Dear reader,

A few weeks ago, I visited my hometown to attend the wedding of a dear friend’s son. I met several old friends, whom I had seen intermittently over the years.

One chided me for not being in touch to share some of the major events—celebrations or otherwise—that I had experienced over the years. We spoke about how life is so fast-paced and how difficult it is to find time to reconnect.

But really, as I thought about it, there was more to it. There are times when we need to process our emotions, joyful or sad, internally before we can reach out to share our experiences with others. Some people process their emotions, extrovertly, through others, while others do so more privately.

Only over the last few years, due in large part to the research of Susan Cain on the topic of introversion, have we learned as a society to appreciate this difference. This has greatly increased our awareness that all of us are unique and each of us has different tendencies—and that’s all alright.

Interestingly, the Torah’s laws of mourning demonstrate great sensitivity to the experience of the individual. When visiting a person who is sitting shiva, the seven-day mourning period after the loss of a beloved, we remain quiet until the mourner initiates conversation. If the mourner wishes to share with us his inner world, his personal memories, recollections or feelings, he will. If, on the other hand, he chooses to process it privately, we respect that, while still providing the comfort that we care.

We are now in the period between Passover and Shavuot when nationally we mourn the deaths of Rabbi Akiva’s students who were punished for not showing proper respect.

Rabbi Akiva’s most famous teaching was: "Love your fellow as yourself” which he said was “a cardinal principle of the Torah." His students, however, loved each other so much that each wanted the other to practice what he felt was the best form of serving G‑d. Every student felt compelled to correct the erroneous behavior of his fellow, and to enlighten him to the true meaning of their master's words. Rabbi Akiva’s students failed to properly absorb the words of our sages: "Just as every person's face differs from the faces of his fellows, so, too, every person's mind differs from the minds of his fellows." Each of us has our own special path.

Though the deaths of Rabbi Akiva’s students occurred many centuries ago, we still observe these laws of semi-mourning to internalize its profound message. We need to care enough about another that we share his hurts and help him to rectify his errors, while still respecting and valuing his individual path and uniqueness as a human being.

What a challenge!

Chana Weisberg

Editor, TJW