I've often reflected on the lack of tact that some people demonstrate when visiting a house of mourning (shiva house). Of course, nobody means to be insensitive to shiva etiquette (read: What to Expect at a Shiva House). No one consciously sets out to further hurt the feelings of the newly bereaved, and I'm positive that if people just thought a bit deeper about what they were going to say, they'd never make such obvious errors of tact.

Don't Minimize

Some things are obvious: Don't stride into a shiva home and announce to all present the latest mazal tov in your family. Don't sit on the side, ignoring the mourner while chatting and giggling with a friend. Don't spend your visit minimizing the mourner’s loss byOf course, nobody means to be insensitive comparing this family tragedy with the losses you've personally suffered in the past.

Follow Their Lead

Instead, let the mourner guide you to his or her specific needs. It’s okay to be quiet; your comforting presence is all that is needed. The only thing you need to say is the traditional line of “Hamakom yenachem etchem betoch shaar avelay tziyon veerushayaim” (May the Omnipresence comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem).

Don't Justify G‑d

Think carefully before making statements like "G‑d never sends you a trial that you don't have the strength to overcome," "Only the good die young," "You're lucky that he died so suddenly and didn't suffer for long," or "She's in a better place now." There's nothing necessarily wrong with any of these statements, and some people might find them comforting, but the mourner may be hurt by the assumption.

There is one line of reasoning, however, that I don't think anyone has the right to voice. The Talmud and various books of faith often address the concept that G‑d might cause a person to suffer for the person's own good. Overcoming adversity can be ennobling, and greatness can be forged out of the crucible of distress.

It's a powerful concept, yet one that should never be applied towards the pain of another. It is noble for a person to accept his own suffering with equanimity, yet G‑d forbid we make our peace or make excuses for G‑d when confronted with the sight of someone else in pain.

Cry Like Joseph and Benjamin

When Joseph finally met his beloved brother, Benjamin, after decades of forced separation, “he fell on his brother Benjamin's shoulders and wept, and Benjamin wept on his shoulder.”1

The Talmud explains why Joseph wept on Benjamin's shoulders (plural), while Benjamin wept on only one of Joseph's shoulders: Joseph foresaw the eventual destruction of the two temples that were situated in Benjamin's portion of the Land of Israel, while Benjamin was mourning the future loss of the Tabernacle of Shiloh that was to be situated in Joseph's region.2

Joseph foresaw the eventual destruction

Though this explains the inconsistency in the text, you might wonder why each brother was concentrating on the other's suffering, rather than his own. Why not cry about their own eventual loss?

Obviously, the brothers were able to make their peace and rationalize away their own suffering, accepting the decree with love and yielding to the will of the Alm-ghty, while quietly resolving to do what they could to better the situation. However, when it comes to the suffering of another, there is no such equanimity of spirit.

No matter how full of faith you personally may feel, when you see your brother in pain, you cry out. The time for justification and rationalization is when dealing with your own pain—not the pain of another.