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Soul Talk

Soul Talk

The shivah and other mourning observances

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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 (27)
July 3, 2014
To Moshe, You ask what you can do. That is what I asked and CHABAD helped me when no one else could. I, too, had a "siamese twin" (my beloved husband) that I lost after 40 years. Shattered is not a strong enough word. Your words were my words all those years ago and I wept for you. I will tell you what got me through - the words of Job "The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord" - and - in the memory of he whom I loved, bestowing the traditional blessing upon all (including those I considered my enemies) - "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and grant you grace." Miraculously, the pain began to ease and with the help of CHABAD, I began to recover. (You might be interested to know that I am not of the Jewish faith.)
J.H. Reynolds
UK
July 3, 2014
Daily Visitations except for Shabbat
Moshe, I am so sorry to hear of your loss. May your wife's memory be for a blessing. And I mean that literally. When my daughter passed and the initial stages of grieving were behind us, we began to honor her memory by helping those who are here and in need. Perhaps, dedicating your energies to performing mitzvahs in your wife's name will help to fill some of your time and also to offer you some comfort. In any event, I can tell you that while grief subsides, it never goes away. It is part of me. I would also offer that grief does not progress in a purely linear fashion. Today will not necessarily be better than yesterday just because it is a day later. But eventually, I hope you too will find more comfort than pain through a combination of memories and mitzvahs. I would also advise you to talk about her when she is on your mind, and to write down your memories when they come to you. Best wishes.
Anonymous
Bethesda, MD
shalomchabad.com
June 29, 2014
Daily Visitations except for Shabbat
My wife my soulmate of over 40 years passed away 3 weeks ago and I am inconsolable every day. The only consolation I have is the time I spend at her gravesite. I know that traditionally the soul needs time to be elevated to the almighty without having the additional burden of a grieving spouse visiting every day. But I can not help myself. Relatives and friends who have been in similar positions tell me it's very hard to continue but life goes on and it will get easier but the pain is not gone. There is tradition and there is reality and right now I am in neither world. I feel like an empty vessel that the insides have been torn out. I do not want to hinder the love of my life's soul. She became sick suddenly and departed within weeks in palliative care. I miss her every second we were almost like Siamese twins. What can I do to help her soul and myself (selfishly) I guess. Unveiling is in 2 weeks after the 30 days. Toda Rabba
Moshe
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
shalomchabad.com
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.
Anonymous
Bethesda, MD
shalomchabad.com
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
Murfreesboro
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
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