Q. What is an ‘Azkarah’ after the death of a parent and why is it so important?
A. After someone dies he gets judged in heaven on all his deeds in this world. All is vanity in this world except pursuits of the soul and the soul will be judged to see which actions it did to affect its eternity. At the end of seven days (the end of ‘Shiva’) the judgment is more exacting so the custom is to make an ‘Azkarah’ memorial service on the seventh nigh to arouse compassion in heaven on the soul of the deceased and to do good things or learn Torah in merit of the deceased to increase his merit in heaven and raise his soul higher in heaven. On the 30th day there is another divine judgment so there’s another Azkarah then too on the 30th night.
Every year on the anniversary of the death of a person there is another judgment and though the deceased can no longer do actions for himself, the judgment is to see how his descendants are keeping the Torah and Mitzvoth according to his instruction or if the man did something that has long term impact in heaven like leaving a legacy to a Torah institution where they learn Torah every day. This person accrues infinite merit and every year there is a re-accounting of this merit as it raises his soul to higher levels in heaven. Therefore at the anniversary of a person’s death also called ‘Yohrzeit’- literally a year’s time the custom is for their children to make another Azkarah and learn Torah on behalf of the deceased and make blessings on food with the merit of thanking G-d for the food to be credited on behalf of the deceased.
The Azkarah is not to be taken lightly. A very recent story with Rabbi Ofer Amar of Petach Tikva will illustrate this beyond a shadow of a doubt. This rabbi Amar once learned in the ‘Midrashiat Noam of Pardes Chana. He had a friend at the Midrashiah that at the time observed Torah and mitzvoth. Years went by and they left the school each to his own way. This friend abandoned the observance of Torah and Mitzvoth totally along with his brothers and went out into the world becoming very successful businessmen. Rabbi Ofer Amar went on in his Torah studies until he became the learned and G-d fearing rabbi that he is today.
This friend became very successful and helped run the campaign of a vigilantly secular political party in Israel and Rabbi Ofer we said became a rabbi. They had no contact with each other for many years since attending the Midrashiah. Just a few weeks ago Rabbi Ofer had a dream. He is standing at the Azkarah of his friend’s mother. He sees the mother of his friend that they are eulogizing and the look on her face is anger. She is furious about how they did her Azkarah. Rabbi Ofer woke up from this strange dream.
The next morning Rabbi Ofer was in doubt how to proceed. He never dealt with dreams, surely not a strange dream like this one, and besides, he hadn’t seen this friend for many years. But he decided to track his old friend down and tell him about what he saw in his dream. He managed to get his phone number and got hold of this old friend by leaving a message describing the whole dream on his phone.
A few minutes later the phone rang and this old friend was on the line. “Are you my old friend Ofer”, the friend asked? “Yes I am”, Rabbi Ofer said.
The friend asked, “Did you think about me lately or hear anything about me? Rabbi Ofer said: “Not at all: I didn’t think about you nor do I have any idea what you’re up to”. The friend told him: “You should know that my mother died 2 years and 5 days ago. Before she passed away she saw that my brothers and I were not observant Jews and she told us; “you should know that I’m leaving this world and if there is a next one I will give you a sign from heaven. My mother died a few days later.”
“After the year passed we made an Azkarah and five days ago for the second anniversary of her passing we made another one. During the Azkarah I got up and I said: “Do you see? Do you all remember that before our mother died she said she would send us a sign if there is a world after this one? See two years have already passed and we received no such sign so it must be that the whole thing is not true! There is no next world and the soul doesn’t reach higher heights each year. Therefore at our Azkarah for our mother’s tonight we will not say any Psalms nor will we learn any Mishnayot for her soul because there is no soul! We will just eat and drink and continue on with our lives.”
“But now that you told me of this dream, that means my mother did send us a sign and she actually saw everything we’ve been doing here in this world and she merited to send us a message that she’s in the next world and that she is indeed angry at the way we her sons carried on.”
In these very days this family of brothers is strengthening the observance of Torah and mitzvoth all on account of the dream that stirred up a storm in their hearts. With G-d’s help they will totally repent, come back to authentic Judaism and bring satisfaction to their mother’s soul and to their own lives.