Follow by Email

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Shivah Test: Did sitting shivah make you feel better?


Daf Yomi Moed Katan 23

Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz of Montreal decries the prevalence of those who seek to avoid the traditional mourning rites.  “All too often,” he says, “I’ll arrive to see the family and they’ll tell me: Instead of mourning, we want to celebrate his life!”

This attitude doesn’t stem, says Rabbi Steinmetz, from any desire to honour the deceased.  Rather, it’s all about getting on with our own lives and not bothering with the drag of shivah.

The Beraisa states: One who has lost a loved one and is awaiting burial is exempt from reciting the Shema, praying, donning tefillin, and from all other positive mitzvos of the Torah.

Tosfos quotes the Jerusalem Talmud’s teaching that even if one wanted to be strict upon himself and observe the mitzvos notwithstanding his ‘aninus’ (pre-funeral mourning stage), we do not allow him to.   Why?  Due to the honour he must pay the deceased. 

As Rabbi Steinmetz teaches, it’s not about what you want to do.  It’s about honouring the deceased.  You have no right to choose not to mourn – whether that means going to work, watching TV, or putting on tefillin – these rites were prescribed to honour your loved one, not yourself. 

Sadly, we live in a ‘me’ generation.  It’s all about: What’s in it for me?  What am I going to get out of joining the shul?  How will being on the board enhance my resume?  Who will I get to meet if I volunteer for that organization?

In The Culture of Narcissim, Christopher Lasch writes, “Self-absorption defines the moral climate of our contemporary society.  The conquest of nature and the search for new frontiers has given way to the search for self-fulfillment.”  Or in the words of Jean Twenge in The Narcissism Epidemic, “Over the last few decades, narcissism has risen as much as obesity!”

Stop thinking about yourself!  Start thinking about others!  You were put on this earth to give, not to take.  Life is about honouring and contributing to the lives and memories of those around you.  The more you remember why you are here, the greater your contribution will be!