In the Yizkor service we pray “Tehei nafsho tzerurah bitzeror hachaim” — “May his soul be bound up in the bond of life.” Some also recite the Keil Malei Rachamim prayer, in which they pray “Veyitzror bitzeror hachaim et nishmato” — “May the soul of our loved ones be bound in the bond of life.”

Who are “hachaim” — “the living” — to whom we request their souls should be bound?

In addition to the popular translation that “hachaim” is a reference to “eternal life,” it can also mean “those living who survived the deceased.” We pray that the souls of our loved ones, the ideals, ideas, and goals which they fought for and nurtured, be linked with us, “hachaim” — “the living survivors” — in the realm of our daily thought and deed. Not just on the four occasions a year when Yizkor is recited should we think of them, but we should resolve to emulate them and transmit to our children throughout the year the Torah and Yiddishkeit that they endeavored to instill in us.

Yizkor is not just a prayer in which we beseech Hashem and ask Him to do something for our departed dear ones, but it is also a challenge to each and every one of us that we assure that the spirit of our loved ones be embodied in us eternally.

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At Yizkor it is customary to make pledges for tzedakah, and appeals are made for the synagogue or noteworthy Torah institutions. A story is told about a wealthy man who stood before the Gates of Heaven, but was refused admission. The man argued with the angel in charge, but without success. Finally he took out his check book and said, “Okay, everything has a price. How much does it cost?” The angel replied, “Sorry Sir, up here we do not accept checks, only receipts” (for tzedakah already given).