Although I am still young, I have already suffered through the loss of a parent. My mother passed away six years ago, when I was nine-teen years old. I think someone who has (thank G-d) never dealt with the loss of a loved one, cannot really appreciate the feelings and emotional turmoil that come in its wake.
Judaism has a lot to say about life-after-death. There are a number of stages a soul goes through after its time in this world; it must be cleansed of wrong doing (a process Torah refers to as “Gehinnom”) until the soul can bask in G-d’s presence. But far more has been written about those that are left behind; the family and friends who mourn their loss. how are they to continue? How do they honor their loved one?
Our tradition has provided a detailed system, guiding the mourner in a proper path of healing. The seven days of Shiva provide a mourner a designated time to focus solely on their loss, while being provided for by others. After this week, begins a thirty day period of less intense mourning when the mourner begins reintegration into the real world. And of course, for a parent, there is the saying of kaddish (and certain other observances) that last for a full year.
An integral part of the mourning process is the major mitzvah of comforting mourners, or “Nichum Aveilim”. This mitzvah is done primarily during Shiva, where the visitor offers condolences to the mourner, and lets them know they are being thought of during their hardships. Jewish Law recognizes the importance and impact this practice will have on the spiritual well-being on the mourner. As difficult and earth shattering loss is, their is always hope for a bright future.
Last Sunday was the fast of Tisha B’av. The day Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed and a million Jews were ruthlessly killed by the Romans, and a time we remember all Jewish tragedies throughout history. This day is a day like Shiva. We sit on the ground, and refuse to be comforted. But then comes this Shabbat. The section of the prophets (Haftorah) read tomorrow morning begins with the words, “Nachamu Nachamu Ami”, “Be comforted my people!”
This reading tells of G-d’s comfort to the Jewish people. No matter what terrible things we have gone through, how painful our loss is, we are reassured by G-d’s comfort. Indeed this Shabbat is called “Shabbat Nachamu”, the Shabbat of Comfort, as G-d Himself visits us tomorrow! He tells us that in the end, suffering will come to an end, and that our people has a bright future ahead. All we need to do is struggle through our own collective “shiva”, and very, very soon we will finally, permanently, be comforted.
Rabbi Akiva Hall