When a righteous person passes away, it is customary to add the following laudatory phrase after mentioning the deceased’s name: “zecher tzaddik liv'racha” (May the memory of this righteous person be a blessing). So too, when referring to an indisputably evil person, it is customary to say “yimach sh’mo” (May his name be erased) after his/her name. In some cases, the term “yimach sh’mo v’zichro” (May his name and memory be erased) is added.
Jewish tradition places great importance on a person being remembered after death. Parents name their children after their own parents and/or grandparents (in Sephardi tradition this occurs while they are still alive, in Ashkenazi tradition a child is named only after deceased relatives). The anniversary of a person’s death (yahrtzeit) is observed by the deceased’s children for the rest of the latter’s lives. According to tradition, positive actions done in the name of the deceased bring them honor in the afterlife.
Most often, the memory of a person is kept alive from parent to child (or by a young person upon whom the deceased had a meaningful influence, like a teacher-student or uncle-nephew). In fact, the word “toldot,” which appears frequently in the text of the Torah, is often translated both as generations and actions. A person is remembered in this world both by the generations that he/she produces and/or by the impact of his/her actions upon others.
In the history of humankind, there have been a number of people who could be considered utterly evil. On May 1st, the world learned of the death of one such thoroughly evil person, Osama bin Laden, “yimach sh’mo v’zichro,” who was killed by the U.S. armed forces. (Coincidentally, it was also on May 1st, in 1945, that it was confirmed that Hitler, “yimach sh’mo v’zichro,” had died.)
May we never see such evil again.
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