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To Comfort and Be Comforted – Nichum V’Nechamah

The To Comfort and Be Comforted / Nichum V’Nechamah program offers consolation to the mourners and guidance to those visiting a shivah house. A series of videos includes talks by some of the most renowned rabbis, lay leaders, and speakers in the Jewish world, including HaRav Shmuel Kamenetzky, shlita, Rav Herschel Shachter, shlita, Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hirsh Weinreb, Rabbi Paysach Krohn, and Mr. Charlie Harary.

Additionally, we created a series of videos by and for women. Entitled, “Woman to Woman, Heart to Heart,” the series includes such speakers as Rebbetzin Tehila Jaeger, Mrs. Lori Palatnik, and Mrs. Sherri Mandel.

Watch Woman to Woman, heart to heart video series
Purchase Complete video Series on DVD

An Introduction to the “To Comfort and Be Comforted / Nichum v’Nechama” video series, with Rabbi Elchonon Zohn

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Rabbi Elchonon Zohn founded the National Association of Chevra Kadisha (NASCK) as a unifying entity for Chevros Kadisha throughout the United States and Canada. He has been the Director of the Chevra Kadisha of the Va’ad Harabbanim of Queens for over thirty years. Rabbi Zohn received semichah from Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim.
Transcript
Foreward: The Challenge

All of us face the prospect of being menacheim aveil on a regular basis. However, nichum aveilim is a very complex mitzvah with few clear guidelines. Every aveil grieves differently, and every menacheim has their own understanding of what is expected of them. Some of us are uncomfortable and afraid of visiting a shivah home. It is awkward – we don’t know what to say, or we may face an emotional aveil without knowing the exact way to react. We might stay away when in fact our very presence would be a great source of consolation. Some people inadvertently say things that are hurtful instead of helpful because they feel they must say something, and they feel they must alleviate the aveil’s pain. We are unprepared because we don’t fully understand the needs of the aveil, nor do we clearly appreciate the goals and the purpose of nichum aveilim. Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah and the National Associa- tion of Chevrah Kadisha (NASCK) have joined to create this project, Nichum V’Nechamah, To Comfort and Be Comforted: A Guide to the Mitzvah of Nichum Aveilim.
You will have the opportunity to read the words of many prominent rabbanim, well-known authors, lecturers and professionals, who deal with grief on a regular basis, many of whom have themselves suffered personal loss. They will outline and address the rules and the guidelines of offering comfort in a way that will provide clear goals and direction to those being menacheim aveil. They may also help the aveil better understand what shivah is meant to be. Additionally, these essays will provide a great source of comfort to those in mourning, whether it is during the shivah, immediately after, when the mourners are more alone with their grief, or at a later time when the aveil may still have the need for meaningful words of comfort and consolation and there is no one there to give it to them.
The full presentations by the outstanding contributors who participated in this project are divided into clearly defined categories. Choose to gain from those who best speak to you.
When there are so many and such varied contributors from different backgrounds, different professions and different perspectives, it may appear that some contradictions exist. We suggest that you read very carefully. There is a great difference between, “I know how you feel,” something you should not say, and “I feel your pain,” which is quite appropriate and an expression of sincere empathy. Take into account who is speaking. A rabbi may be able to offer nechamah and meaning that a friend or neighbor should never offer. The context is important as well. When an aveil asks for meaning or chizzuk from an older or pastoral figure, it is quite different than when a casual acquaintance walks in and states, “You need to be strong.”
According to Rav David Feinstein, shlita, it is quite appropriate to give this book as well as the DVD upon which it is based, to aveilim during shivah.

Divrei Chizzuk, from Reb Shmuel Kamenetsky

Recorded May 14, 2020

About the speaker
Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky is a founder and Rosh Yeshivah of the Talmudical Yeshivah of Philadelphia. A talmid of Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Kamenetsky is one of the gedolei Yisrael in America, whose guidance is sought by Jews the world over. Rav Kamenetsky is currently a member of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah of Agudath Israel of America and serves on the rabbinical board of many organizations, including Chinuch Atzmai (Torah Schools for Israel), Torah Umesorah, the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation and the Association for Jewish Outreach Professionals (AJOP).
Key points
  •  Waiting for the aveil to speak is derech eretz, as it guides the comforter in knowing what to speak about.
  • Nichum aveilim is so important that it precedes bikur cholim because it offers comfort to the mourners and to the deceased.
  •  The goal is to benefit the mourner, to help him feel better.
Transcript

