yizkor on the last day of Passover. Six weeks after that is the year’s final Yizkor, on the second day of Shavuot.
The uneven schedule for Yizkor acknowledges the reality that the grieving process is messy and unpredictable. It is simply not true that the pain of bereavement gets better with each passing day, or along a steady trajectory. There are good days and bad, unanticipated setbacks and unsettling bumps in the road.
In his definitive guide to architecture (and meditation on the human condition), Vitruvius (a first century BCE Roman contemporary of Hillel and Shammai) wrote:
“An easy approach to perimeter walls must be provided against. Indeed, they should be surrounded by uneven ground, and the roads leading to the gates should be winding.”
The irregular pattern of Yizkor mirrors – and helps us navigate – the necessarily uneven terrain of grief. This traditional Jewish response to personal loss offers us all the attributes Vitruvius prescribed in construction of homes and temples: firmitas, utilitas, venustas — strength, utility, and beauty.
(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and is the former National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting,)