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Sunday, 7 September 2014

Telling her will kill her!

Daf Yomi Moed Katan 26

Sam and Henry were in front of me arguing bitterly.  They were never particularly close but they had just lost their mother and tensions were particularly high, to say the least.  The issue at hand: Do they tell their grandmother that her daughter had died?
“Of course we must tell her!” said Sam. “She has a right to know.  And anyway, Rabbi, doesn’t she have an obligation to rend her garments and sit shivah?”
“But she’s so frail,” responded Henry, “this could push her over the edge!”

The Rabbis taught: An ill person who lost a loved one, we do not inform him of the death, lest his mind become disturbed.  Moreover, we do not rend our garments in his presence and we silence the women from chanting dirges before him.

Sadly, Sam and Henry’s situation is not unusual and indeed the Talmud instructs us to avoid informing the ill person of their loss. 
‘But they won’t be able to sit shivah, like they’re supposed to!’ 
It doesn’t matter, says the Talmud.  The potential danger to their mind overrides their ritual obligations.

This law does not apply only to mourning.  It’s true of so many mitzvos.  How often do I hear, ‘Rabbi, you have to tell people to stop talking in shul!  Rabbi, you have to tell the women to wear something on their heads in shul!’ 

These are all important obligations.  But you have to be very careful about telling people even about their ‘important obligations.’  If there’s the potential that their ‘mind become disturbed,’ then it’s a mitzvah not to tell them!  If someone is going to be turned off their Judaism because they’re not ready to hear certain things, then you absolutely must not tell them! 

The Torah instructs us, “Do not stand idly by the blood of your fellow.”  As we know, this verse applies not only to physical blood but also to spiritual loss of life.  The Torah is teaching you to reach out and educate your brother and sister in the beautiful ways of Hashem.  But it must be in a way that they will listen, appreciate, and accept.  If the message in any way has the potential to “disturb” their current sensibilities, then some things are better left unsaid.

May you have success in reaching out and always saying the right things to endear your brother and sister to our Father in Heaven!

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