Divrei Chizzuk

It is so important to think when you come to be menacheim aveil what you’re supposed to say and what you’re not supposed to say. Chazal tell us that you have to wait until the aveil starts to speak before you can speak. Perhaps it’s because we want to know what’s on the aveil’s mind. For someone to bring a new subject to speak about, something else, is not hilchos derech eretz – it’s not respectful; that’s why you have to wait until he speaks, so that you know what to speak about.
It’s so important when you leave a home of mourning to think – what did you gain from it, what did the people that you came to menacheim aveil gain? Did they hear a good vort from you? Did they hear something that can be said over?
And it’s very important to go away with something, with a hisorerus, some kind of inspiration. The first hisorerus is that the inyan of nichum aveilim itself is a very big mitzvah. The Rambam says, “Yir’eh li – it appears to me – if a person has two mitzvos, nechamas aveilim and bikur cholim, nechamas aveilim is earlier, before. Why? Because ‘Im hachayim v’im hameisim.’ It’s a mitzvah done with the living, as well as the one who passed away. So you’re menacheim an aveil, and at the same time you’re menacheim the meis itself. Perhaps it’s only in the house that he lived in. We don’t know exactly the guidelines, but it’s clear that you help people when you come and you partake in their problems or in this case, the tza’ar, the pain, of the aveil. So that is the greatest mitzvah. The greatest mitzvah is not to think just about yourself. And don’t think just about the mitzvah either. The mitzvah is to be menacheim an aveil, to make him feel a little better.
It’s so important that they usually have a chart of mishnayos [in the shivah house] to learn mishnayos l’zecher the niftar or nifteres, which is a great zechus. Mishnah is osiyos neshamah; they are both comprised of the letters mem, shin, nun and hei. Therefore it’s proper to speak also about Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah. It is an appropriate time to learn mishnayos when you speak about an aveil and speak about aveilus. And the other organization [NASCK] is a chevrah vos is ubertohn, an organization that is involved in many important matters. I know they involve themselves in all the dinei aveilus, all the laws of aveilus; when it comes to practices that are shelo k’halachah, that are not halachically acceptable, they want to investigate, and they’re involved completely to try to prevent issurim, to prevent inappropriate things from happening. So it’s a gevaldige chesed to have a connection to this organization. It’s an organization that helps others and thinks about others. Both matters, mishnayos and nichum aveilim, are so connected because mishnah is osiyos neshamah – it’s talking about a neshamah, it’s talking about the parting of the neshamah from the body, the guf. And it’s a great chesed to help both organizations.
They should have a kiyum, and they should be zocheh to mitzvos, freiliche, happy mitzvos. They should have mitzvos and nachas from their mishpachos. This is a gevaldige mitzvah.

Focusing on the True Goal, with Rabbi Yaakov Bender

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Rabbi Yaakov Bender is the dynamic principal of Yeshivah Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway, NY, a widely known and respected Torah institute with many hundreds of students. Rabbi Bender is well known for his efforts in integrating a large number of special-education students into his mainstream yeshivah program. He is the son of Rabbi Dovid and Rebbetzin Basya Bender, founders of the Bais Yaakov movement in America. Rabbi Bender speaks extensively to share his decades of educational expertise.
Key points
  • Remember, you’re not going for yourself. You’re going to give chizzuk to the aveil and the neshamah of the The reason we say “HaMakom yenacheim eschem” in the plural is because we are there to comfort the aveil and the niftar.
  • Don’t go to a shivah house too late. People need to rest and recoup their Allow the aveil time to eat. In general, do all you can to make it easier for them during this difficult time.
  • Don’t stay too For most people, no more than ten minutes is an appropriate length stay. Move aside so that other people who have arrived can come forward.
  • Try to elicit information about the niftar, about the family, about the ancestors, if
  • Joking at a shivah house is give chizzuk in a mentchlichdike way.
  • Don’t say things like, “At least the niftar didn’t suffer,” or “It’s good you had time to say ” Whatever the case may be, this is a painful situation.
  • If you can, be mechazzeik the aveil by giving over the idea that there is a Hashem is watching, and He has a chesh- bon. The niftar did make a difference, a change in people’s lives, in the total picture, and Hashem knows this.
Transcript

