One of the most emotionally draining aspects of each Chag is the Ashkenazic practice to recite Yizkor, asking HaKadosh Baruch Hu to remember our dearly loved ones. The need to ask someone to remember is predicated upon the fact that one assumes that the individual to whom the request is made would have forgotten had the request never been presented to him. With regard to God this is obviously meaningless, for He remembers everything. This concept is evident from Rosh Hashanah, when we declare during Tefilat Zichronot, "Ki Ein Shikcha Meneged Einecha“, “nothing is ever forgotten by You [HaKadosh Baruch Hu].” How, then, are we to understand the thrust of the Yizkor service?
At the conclusion of Parshat Yitro, which is read on the first day of Shavuot (20:15), we encounter Am Yisrael, petrified from hearing God’s voice during Matan Torah, begging Moshe to speak to God directly and then forward His message to them. Moshe denies their request; he explains that it is of utmost importance to hear the word of God directly, "LeVaavur Teheyeh Yirato Al Peneichem Lebilti Techeta’u," “so that the fear of God will be present to discourage you [Bnei Yisrael] from transgression” (ibid.17). When a person experiences a moment of weakness, the very thought of having heard God’s voice will hopefully serve as deterrent. Today, it is difficult to create that image in our minds. Although the Midrash believes that every Jewish soul ever to be born was actually at Har Sinai, in a material world it is hard to recognize and appreciate that idea. However, we fondly utilize another mechanism: we provide titles and descriptions to many of our Biblical heroes and try to imitate their unique characteristics. These include Moshe Rabbeinu, Avraham Avinu, and Eliyahu HaNavi. Yet only one has earned the title of Tzaddik, the righteous one, Yosef HaTzaddik. Why was Yosef given this extraordinarily special title? Yosef was able to resist temptation with Potifar’s wife. It is taught that he was able to resist her since he perceived “Diyukno Shel Aviv,” the image of his father, which reminded him of the proper way to conduct himself.
As we recite the Yizkor, we, too, summon before us the image of a parent, a sibling, a Rebbe, who serve as wonderful spiritual role models. It is our challenge to emulate their noble example. The Yizkor is more for us than it is for God. If we choose to remember and learn from them, then HaKadosh Baruch Hu will certainly remember and reward. The challenge of Yizkor is daunting but can also be extremely satisfying, especially because fits into the framework of Simchat Yom Tov, the essence of which is to become closer to God.