Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"What men prizes most is a privilege, even if it be that of chief mourner at a funeral." (James Russell Lowell)

I was reminded of that quote when one of the students in my summer class described her mother's funeral. Being that she is a Christian, I was curious to hear how her religious tendencies affected her ritual of mourning and grieving. She explained how her father did not attend the ceremony which takes place right after they put the coffin in the ground. He preferred erring around in the nearby woods to seek comfort and solace on his own. Meanwhile, my friend was "stuck" (in her words) having to handle all the visitors that had come to present their condolences. She felt like it should have been the role of her father to nod and accept the gentle pads on the shoulder from the commiserating people. She wanted him to be the recipient of all this tragic attention. However she says, the next day, the house was quiet again and life went on. 

There she got me thinking about our own rules of Shiva, Shloshim and the Year of mourning. 
I can not say I am ashamed, but on my journey to discover the proper way of observing the Mitsvot- and by proper, I mean an equal balance between love fear and respect for The one above- I used to think that the rules of Aveilus (mourning) are over the top, and that our sages were exaggerating by imposing on us the ways we are to feel and to mourn. (They don't exactly, but in the mind of a teenager, they did.) Of course I've had friends who tried convincing me of how wonderful it is to have such a system in place, for they know the human nature, the need for comfort and the source of joy (hence no music for a year...). Yet I remained stubborn and convinced that I must be different for wanting to grieve with music, for wanting to forget through forbidden means. 

So I addressed  my secular class and briefly explained how it works in our communities. Because now I don't simply understand it as a law, I appreciate it for what it is worth. And yes, our sages tend to know better than the little me. I guess part of growing up is discovering it for yourself. 

Thank G-d I have been blessed with a healthy family and I haven't been in a situation where I ever had to follow the Halachos of mourning, but I've witnessed it enough through my parents and through close friends. I saw how it helped those who followed the rules to confront their pain and emotions versus those who chose to mourn their own way, transgressing fundamental Halachos. The latter are the one's who today, are still struggling to adjust with the loss and suffering they've experienced. In now way do I mean to judge them for I can only begin to imagine their pain. I can simply notice and speculate about the benefits of our Halachos. 

 If only we were taught how to appreciate all these laws instead of focusing on their restrictive aspect, schools would have a much higher rate of success in forming real sincere G-d fearing and loving Jews. 

But that's a whole other topic for a different post :)


  1. I like what you wrote here. Talking to non-Jewish or not frum people often makes me appreciate the depth of our halachos that look so strict at face value. Your class probably enjoyed your talk.

  2. They loved it. They asked me all about Shiva and the way "year of mourning"...
    I am also one of a big family so that in itself is intriguing to them