It has become a well-established Minhag to recite Yizkor at the conclusion of each of the Shalosh Regalim. The word Yizkor actually appears three times in the Torah. In Parshat Noach, after the Mabul succeeded in wiping out the existing civilization, the Torah writes, “VaYizkor Eloikim Et Noach Veet Kol Hachaya Veet Kol Asher Eto Bateivah,” “And Hashem remembered Noach, all the animals, and everyone who was with him in the ark” (Bereshit 8:1). In Parshat Vayetzei (30:1), Rachel expresses her frustration when she cannot bear children. Eventually, Rachel is privileged to have a child, and once again the Torah uses the word Yizkor: “Vayizkor Elokim Et Rachel Vayishmah Eyleha Vayiftach Et Rachmah,” “And Hashem remembered Rachel, and He listened to her, and He opened her womb” (30:22). At the beginning of Sefer Shemot (2:23), the Torah describes the suffering of Bnei Yisrael at the hands of the Egyptians. Hashem’s response is immediately noted: “Vayishma Elokim Et Naakatam Vayizkor Elokim Et Brito Et Avraham, Et Yitzchak, Veet Yaakov,” (2:24).
In each of these cases, the people involved could have allowed their suffering to overcome them and simply resigned to the fact that their condition would never improve. They could have said that there is no need to continue to maintain loyalty to Hashem or follow His path. Noach could have expressed the thought that it did not pay to rebuild society, for Hashem would surely destroy it again if people stray far from the path, Rachel felt worthless as a wife and a woman due to her inability to have a child, and Bnei Yisrael could easily have forfeited any connection to their Jewish heritage as a result of their enormous suffering at the hands of Pharaoh. Hashem, in every case, came to help, and Vayizkor Elokim allowed those in need to continue as individuals and as a people.
On Shavuot, we recite Yizkor for parents, siblings, and children who have left us. The Jewish People as a whole recite Yizkor on behalf of those who perished during the Holocaust and for Israeli soldiers and citizens who have made the supreme sacrifice to defend the land of Israel. As we ask Hashem to remember their souls, we too must gather strength and courage to continue to pursue the values and ideals of those for whom we recite Yizkor today.
Tehey Nishmatam Tzerurah Betzror Hachayim.