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Sunday, 31 August 2014

Take control and let it go

Daf Yomi Moed Katan 19

Laura was upset.  Her mother had passed away two days before Sukkot and the funeral was the day before Sukkot.   Shivah, the seven-day mourning period, I explained to her, would be observed only briefly before the festival and then cut short due to the festival.
“That’s not fair,” she cried, “I deserve the ritual of shivah to ease me through this transition just like everyone else!”

The Beraisa states:  If the funeral of one’s relative takes place three days before a festival, shivah is cut short.  Eight days before the festival and shloshim (the thirty-day second stage of mourning) is cut short, since one observed the first day of shloshim already prior to the onset of the festival.  Thus, one may cut one’s hair just prior to the festival.  However, if one failed to cut one’s hair before the festival, he may not cut it after the festival. 
Aba Shaul says: One is indeed permitted to cut one’s hair after the festival.  Just like the three days nullifies the shivah, so too do the seven days completely nullify the shloshim.

Asks the Gemara: Aba Shaul said seven days, doesn’t he mean eight?  We need seven days of shivah and then at least one day of shloshim to take effect prior to the festival in order to effect the cancellation!
The Gemara answers: Aba Shaul maintains that a partial day of mourning counts as a whole day.  Thus, day seven of the shivah is also day one of the shloshim.  And so you only need seven days of mourning before a festival to cut short both the shivah and the shloshim.

Rabbi Chisda quotes Ravina bar Shila: The halacha (law) accords with Aba Shaul, as Shmuel taught, “In matters of mourning, the halacha always accords with the lenient opinion.”

How can the halacha determine how long one must grieve?  Is it not a matter of the heart?  And yet, Aba Shaul instructs us to complete the mourning period on the seventh morning, without sitting the entire seventh day.   Who is he to tell me when I’m ready to stop grieving?

Aba Shaul’s teaching is profound.  He is teaching us that we have the ability to control our emotions and not let our emotions get the better of us!  Part and parcel of our mission on earth is self-mastery.  In traditional verbiage, our Sages instruct us that the mind must have dominion over the heart. 

You can control your emotions!  We are to grieve when the Torah instructs us to grieve.  And we are to be comforted and happy when the Torah tells us so.  Nobody says that is easy, but the Torah is our guide-book for how we should live our lives.

And of course, it is not only with regards to mourning the loss of a loved one; the same is true of mourning generally.  Shmuel teaches that we must be lenient when it comes to mourning, which means that given the choice, you should avoid being unhappy.  How do you be lenient concerning your mourning, i.e. avoid grief and unhappiness?

Let’s say you’ve had a fight with your spouse.  You’re simmering with anger at something they’ve said and you walk away.   You could choose to remain angry at them and find something biting to say back to them or you could choose to let it go.  Shmuel says err on the side of leniency concerning the grief you’re feeling and choose to say something nice to your spouse instead. 

You are in control of your emotions.  Don’t let your heart lead you astray and convince your head that there’s only one decision to make and direction to take.  You can choose to be in control of your heart.  Be lenient with matters of grief – let it go and you will feel much better for the choice you’ve made!

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