Last week we discussed the obligation to ensure that a deceased person receive a speedy and respectful burial. After the funeral, the close relatives of the deceased sit ‘Shiva’. ‘Shiva’ is the seven day period after the funeral in which the close relatives remain in their home and observe various laws of mourning. In this period it is a Mitzva (commandment) for friends and relatives of the mourners to visit them and offer them words of consolation and support.
The most apparent reason for this Mitzva is to help the mourner deal with the pain he feels at the loss of someone very close to him. One who consoles mourners also fulfills the mitzvas of ‘love thy neighbor’ and ‘go in the ways of Hashem’.
More surprisingly, the Rabbis teach us that consoling the mourners is also a considered to be a kindness to the deceased himself. As we saw last week, the soul of the deceased remains conscious of the events surrounding his death. Accordingly, he feels consoled by the guests who show concern and interest for the deceased after the funeral.
Because the Shiva also benefits the deceased, there is the custom that if he has no live relative, nonetheless to mourn for him, ten people gather together throughout the ‘Shiva’ in order to pray in a Minyan 1.
It is not ideal for the visitors and mourners to spend the time of ‘Shiva’ discussing ‘small-talk’. Rather it is common practice that the mourners speak fondly of their deceased relative and the consolers listen intently.
The visitors should not open the conversation rather they should wait for the mourner to begin speaking. However, if it is difficult for the mourner to begin then they should initiate the conversation.
The visitors should be aware of the needs of the mourner and if they sense that he is tired they should leave him so he can rest.
A person should not pay a consoling visit to his enemy because his enemy may think that the visitor is happy at his misfortune.
The Mitzva of sitting ‘Shiva’ is known as an essential tool in helping the mourners deal with their loss. One who visits the mourners plays a vital role in helping facilitate this healing process.
1 A Minyan consists of a group of at least ten men who gather to pray.
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen and Torah.org