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Flame of the Yahrzeit Candle

We Jews love our candles. Shabbat candles. Havdalah candles. Hanukkah candles. Yizkor candles. Yahrzeit candles. For many of them it is about the beauty of light illuminating our world and lives, but not enough to read by. But that does not really track for yizkor candles or yahrzeit candles. I get yizkor candles; they last for 7 days, for the shiva period, so almost like a time tracker. But yahrzeit candles, which are lit once a year on an anniversary of a death, those flames are just like any other candles, but they feel WAY different.

We take a moment to remember our loved ones – as if we are not remembering them all the time anyway – and light a candle to note the anniversary of their death as we say the Mourner’s Kaddish. Just like the flame which lasts for 24 hours, I go back and forth, especially when it is the yahrzeit candle for my dad. Part of me feels the beauty it brings with the time to remember him. At the same time, the light feels futile. Small. Inconsequential when I think about my dad’s life and the impact he had on me. At the same time, it feels good to have a specific moment to name him aloud and know that other family members are doing the same thing at that moment. At the same time, it feels like a short amount of time to sit and remember him, especially when I try to do it frequently. At the same time, it feels different than his birthday or his Gregorian death date – a specifically Jewish observation.

As all these thoughts are all swirling through my head and heart, it looks as if the flame is dancing to the music of my thoughts. After saying the prayer, I move on to making dinner or putting my kids to bed, I still know that the candle is lit on my countertop, just like my dad’s memory never goes far from me.

I cannot help but equate that flame with my dad’s life – or maybe the end of his life. After 24 hours, the flame is fighting to stay lit. It is flickering more dramatically, and I can feel the pain of my dad’s loss as his life wavered in his last moments. Then the flame goes out and a wisp of smoke rises to the ceiling before it disappears forever. But my dad’s memory does not disappear forever, instead, it continues to be ingrained upon my heart and mind. And just like that wisp of smoke, it does not disappear, it just feels like it integrates into every fiber of my being. You cannot see it, but it is there.

Maybe this is the meaning of the yahrzeit candle. At least, that is what I need it to be right now.

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