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Soul Talk

Soul Talk

The shivah and other mourning observances


Jewish tradition exhorts us to properly mourn the passing of a loved one, and sets the practices and rituals that facilitate and give expression to our feelings of loss and grief. At the same time, however, it establishes a sequence of time frames through which the intensity of our mourning is progressively mitigated, from the most intense mourning that is observed in the hours after a death, to the seven-day "shivah" observed following the burial, to the 30-day shloshim period, and so on.

Mourning is a show of respect to the departed and to his or her place in our lives... In other words, we must mourn, but we must also set boundaries to our mourning. To not mourn at all, or to plunge into an abyss of grief and remain trapped on its bottom--both these extremes are detrimental, both to the living and to the soul of the departed. Mourning is a show of respect to the departed and to his or her place in our lives, as well as a crucial stage in the healing of those who experienced the loss. But the soul of the departed does not desire that those remaining in this world remain paralyzed by grief. On the contrary, the soul's greatest benefit comes from its loved ones' return to active, even joyous life, in which their feelings of love and veneration translate into deeds that honor the departed soul and attest to its continuing influence in our world.

Five phases of mourning correspond to five stages of the soul's ascent

These (five) phases of mourning also correspond with the stages of the soul's "ascent," as it gradually disengages from the material world and assumes a less palpable--though no less real--presence in our lives.

The world was created with humanity as its focus. This took a full cycle of time: seven days. When creation is reversed and the human soul returns to its source, that, too, is marked with a week's cycle: the Shivah, seven days which the closest relatives devote exclusively to mourning the soul's departure, and the extended family, friends and community comfort them with their presence, their empathy, and their words of consolation.

we must mourn, but we must also set boundaries to our mourning The traditional words spoken to the mourner during Shivah are: "May G‑d console you, together with all mourners of Zion and Jerusalem." In a letter to a father who lost his young child, the Lubavitcher Rebbe writes:

"At first glance, the connection between the mourner to whom these words are directed and the mourners of Jerusalem's destruction appears to be quite puzzling. In truth, however, they are connected. For the main consolation embodied by this phrase is in its inner content. Namely, that just as the grief over Zion and Jerusalem is common to all the sons and daughters of our people, Israel, wherever they may be... so is the grief of a single individual Jew or Jewish family shared by the entire nation. For, as the Sages have taught, all of the Jewish people comprise one integral organism...

"A second point: ...just as G-d will most certainly rebuild the ruins of Zion and Jerusalem and gather the dispersed of Israel from the ends of the earth through our righteous Moshiach, so will He, without a doubt, remove the grief of the individual, fulfilling the promise embodied by the verse, 'Awaken and sing, you who repose in the dust.' Great will be the joy, the true joy, when all will be rejoined at the time of the Resurrection of the Dead...."

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Discussion (24)
February 16, 2014
To Anonymous
There are indeed divergent customs regarding when to observe yartzeit in a case such as yours. Some only observe Adar I, and others just observe Adar II. The custom of Chabad and others is to observe both Adars. You can read more about that here:
Menachem Posner
Montreal, QC
February 13, 2014
Proper Leap Year Yahrzeit
My daughter passed away during Adar on a non-leap year. I've seen conflicting information about whether her yahrzeit should be observed in Adar I or Adar II during a leap year. Some have said that we must not delay the opportunity to perform the mitzvah. But it always seemed significant to me that she passed on eruv Purim. And so, it bothers me to have her yarzheit separated from Purim in leap years.
Bethesda, MD
September 23, 2013
Re: Postponing Shiva until after end of Sukkot & Simchat Torah
Yes, this is correct—the shiva begins after Simchat Torah, yet the days of the festival are still considered part of the shloshim, since you cannot cut hair at that time.

Concerning leading the services: This differs from one community to the next, and also depends on circumstance. Best to have the rabbi of your community determine this.
Tzvi Freeman
September 22, 2013
Postponing Shiva until after end of Sukkot & Simchat Torah
My mother passed away first day of Sukkot. I am told that Shiva is done only after Simchat Torah. Is that correct? Secondly, in this particular type of case, if one is not yet sitting Shivah, but is already in Shloshim, can such person lead holiday or Sabbath prayers?
Robert Semel
New York
May 13, 2013
comforting but not the complete answer
Allan Kelly
central coast Australia
March 20, 2013
My Precious Mom, In process
I got a call that my Mom was dying, I live in Seattle, she in Tennessee. I flew out, and stayed and she lived. Flew back, got another call, finally drove from Seattle to Tennessee. Put her in a wonderful home, got a job, and found out they were neglecting and abusing her. I brought her back to her home, am now 24/7 caring for her. She has good days and bad! I am glad I am here to help but it is hard. After not sleeping tonight, and asking God to help me I came upon this site. What a beautiful way of sharing about the end of life. I have been crying happy tears for the answers that were given to me. Thank you!
Yesha Marie Ohashi
December 22, 2012
My mother past away on Thursday 12/20/2012
A wonderful woman who always put her husband Joe and her children first in her life. I will miss her. Funny how things happen. I moved to Florida October first on a fluke. Turns out she got sick right after I came down which gave me the opportunity to spend time with her daily throughout her short illness. G-D works his magic in so many ways, this is just one way he helped her and I to be together during this time. Now my job is to keep my Father going through this time. They were together for 65 Years.
I am thankful that her
Stephen Kozer
Riviera Beach, Florida
August 5, 2012
Dear Double Loss
I will venture to say that those who say to you "say move on. The past is the past" have not lost someone close to them. Unfortunately, anyone who suffers a significant tragedy, also gets to suffer painful and thoughtless comments by other people This is their a futile and inconsiderate attempt to end their discomfort with your suffering.

There are stages in grieving, and the annual yartzeit reflects that even after the year of mourning is long past (in time) we never are completely the same. The memory of our loved one and the fact that we miss them is a positive IF it drives us to live a better and holier life. The fact that it places in sharp focus for us who are living, how precious life is, and what is missing when a life ends, and therefore we live better and holier, is in actual fact how the departed continue to affect the world of the living, and in that spiritual sense are in fact living on through us, and their soul gets credit for that accomplishment.
December 3, 2011
Moving on does not mean forgetting or "letting go" of the deceased. Moving on means going on with out lives and not allowing grief or mourning to interfere with our work and our relationships. Of course we remember our loved ones, and they are in our hearts forever!

Hopefully you have many strong, good memories of those whom you loved, and they encourage you and inspire you to be a better person and live a better life, a life which will give honor and respect to these memories...
Chaya Sarah Silberberg
December 3, 2011
Double Loss

Ten years ago I lost my mother and my beshert within 4 months of each other.

I have not healed. It doesn't HURT as much, but there is a hole in me that will not close.

People say move on. The past is the past. I can't see how to let go. They are still in my dreams and my regular life... How do you get past that and why would you want to?
Montreal, Canada
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