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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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Rochel Chein for March 2, 2017

Wedding ring I'm so sorry to hear of your loss. You can choose whether or not to continue wearing the ring, based on your personal preference. Reply

Anonymous North Carolina March 1, 2017

Do I continue to wear a wedding ring after my husband passes away? Reply Staff via September 9, 2016

Why pebbles? Good question, please see this link for a response Reply

Mary Ellen (Hammer ) Sees nanty glo September 9, 2016

Hello I have a question .Why do you put a rock or stone on the headstone when you visit the grave. Reply

Shmuel May 4, 2016

did anyone hear that if you go twice to a shivah house you have to go a third time? Reply

Lisa Providence, RI February 4, 2016

My mother died in 2005. I attended Saturday morning Shabbat Services the day before her funeral and burial, and everyone was surprised that I didn't stay home. I simply answered that I didn't want to be alone. Everyone supported me, and helped me get through that difficult time.

I even learned that Orthodox Jews aren't allowed to grieve on the Sabbath. I don't think that makes any sense, because grief doesn't take vacations. Reply

Anne Leibowitz New York December 31, 2015

I lost my mother last year at this time. We went to the cemetery this Sunday to see the burial stones for the first time. My father also passed away this year, in the summer. Now I have to wait another year for my father. This all seems so unreal to me! Reply

J.H. Reynolds UK 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.) Reply

Anonymous Bethesda, MD via 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. Reply

Moshe 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 Reply

Menachem Posner Montreal, QC via 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: Reply

Anonymous Bethesda, MD via 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. Reply

Tzvi Freeman 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. Reply

Robert Semel New York 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? Reply

Allan Kelly central coast Australia May 13, 2013

comforting but not the complete answer Reply

Yesha Marie Ohashi Murfreesboro 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! Reply

Stephen Kozer Riviera Beach, Florida 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 Reply

Anonymous Vancouver via 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. Reply

Chaya Sarah Silberberg 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... Reply

Anonymous Montreal, Canada December 3, 2011

Double Loss Hello,

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? Reply

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