Yizkor is to remember. Yizkor is to bear witness.
Today, we are witnesses. Today, we remember.
But, truly, we bear witness every second of every day of every year – our every breath is testimony in itself – so why is today different? What makes Yizkor unique?
The answer is found in one of the most painful liturgy of Judaism – the story of the Ten Martyrs. The High Priest, Rabbi Yishmael, was the second martyr.
He was an exceedingly beautiful man and to preserve his beauty, the Roman tyrant flayed off his face. When they reached the place of the tefillin, Rabbi Yishmael cried out with a bitter voice to the Creator of his soul.
How could the High Priest not scream out in anguish for this desecration? The tefillin, containing the Shema, bear witness to the oneness of God.
The Talmud says that God also dons tefillin every day, and that God’stefillin bear witness to the oneness of the Nation Israel.
The Berditchver Rebbe equates God’s tefillin with the Jewish people, and he asks: How could God not pick up, caress, and cherish His tefillin when they fall down? Even the most ignorant person knows that you pick up and kiss tefillin that fall to the ground, so God must do the same!
Yom Kippur is the day we bear witness to the oneness of God, and it is the day that God will surely bear witness to our oneness, the unity of the Children of Israel.