Focusing On The True Goal

First of all, I would like to thank Rabbi Zohn and Rabbi Haikins for the opportunity to say a few words on this very, very important topic, the topic of aveilusrachmana litzlan, and the whole theme of losing someone close. It’s very important, and not enough has been done about this subject. I also want to add that to me, Rabbi Zohn is synonymous with what a chevrah kaddisha should be all about. To me, he is the most chashuve person in this country in dealing with chevrah kaddisha inyanim. I wish berachos on both Rabbi Zohn and Rabbi Haikins for all the wonderful work they are doing. As Chazal tell us, this is real chessed shel emes.
I think the critical element about aveilus and being menacheim aveil someone is the concept that you are not going for yourself. You’re not going because you have to make a nichum aveilim visit, because you have to show your face so that
the aveil or aveilah will know that you were there. You are going there to be mechazzeik the aveil. They have just gone through a trauma; whether a more difficult or less difficult trauma, when someone dies in the immediate family it is difficult, and you are going to give chizzuk. The way to give chizzuk is by going down to the home at a reasonable time, and not davka hocking a chaynik (rattling on incessantly); on the contrary, you’re going down there to hear about the person who was niftar or nifteres. You want to hear good things about his or her life, and your job is to bring out these types of machshavos and shmuzing from the aveilim. They have much to say, even if the person was a simpleton, if there’s such a thing as a simpleton. People have great qualities, and you are going down there to hear those qualities, which will be a moiredike aliyah for the neshamah and a chizzuk to the family. The idea is not to find out davka what happened the last day, how the person died, when they died, how long they were living and how long it took. Those are narishkeiten, those are not the important things in aveilus. In aveilus, you are actually going there to give chizzuk to the neshamah.
The velt says that the reason you say HaMakom yenacheim eschem b’soch she’ar aveilei Tziyon viYerushalayim even to one individual, even though eschem is plural, is because the neshamah is hovering in the home where she was last. The neshamah is there and the aveil is there; so even if there is one person sitting shivah, you’re going there to give an aliyah to the neshamah and to make the people feel good about the person for whom they’re grieving. That is the key.
Therefore, you don’t ring the doorbell at a quarter to twelve at night and hope that they’re still up; you’re hoping that they’re really sleeping because you want to be good to them. 10 PM is I think a standard time — and it would be a wonderful thing if Klal Yisrael got together and made a decision that you just don’t go be menacheim aveil after 10:00. Just as most people don’t go the first few days, 10:00 should be the cut-off. People need some rest; it’s a very hard, draining experience to sit shivah. I think there should be a time for breakfast, for lunch and for dinner. There should be set times so that people are able to eat. You are not going there to make it more difficult for them; you’re going there to make it easier for them. It’s not pleasant; a person died, so it can’t be really pleasant, but you’re helping them overcome their grief through hearing good things about the niftar.
I think that not overstaying your stay is also very important. Some people park themselves right in front of the aveil, and they’ll sit there for an hour while there are people coming in and out who are stuck at the back somewhere. You should stay there ten or twelve minutes tops. In eretz Yisrael I think they do it properly; they come in for five, seven, eight minutes, and then they move on so the next person can come in. Now, of course there are exceptions to every rule. If someone comes from eretz Yisrael to be menacheim aveil, or you are going to eretz Yisrael to be menacheim aveil, or if someone is very close to the family or made a very long trip from elsewhere, it might be appropriate to stay longer.
You are looking to get the Aveil or Aveilah to speak to you about their loss, what the loss meant to them. It will be a great chizzuk to them afterward that they were able to share about their father, mother, brother, sister, wife, husband or, Rachmana litzlan, their child. That is what you want to accomplish. You want to bring real tanchumin, real comfort, to the people that are sitting shivah.
I sat shivah twice, Rachmana litzlan, once as a young boy. And I have great memories of Rav Moshe Feinstein coming to be menacheim aveil us. Is it a great memory of my father being niftar? No. My father’s yahrzeit is coming up in a few days. It’s the forty-eighth yahrtzeit; it’s a long time, but I still remember Reb Moshe coming into the house and telling us about our father. Sure, it was Reb Moshe speaking, or Rav Ya’akov Kamenetsky, or the other gedolim who came at that time to visit, but I specifically remember the things they said to us about our father. I was much older when my mother was niftar, which was around seventeen years ago, but to hear wonderful things from so many people about my mother was a chizzuk for us. And of course, we know it’s a chizzuk for the neshamah of the nifteres or the niftar. So that’s our tafkid and our job when we go there.
Chazal say the halachah is that you should not start talking; rather the aveil should start talking. I think that maybe the reason is that sometimes we just hock a kup, hocking a chaynik with silly things. It’s hard for the aveilim; sometimes they are not in the mood to speak, so you have to start talking. Try to elicit responses about the good things they can share about the niftar – it can be about earlier generations too. It doesn’t have to be only about the person the aveilim are sitting
shivah for. It could also be about the grandparents, the history of the mishpachah. You can hear more about the family, what the family has done and what they meant to so many people. That’s the tachlis of shivah, of doing the right thing, and that’s what we’re looking to do.
Again, the yesod should be not to do what is best for you, the menacheim. You are looking to do what is best for the one you are going to be menacheim, to make them comfortable.
Joking, on the other hand, is not appropriate either. Sometimes you go to a beis aveil, and there is kibbitzing and joking around. That’s not what Chazal intended for nichum aveilim. They intended that we really speak about the person who passed away and give chizzuk to those sitting there, in a bekovedige, nice, mentchliche fashion.
The other thing I would like to address here is what we should take out of the situation so that the aveil can walk away mechuzzak. I remember forty-eight years ago, when my father was niftar, people were looking for things to say to us to make us feel better. one of the things we heard again and again was how lucky we were that our father didn’t suffer. He was niftar in a second – my father lay down, took a deep breath and was niftar. Those were terrible words of nichum – that he didn’t suffer. We were all suffering; my father was niftar suddenly. I was learning in Philadelphia Yeshivah at the time, and Reb Shmuel Kamenetsky woke me up in the morning and told me, “Your father is sick,” and my whole life turned upside down. The fact that he didn’t suffer are not words the aveil can hear. When my mother was nifteres, seventeen years ago, what people said again and again was, “Wow, you really had time to say goodbye, since she was sick so long.” So you hear the setirah – people are trying to say the right thing. My mother suffered for four years, excruciatingly. My father was niftar suddenly – it was terrible. Don’t look to say “smart” things.
The chizzuk you can give them is about all of the wonderful things the niftar did and that there is a cheshbon, there’s a plan, a massive plan. I cannot give it to you in this brief forum, but by the time we finished hearing from the chashuve Yidden about my father and mother, we felt that there is a plan and that these two are now in a moiredike, chashuve place in Gan eden. Not everybody is capable of speaking about Gan eden or Olam Haba on that level, but certainly we can dis- cuss that there is a plan, and HaKaddosh Baruch Hu knows what He is doing; even though it might be hard right now to accept, but tzidduk hadin (acceptance of Divine judgment) is for that reason. Why do we have tzidduk hadin? We say, “HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, You are righteous; You do the right thing.” We know we are struggling with it, and it’s very hard.
It’s very hard. There was a little child who was niftar in our neighborhood about two months ago. The parents are struggling, I’m sure, even though they are a wonderful, magnificent, fantastic people, and the tzidduk hadin was extraordinary. But it’s hard, it’s a shvere zach. Still, you can get across the message that HaKaddosh Baruch Hu is watching everything and knows what He is doing. And in the span of history, their lives will go down as lives that they helped so many people and did for so many people, built mishpachos. It doesn’t matter if the person was a chashuve gadol or a simpler person. Each one in his or her own right built a family. Even if they did not build a family, but they accomplished in life, upstairs that’s what counts.
That’s a message that is not easy to give over. Someone who is a member of the cloth could do it more easily, of course, but I think anybody can leave that message. The idea is to give chizzuk that your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your wife, your husband was a very special person, and they made a change in my life, they did good things for me. HaKaddosh Baruch Hu knows all these things, and there is a cheshbon for everything. That can have a dramatic effect, even if not right away because it is hurting – an open wound hurts; but eventually, the wound starts to close, and the good memories will come back.
My mother, alehah haShalom, was sick at the end of her life, and for a number of months she was on a respirator. What I worried about after she was nifteres was if I would always remember the way she looked at the end, with all those pipes and tubes. With time, I re- membered my mother with a smile. With time, I remembered my mother and all the wonderful things she had done for different people, which I picked up over the week of shivah. of course, I had a lot of knowledge before and knowledge afterward about it. But the idea is to realize that in the span of 5774 years of life, people have come and people have left this world, and there is a cheshbon. You are there to give chizzuk to those people who are looking and struggling to cope with the tzidduk hadin.
We should only see yeshuos and nechamos for Klal Yisrael. Again, I am grateful for the work that is being done by these wonderful organizations. It’s a difficult thing to be busy all day long with sad- ness and grief, and we are grateful to those that are doing it. HaKad- dosh Baruch Hu should bring them only berachah v’hatzlachah b’chol ma’asei yedeihem.

