Did you know that you can elevate the soul of a loved one and make them rest in peace? Among Jews of Ashkenazic decscent, this is done on the festivals by saying a special prayer and pledging a charitable gift on behalf of the deceased.
Yizkor is the name of a beautiful memorial prayer for deceased parents and other relatives said on Yom Kippur and the Jewish Festivals. It means “May He remember” and is a very moving experience.
There are two parts to the Yizkor Jewish memorial prayer service.
The first is praying for a departed soul to elevate it. You can see the full Yizkor prayer with an English translation here. The second part is pledging to donate charity on behalf of the deceased. This is based on the Jewish belief that departed souls benefit from acts of charity and other good deeds done in their stead. Donating to charity is a tremendous merit for the departed soul and also benefits the one who gave it. (Ohr Yechezkal, Middot pp.103-7).
In Yizkor we ask Hashem to remember our departed relatives and include them with the Patriarchs, Matriarchs and other righteous souls in heaven. We then commit to donate charity on their behalf after the holiday in exchange.
According to many halachic authorities it is best to make a charitable gift before the festivals and say in Yizkor that you already gave charity on behalf of your loved one. Doing so will give much pleasure to the departed soul. Furthermore, it will prevent forgetting to give the pledged amount that is considered a very severe infringement of Jewish law.
Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz, the Holy Shelah (1565-1630) wrote — “Giving charity on behalf of a departed person provides that soul with great benefit. It brings the soul great satisfaction (nachat ruach). This is true even if done for someone not related, how much more so for a family member.”
To sum up, by saying Yizkor, you and your departed relative become partners in giving charity and other good deeds done in their place. On the one hand, you become a better and more giving person. On the other hand,the departed soul of your relative is elevated and receives celestial benefits from your kindness and generosity. You and your loved one remain connected even after they have passed away.