Question:

I was wondering about the traditional words of consolation said to mourners: “May the Almighty comfort you amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” What exactly is the consolation in those words? How is comparing the loss of a loved one to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans two thousand years ago supposed to make me feel any better?

Answer:

There are several parallels between the fall of Jerusalem and the passing of a soul. By contemplating these, the mourners can find a profound message of hope.

You’re not alone. Although the destruction of Jerusalem would have directly affected those who lived there the most, nevertheless it was a national tragedy. All Jews, including those who lived far from Jerusalem, were deeply pained at the loss of their holy city. It gave strength and courage to the Jerusalemites to know that the entire people was feeling their pain. So too, although it is the family that is mourning for their loss, the entire Jewish people share in their sorrow at the passing of one of our own. There is comfort in knowing that your sorrow is being shared by your people.

It isn’t forever. After two millennia we still mourn for the loss of Jerusalem, but the Jewish people have never lost hope that Jerusalem will one day be rebuilt. In a similar way, we mourn the loss of our loved ones, but we have faith that we will one day be reunited with them, for our prophets have promised that the dead will come back to life in the messianic era. There is comfort in knowing that the separation, as painful as it is, is only temporary.

They’re still with us. While the Romans were able to destroy the buildings of Jerusalem, its spirit and inner holiness were beyond their reach. No enemy can destroy the soul of Jerusalem, and even today it remains the Holy City. So too, death can only take away the physical persona, but the soul lives on. Even after their passing, our loved ones are with us in spirit. They strengthen us when we face challenges, and they smile with us when we celebrate. While we can no longer see them, we can sense their presence. There is comfort in knowing that we are never really apart.

None of this denies the pain and sorrow of death. But it may take the edge off that pain to know that, like Jerusalem, the soul has eternal powers that even death can’t conquer. Your grandma was the pillar and backbone of your family. She will always be there when you need her.