Performing the Mitzvah Properly, with Rabbi Hershel Schachter

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker

Rabbi Hershel Schachter is the Rosh Yeshivah and Rosh Kollel of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) in New York City. He is a prominent posek, as well as halachic advisor for the kashrus division of the Orthodox Union.

Key points
  • It is contrary to halachah and inappropriate to talk about things unrelated to the niftar (and techiyas hameisim when applicable) during the shivah.
  • There are two obligations in nichum aveilim: the individual’s obligation, which is to visit a friend or colleague who is sitting shivah to comfort him, and the communal obligation, which is to participate in the minyan forming the line through which the aveilim walk following the burial.
  • When being menachem aveil, be careful to respect the aveil’s space, allow him to speak first and allow him to eat when he needs to.
Transcript

Performing the Mitzvah Properly

Many people come to be menacheim aveil, and they act improperly. It is very common. I remember when I was sitting shivah for my mother, over twenty years ago, and many, many people came to be menacheim aveil. There was only one person, one chassidishe rav from the neighborhood, who did the nichum
aveilim according to the halachah. Everyone else violated the din.
The Rambam writes that nichum aveilim has a double aspect to it. It is kavod hachayim and kavod hameisim. It is kavod hameisim with the fact that people care to come and be menacheim aveil and kavod hachayim to show solidarity, to be mechazzeik the aveilim. usually when people come to be menacheim aveil, a lot of people come and have not seen the aveil in years. They start reviewing who got married, who had a bar mitzvah and who had children – the whole history of the family. The pashtus is that this is not proper. You are not allowed to be meisi’ach da’as from the aveilus. You are supposed to talk about the niftar, nice things about the niftar. You are supposed to talk about techiyas hameisim if it fits in, but not start reviewing all the latest news and what’s happening in the world and what is happening in politics. That is really a hesech hada’as, not a mitzvah at all.
We know that there is a double aspect to tzeddakah. There is a chovas hayachid and a chovas hatzibbur. The Rambam writes in hilchos matnos aniyim that he never heard of a community that does not have a kupah shel tzeddakah. There are matters where there is a double chiyuv, and there are certain aspects of tzeddakah that are only chovas hatzibbur and not chovas hayachid. So it would appear that in nichum aveilim as well (and all mitzvos bein adam l’chaveiro) there is a double chiyuv. There is a chovas hayachid – all the people who are friendly with the aveil should come be menacheim aveil – and then there is a chovas hatzibbur. In the cemetery right after the kevurah, you do the shurah; as the Gemara says, “ein shurah chutz mei’asarah,” you have to have a minyan for this. That is the chovas hatzibbur of nichum aveilim.
Very often, people go to be menacheim aveil, and the aveil is not interested in hearing all these stories, and they come and mutcher him ois (pester him). The Gemara says that you are not allowed to strike up a conversation with the aveil unless he starts talking first. He has to be in the mood to talk to you about it. At times, people come to be menacheim aveil, they hock a chaynik (rattle on incessantly), and the aveil wishes they would leave in two minutes. They nudge a lot of times. It’s a rachmanus. A lot of times people come, and they don’t let the aveil eat. They don’t give him a chance to eat his meals. That is an avlah, not a nichum aveilim.

