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Wednesday, 27 August 2014

How to find the Shivah House with the Best Spread


Daf Yomi Moed Katan 15

Today’s Life Yomi has been dedicated by Hal Zalmanowitz in memory of his father, Noach ben Binyamin hakohen z”l, on the occasion of his yortzeit on Rosh Chodesh Elul (30th Av).  May the neshama have an aliya and may you have a long life of healthy years. 

One of the most telling thank-you’s I have ever received was from a congregant who had just completed her seven-day shivah period of mourning. 
“Rabbi, you were the only person I spoke about my deceased mother with,” said Sandy, “Everyone else who came to the shivah sat around striking up the most random conversations.  They seemed almost oblivious to the fact that I had just lost mom.”

When the Almighty informs the prophet Ezekiel is of his wife’s death, He says, “Grieve and be silent.”   From here the Talmud derives that a mourner may not say shalom (greetings) to other people.

Rashi explains that he must be quiet and not ask about their ‘shalom’ – peace.  In other words, a mourner may not inquire about another’s welfare. 

The prophet Ezekiel was the quintessential pastor – he loved people and cared about them deeply.  The Almighty instructs him, however, that during shivah he had to focus on his own loss.  To inquire of others’ welfare would be a distraction from his personal mourning. 

How often do we see mourners who are visited and feel obliged to make everyone feel comfortable, asking them how they are doing, what’s news with their families, et cetera.  Your job as the comforter is to always do your best to bring the conversation back to the deceased.  Ask the mourner to tell you about their lost loved one.  Who were they?  What was their life about?  The shivah is about the deceased and that must be the sole topic of conversation.

Now, if it is inappropriate for the mourner to ask you how you are doing, how much more so is it inappropriate for you to inquire as to the mourner’s shalom – peace and welfare – and ask them how they’re doing.  I’ll tell you the answer: For those who have temporarily forgotten, they’ve just lost their loved one.  They’re not doing well.  Asking them how they are doing is not just the wrong question, it’s completely insensitive and off.   Instead wish them strength, wish them long life and be curious about their departed loved one.

Shivah houses aren’t about the food.  They aren’t about the comradery and social scene.  They aren’t about catching up with people you haven’t seen in ages.  They’re about the mourners working through their grief by telling over the story of their loved ones.   And the comforters helping them as they endure this trying transition period of their life. 

Be sensitive.  Stop talking about yourself.  Stop asking how the mourners are doing.  Sit down next to the mourner and let them tell you the story of the person you have come to remember. 


Life Yomi dedications don’t cost a penny.  To dedicate a day of Life Yomi, you simply need to forward the teaching to 18 (chai) people!