Mourning Words: What Judaism Teaches Us About Dealing With Death – By Marc

I go out of my way to make this blog apolitical… but too often in today’s world there are things that come up in politics that need to be addressed. And just as often, we can turn to Judaism for the answers and the way to address them.

The fact that our religion can give us such clear and beautiful wisdom not only speaks to the very power and need for it, but is something I wrote about in my last post.

While many people would say that common sense should have us knowing right from wrong, and guiding us to living a moral and ethical life, Judaism provides such a specific manual in its traditions, ceremonies, laws and mitzvot. That is remarkable and amazingly powerful. Judaism teaches us EXACTLY how to live a good and meaningful life.

I am always haunted by the line that Jack Nicholson delivers in A Few Good Men… “You can’t handle the truth.”

The fact of the matter is, unless you have served in the military, you really cannot fully understand the sacrifice that these soldiers and families make… and how much goes on behind the scenes… how much is truly done to protect us and keep us safe. There are things we know and hear… and yes, probably things we do not want to hear… and could not handle.

And at the same time, we are entitled to know, as best we can, what our government is doing and why. It is our right and civic duty to question and be informed.

I actually now regret not having served… even at the thought of being absolutely humiliated during physical or basic training. Even if I was only in the reserves. One of many life observations that have come too late.

For even if you have been in a similar situation, you cannot possibly understand the specific and full information this particular family may be going through. So what do you say or do?

Judaism teaches us that sometimes you say nothing. You give the person in mourning a hug, and either with words or silence, let them know that you are there for them and for whatever they need. Or you simply say: “I am sorry. May their memory always be a blessing.” Period.

Let the rest come from them… tears… yells… an ask to talk about it, etc.

Shiva “requires total sensitivity to the needs of the mourner, the tradition mandates appropriate behaviors for the visitor.”

According to
“In Judaism, the first period of structured mourning is shiva… Shiva… is the seven-day mourning period for the immediate family of the deceased which consists of spouse, child, parent or sibling.”

“The primary purpose of the shiva tradition, or “sitting shiva,” is to create an environment of comfort and community for mourners; it helps guide friends and family members through the loss of a loved one. Throughout the weeklong shiva period, mourners come together in one family’s home to offer their condolences and support.”

Hineni literally means “Here I am.” It is a way of expressing to Hashem or whoever needs you, that you are here and ready for whatever they need.

Hinenu communities will organize food deliveries and ways of taking care of the family, so the only thing they have to think about is taking the time to mourn… and come together… and eventually, after a long time, to heal.

To be there for others is essential, and in fact, this week’s Parsha suggests that even when we are in a bad place and dealing with our own issues, our focus should be on others, and how we can help and teach them… to let our own suffering become something positive.

This tradition is so important… so vital… and it is Judaism that teaches us how to mourn and help and heal.

It is no coincidence that psychology also uses a seven, in the Seven Stages Of Grief:
Shock & Denial
Pain & Guilt
Anger & Bargaining
Depression, Reflection & Loneliness
The Upward Turn
Reconstruction & Working Through
Acceptance & Hope

Clearly we need to be reminded… at least some of us do… of how best to support those in mourning… what to say, and what NOT to say.

Let Judaism be the guide. It is quite remarkable how insightful and thorough it is on so many topics, and the Torah literally is a blueprint for living.


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