It’s All About Them, with Rabbi Paysach Krohn

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Rabbi Paysach Krohn is a world-renowned lecturer, as well as the author of the bestselling Maggid series of books published by ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications. He leads Jewish historical tours throughout Europe, speaking about the rich and vibrant Jewish communities that existed prior to World War II. He is also a sought-after mohel and has authored a seminal work on bris milah, also published by ArtScroll.
Key points
  • Be very sensitive in the presence of the aveil. At the shivah, the aveil is the focus.
  • Speak about the niftar. If you didn’t know him or her, ask the aveil to tell you about their loved one or to recount what the maspidim, those who gave eulogies, said at the funeral.
  • Writing a letter after the shivah can be meaningful and an easier way to express oneself. It is something the aveilim can pull out and look at again and again. Many people save these letters and look at them every year on the yahrtzeit.
  • Don’t ask about the niftar’s illness or how he died.
  • Never say, “I know how you feel,” especially when someone has lost a child.
  • Don’t stay at the shivah too long.
  • Don’t stare at the aveil.
  • Don’t forget about the aveil after shivah, but respect their privacy. Just let them know you care and that you are there should they need you.
  • When a spouse is niftar, make sure the family still has parnassah, a way to support themselves as they did when the niftar was alive.
Transcript

I would like to thank you dear friends Rabbi Moshe Haikins and Rabbi Elchonon Zohn for inviting me to speak to all of you on this very, very important topic of nichum aveilim.

I would like to tell you a very interesting Gemara and just give you my perspective on it. The Gemara in Yevamos (79a) says, “Sheloshah simanim yeish b’umah zu,” there are three signs, three characteristics, of this nation, the Jewish nation. One is rachmanim, they are compassionate, caring people. The second is baishanim, they’re sensitive, understated and modest. And the third is gomlei chassadim, they do favors. Now, the order of these three characteristics is very interesting. I would have thought that perhaps it should be in a different order because when one is a rachman, he is doing something for someone else. When one is a gomel chessed, when he does favors, he is doing something for somebody else; I would have imagined those two should have been together. Baishanim is saying somebody is modest, somebody is sensitive. That’s a characteristic about a person himself, not something he’s doing to somebody else. So why is baishanim right there in the middle: rachmanim, baishanim, v’gomlei chassadim? I think Chazal are telling us something very important.

When you do a favor for someone, whether you are visiting the sick, offering comfort to an aveil, or you lend money, understand that the beneficiary is a baishan, he’s so sensitive. That’s right in the middle of all the chessed that you’re doing. You’re being a rachman, you’re being a gomel chessed, that’s great; but just remember the person who is the recipient. He’s sensitive, he’s modest, he’s got feelings, and you can’t make him feel like your lulav and esrog, like your “special mitzvah.” You can’t do a favor or do a mitzvah and make him feel that he’s the recipient of it. You have to be sensitive, and that’s why this is sandwiched right in the middle.
I think this is very important when we speak about nichum aveilim. You’re coming to the home of people who are so sad. They’ve lost either a parent, a sibling, or, Rachmana litzlan, a child. It’s terrible; the world has ended for them. You have to be sensitive about the way you dress, the way you speak, the way you act in the presence of aveilim.

I want to share with you an amazing thing, the Mesilas Yesharim (ch. 20) has a topic called mishkal hachassidus, the manner in which to weigh piety and kindness. He says like this: “Mah shetzarich l’havin ki ein ladun divrei hachassidus, al mar’eihen harishon,” what you
have to understand is that one doesn’t determine matters of kindness, piousness (which is really what chassidus means) at first glance; “ela, tzarich l’ayein u’l’hisbonein ad heichan hama’asim magiyos,” rather, you have to see what the result will be and how far your actions are going to reach. “Ki lif ’amim hama’aseh b’atzmo yeira’eh tov,” because some- times it looks like you’re doing a good thing – you’re coming to visit a sick person or you’re coming to be menacheim aveil; “u’lefi shehatoldos ra’os,” but because the outcome is bad, because after you leave the person feels worse than when you came there; “yischayeiv l’hanicho,” you shouldn’t do it altogether; “v’im ya’aseh oso yihiyeh chotei v’lo chassid,” and if you act in a certain way that you make either the sick person or the aveil feel terrible, you’re a sinner, not a pious person.
That’s teaching us a great lesson. When you walk into the aveil’s home, he is the focus or she is the focus, not you. You don’t begin talking about what you went through. That’s not what we’re here for; we’re not telling your stories. We are talking only about the aveil. And so I want to give you some guidelines that I think are so important when we come to be menacheim aveil.

