For many people, the death of a loved one is a time of great sadness and mourning. In Judaism, we have a tradition of observing yahrzeit or yahrtzeit (same thing, despite the different spelling, as detailed hereunder). Here’s an excellent resource to find yahrzeit prayer in Hebrew.
If you’re planning for the occasion, you might wonder if you need to recite a prayer as you light a yahrzeit candle. Well, usually, yes. But what’s the significance of the prayer? Is there a one-size-fits-all approach to prayer? Read on to find out.
What is Yahrtzeit?
According to Jewish tradition, we have various rituals and prayers to help mourners deal with grief and honor the memory of their departed loved ones. One of these is the Yahrzeit prayer, which we make on the anniversary of a person’s death (Yahrtzeit) according to the Hebrew calendar.
The prayer serves as a reminder that even though our loved ones are no longer with us in body, they continue to live on in our hearts. In addition, prayer helps us reflect on our mortality as we appreciate the time spent with our beloved. Ultimately, the Yahrzeit prayer implies that death is not the end and that the departed remain with us in spirit.
We observe the day with a period of mourning and memorial prayer. Some of the ways we mark the occasion include:
- Visiting the cemetery on the Yahrtzeit to say prayers
- Placing stones on the grave
- Refraining from work or entertainment
- Shaving during the day.
The mourning period culminates in a memorial service on the evening of the Yahrtzeit. And usually, a meal follows.
When to Observe Yahrtzeit
While some people choose to observe yahrzeit on the date of death according to the Gregorian calendar, others prefer to use the Hebrew calendar. If you are unsure when to observe yahrzeit, you can use an online calendar to convert the date on the Gregorian calendar to the Hebrew calendar. By taking a moment to plan, you can honor your loved one in a way that is meaningful to you.
The Link between the Prayer and Lighting of a Candle
The lighting of a candle is one of the most recognizable symbols of Judaism. Candles are used for Shabbat, holidays, and lifecycle events such as births, bar/bat mitzvahs, and weddings.
In addition, we light candles in memory of loved ones. The act of lighting a candle is often accompanied by prayer.
On the Yahrzeit, it is customary to light a 24-hour memorial candle in honor of the deceased. The candle is usually placed on a table or shelf where it can burn throughout the day. Some people choose to say a blessing when lighting the candle, while others say a prayer. What’s the link between the two? Generally, prayer serves various functions, including:
- Asking God to bestow His mercy upon the departed soul
- Remembrance of our mortality as we ask for strength in dealing with grief
- Helping us reflect on the life of our loved ones and to pay tribute to their memory
The prayer while lighting a Yahrzeit candle may take various forms and wording variations. A typical traditional prayer calls for God’s peace upon the departed’s soul. Here’s a quick example:
“Blessed are you, Lord our God, who has taken us out of darkness into light, out of slavery into freedom. May you grant eternal peace to (insert name) as they rest with the souls of our forefathers. Amen.”
Evidently, this prayer acknowledges the loss of the loved one and the blessing of their life. It also highlights the hope that we have for the future, despite our sadness at present.
The choice of prayer is usually a personal matter. But, you may tap into the various resources available if you need guidance or inspiration. For example, the website My Jewish Learning has a section dedicated to prayers and blessings for different occasions, including the lighting of a Yahrzeit candle.
You can also find Hebrew versions of the yahrzeit prayer online. This way, you can follow along even if you don’t know the language. Even better, praying in Hebrew can help you connect with the long tradition of Judaism, letting you feel closer to those who have gone before us.
Principally, how you choose to observe this tradition isn’t what counts. It’s the gesture and intentions behind it that matter. Provided you honor the memory of your loved one in a way that is special and unique to you, you are on track. If that means lighting a candle during the recitation, great. If not, you can choose other ways to commemorate your beloved.