Practical Pointers
The First thing is to remember to talk about the nifter. If you knew the person, then you can share some memories. Was it a rebbi of yours, a friend of yours? Was it somebody who you davened with in shul and you were impressed with him? Did you work with the person? Any connection that you had is a wonderful way to begin to talk to the aveil. Sometimes you have a good friend or even a relative who is sitting shivah, and you really didn’t know the person who has passed away. So then a great question to ask is, “Tell me something about the person. What do you think was so important about him or her? What did the maspidim, the ones who gave eulogies, say?”
Again, you’re not focusing on the illness that you had that was similar to what the niftar suffered from; nobody cares, and even more important, it’s not relevant. The only thing to talk about is the niftar, not about the Yankees and the Mets, and not about all your friends that are gathering. Sometimes a nichum aveilim home looks like a club. Everyone is coming there; all that’s missing is the beer and pretzels. That’s not what it’s all about. What it’s all about is talking about the niftar. And again, if you don’t know about the niftar, ask what the maspidim said.

You know what’s another beautiful thing? There are many people who cannot express their thoughts verbally; sometimes they come to an aveil’s home, and they just can’t say how much that person really meant. Either they’re embarrassed, or they’re not eloquent enough.

Write the aveil a letter! You cannot imagine how many people receive these letters weeks and months after the person who was dear to them passed away, and they saved these letters. They put them in an album and read them on the yahrtzeit. I remember one of the greatest educators that ever lived, longtime principal of Yeshivat Ateret Torah, Rebbetzin Zahava Braunstein, alehah haShalom – what a great lady she was. I had the opportunity to speak on the same programs with her many, many times. of course, when she was nifteres, I came to be menacheim aveil. Her family showed me that so many people wrote letters, so many students and colleagues and other principals. They saved these letters, and now they read them on every single yahrtzeit. What a beautiful way to express your feelings, and it is so memorable for the family.

You know what a lot of people do? They ask questions about the illness. Who cares? It’s over, right? What’s the difference who the doctor was and what’s the difference how the illness started, and how Hatzolah came — that’s not what it’s about. The person lived sixty, seventy years, and even if they lived less, the main thing is their life, not how they died and how they were sick. Those are irrelevant questions and are sometimes very painful for the family to relive. So don’t pry about that; that’s not really what the person was all about.
Never, ever, criticize the doctor that they had. All of us know wonderful doctors, and unfortunately, there are doctors that are not so great. So don’t say, you should have had another doctor, should have taken this health treatment, should have gone to that country where they have a certain medication. That’s the wrong thing to say, even if you mean it well. The next time you know someone that’s sick, tell it not to the sick person, tell it to the family, but here at the beis aveil that’s not the thing to do.
You know what people say – and it’s terrible: “I know how you feel.” That is awful. Don’t tell me you know how that person feels. Some- body who was very close to her mother loses her mother. If you haven’t lost your mother, you can’t say you know how they feel. And the worst of all is chas v’Shalom if someone has lost a child, you cannot tell them, “I know how you feel” because you don’t know. A spouse– how could you tell anyone you know how they feel, if you’re still married. Baruch Hashem, we should all always be married until 120. “I know how you feel” is just a very insensitive thing to say.

You know what the Rambam tells us? Its an incredible Rambam; I love this Rambam. The Rambam is teaching us how to be menacheim aveil. The Rambam tells us in Hilchos Aveil (ch. 13:3): “Keiztad menachamim es ha’aveilim?” – How are you supposed to comfort the mourner? You talk and you speak about the person, as we said, and, “v’keivan shena’anei’a b’rosho,” as soon as the aveil makes a motion with his head; “shuv ein hamenachamin rasha’in leisheiv etzlo,” then don’t sit there anymore – you shouldn’t stay too long; “shelo yatrichuhu yoser midai,” so that you should not trouble him too much. You know, Benjamin Franklin had an expression, “Fish and visitors smell after three days.” Well, no one is going to be menacheim aveil for three days, but the point is that there is a limit to how long you should be there.
I remember when my mother, alehah haShalom, was nifteres. She was a great lady, and I had so much to say, and there were so many people who had wonderful things to say. There was a fellow, a lovely guy, who sat there for two days in a row. I didn’t mind because he was sitting in the back. It’s not that he sat up front; he just wanted to hear about my mother, which was very impressive to me. But otherwise, if you’re right up front by the aveilim – twenty minutes, that’s it, unless they really want you to stay. If not, you have to curtail it. That’s what the Rambam is telling us: don’t be a burden on the aveilim.

Another thing: Don;t stare. If you have nothing to say, come, say “HaMakom yenacheim,” and be out of there. Sometimes, there is just nothing to say. I remember,
Rachmana litzlan, a fellow I was friendly with was killed, unfortunately, in a terrible, tragic accident. And his wife told me afterward that people came, and they would just sit there and stare at her and stare at the kids, and it was so uncomfortable. They didn’t know what to say. And it’s true, many children, teenagers and younger, and even adults, don’t know what to say. So you just come, and you’re there for them for a few minutes, and then leave. Don’t stare. It makes the aveilim feel very uncomfortable, and obviously, that’s not what you want to do.

I once heard something fabulous and you should write this down. The word “listen” and the word “silent” are spelled with the exact same letters. Write it down and you’ll see. When you go to a beis aveil, be silent, listen; that’s what you’re supposed to do. Try to get the aveilim to talk; that’s the main thing. or listen to those people who are talking about the aveilim, how special they really were. But don’t talk about yourself. It’s not a question of talking; it’s a question of bringing out the greatness of that person who passed away.

Now I want to talk about a different thing, which I think is very, very important. unfortunately, I have had to sit shivah for both my father and my mother over the years, and I can tell you that one of the saddest times is not even during the shivah. Shivah is a great thing that Chazal established. What an unbelievable thing! And I must tell you that I always feel bad for those people who only have one hour to sit before Yom Tov, or just one or two days. That’s the halachah, and I’m sure Chazal had their reasons for it – after all, the Yom Tov is so great that it overtakes the aveilus. But there’s a certain catharsis, there’s a certain facing the reality that aveilim feel when they are sitting shivah for seven days, and so many, many people come to talk to them.
But do you know what happens after the shivah? It’s awful. It’s so quiet. The house is quiet. The wife is looking at the husband’s suits and the place where he sat on Shabbos. She can see him all over the place, except that he’s not there. The same thing with a husband who sees his wife’s clothing, her shoes, her dresses, where she cooked. It’s Gehinnom on this earth after the shivah. That’s what I want to talk to you about. Not only nichum aveilim. Call them after the shivah, come and visit – with permission – and be available – but don’t be aggressive. There are many people who like their privacy.
There was a fellow whose wife passed away, and I used to invite him for Shabbos many times with his kids. After a while he said, “I know you mean well, but we want our privacy.” And you have to respect that. There are some people who feel they want to be part of the community, and they want to be invited, and that’s great. You can do that; invite them for Shabbos and for Yom Tov. Just show them that you’re thinking about them. Again, as we started, they are baishanim, they are sensitive. Don’t push and say, “How come you don’t want to come for Shabbos? You shouldn’t be lonely!” Listen, you shouldn’t be in their position. When you’re in their position then you’ll think about it, and then we’ll talk. But one thing is for sure: be sensitive to their feelings. They want privacy, fine; just let them know that you’re available for them.
Here’s another way you can show that care, especially to a young mother who has unfortunately lost her husband. Call her when you’re going shopping. Tell her, “I’m in the grocery store, I’m going shop- ping, is there anything I can get you?” or, “Maybe you want me to take your kids, just to go shopping. Let me take them off your hands for a while.” or, “We’ll go to 7-Eleven and get a Slurpee, or we’ll go to the ice cream store.” The idea is, again, don’t be aggressive – but be available. That’s very important. Another thing is, as we said, to invite them anytime. You can invite them for Shabbos and Yom Tov, but al- low them their privacy and allow them their dignity.

One thing that’s so important, especially if the husband is the one that passed away, is to make sure the family still has a means of support, still has their parnassah. Now, of course, you may not be the business person, and you may not be involved in their business, but you’ve got to get other people involved to make sure that the finances are the same as when the person was alive. There are many, many people today who don’t have insurance. It’s a tragedy, and every person should have life insurance, but unfortunately, we know people who don’t. And we know that there are some people who are privately employed, and if they’re not here, all of a sudden the livelihood of the family falters. It is our obligation to be there for them in this regard as well.
I just want to end with one more thing. of course, there is no happy way to end a talk on aveilus. That’s why I think Rabbi Haikins and Rabbi Zohn deserve so much credit for putting together this great, great video, which hopefully will be inspirational and will be a guide to thousands around the world.
I remember one Friday night when I was in London, in Golders Green, and I was speaking to Rebbetzin Amelie Jakobovits, a brilliant woman, a charismatic woman. She had lost her husband, Rabbi Dr. Immanuel Jacobovits, who was a personal friend of my father, alav haShalom. So I felt very close to the family, and Rabbi Jacobovits’ son- in-law, Sammy Hamburger, was like a brother to me. I remember, we were walking Friday night, and Rebbetzin Jakobovits said something so painful. She said, “The happiest days of the year have become the saddest.” What a thought! What’s the happiest day of the year? Pesach, you’re sitting at the Seder. All of a sudden, now the family is sitting without a father, without a grandfather, without a husband. What’s Chanukah without the whole family being together? And now the almanah and the yesomim and the yesomos are lighting the Chanukah licht alone. And I want to tell you, you know what the saddest Yom Tov of all is? It’s not Pesach because people get invited, and it’s not Sukkos, because there are outings, and it’s not Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur because people are in shul all day. The saddest is Chanukah because it’s night after night – you can’t invite everybody every night– so there are going to be some nights when these bereft families are going to be alone. You have to think about that. Call them, bring them gifts, invite them to your house. obviously you’re not going to invite them every night of the eight nights of Chanukah. But just remember, to the aveilim, the happiest days of the year have become the saddest.
The greatest thing that we can do is to really be rachmanim, baishanim and gomlei chassadim. Let’s remember, baishanim is right there in the middle. And the Gemara says we want to be like Hashem, mah Hu rachum, af atah rachum, just as Hashem is the compassionate one, we want to be compassionate. Hashem should help that we shouldn’t need this video, that there shouldn’t be any more aveilim, and that will happen at techiyas hameisim. And that is the greatest hope we can daven for, “V’ne’eman atah l’hachayos meisim,” that all those who passed away will be reunited with their families at the time of techiyas hameisim. Hashem should bless all of you for doing the great mitzvah of nichum aveilim. But just remember, before you go to an aveil’s house, stop for a moment and think, what’s it about — is it about you or is it about them? Remember, it’s about them.

An Everlasting Connection, with Rabbi Noach Orlowek

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Rabbi Noach Orlowek is the Mashgiach of Yeshivah Torah Ore in Jerusalem and lecturers for the Ohr lagolah leadership Institute of Ohr Somayach. He is an international lecturer and educator and the author of many books on the topics of parenting and education.
Key points
  • The aveil feels dark, alone. The function of nichum aveilim is that he shouldn’t feel so alone. But he or she has to be ready to accept that.
  • Nichum means to help a person look at things differently; he’s not cut off from others or the niftar.
    Wait until the person is ready to speak and therefore open to nechamah; otherwise, later when he hears these words of nechamah he’ll feel that he heard them already, but they weren’t helpful.
  • It’s important to give the aveil enough of your time and to show that you feel his pain.
    A small act for a departed loved one creates a real connection to the person’s neshamah.
Transcript
A Never Lasting Connection

I think its important when we talk about a subject to understand what the words mean. In lashon hakoddesh, the word aveil means cut off. In Megillas eichah it says “vaya’aveil cheil v’chomah,” the walls were cut down. It’s also a lashon of aval and afal (darkness) – beis and pei are formed in the same part of the mouth; they’re lip letters. According to Rav Hirsch alef, beis, lamed and alef, pei, lamed are sister words; it’s dark for the aveil and he feels cut off, he feels alone. The function of nichum aveilim is that the person shouldn’t feel alone; there is somebody there. But please let the person decide how much he wants to bring you in.
Without going into the details of the halachah, you’re supposed to be there without speaking until the mourner wants to talk. You’re there to reach out at the right time. l’nacheim actually means to look at something differently. If you look in Rashi at the end of parshas Bereishis, it says “Vayinacheim Hashem ki asah es ha’adam,” that Hashem looked at the creation of man differently. It doesn’t mean He was comforted; it was machshavah acheres, a different thought. The point of nichum aveilim is to help a person look at something differently, to feel differently, not to feel so cut off. He should know that he’s not cut off: not from others, and yes, not from the person whom he is mourning. We know that the neshamah continues to exist, and we’re not cut off. Sometimes, in fact, we’re more connected afterward. But the aveil can only accept this when he wants to hear it.

I remember a case of a woman whose child was murdered, and she mourned for years; she was really cut off. I taught her daughter, and when I met the mother, I said to her, “Do you think your son wants his siblings to lose a mother? He wants you to come back to them and reach out to them.” So her loyalty to her child had her come back to her family, and in that way she was not cut off from her child. She thought there was a disloyalty to her child if she stopped mourning, but now she understood that the expression of love to this boy’s other siblings, who needed their mother back, was a manifestation of her love for him. So it was a turnaround, an example of vayinacheim, to turn around and look at things differently. That’s nechamah.

The Maharal says, “Al tenachamu B’sha’ah shemeiso mutal lefanav,” don’t try to get him to look at things differently while his dead is yet unburied. Why? He says a common denominator in all the things in that mishnah in Avos is that you have to wait until the person is in a certain place, is open. That’s why the halachah is so on target. Don’t speak until the aveil wants to speak. If you speak too early, he’ll reject it. And then later, when you try to say it again, the Maharal explains, the aveil will say, “I heard that already.”
The Shach says, “Avid inish le’ukmi b’divurei,” people stand behind their words. When you say something and it’s rejected, later on it’s too late. So wait, wait until the person is ready to speak, is ready to talk, is ready to hear; then you can be menacheim.

To better understand the mitzvah of Nichum aveilim, we can look at the mitzvah of bikur cholim. The Rosh Yeshivah Rav Yitzchak Hutner said that bikur means to investigate. When it talks about ma’aseir beheimah it says, “Bein tov lera lo
yevakeir,” don’t investigate. levakeir, bikur cholim, means to investigate the sick. What do they need? Rav Moshe Schwab, the gateshead Mashgiach, once came to visit a sick man in London. He sat by his bed for half an hour and didn’t say a word, and then he got up and left. The person he came to visit said that was his most comforting visit. He felt alone, but with Rav Moshe sitting there, he wasn’t alone. This man didn’t want to speak – Rav Moshe gave him just what he needed.
I don’t want to say the halachah is beautiful – that’s such an American thing to say – but the halachah is so in touch with human beings, with human reality because the Creator of the halachah, of our mesorah, also created man. And sometimes a person needs to be alone and wants to be alone; he doesn’t want to speak. But when someone is sitting there and not speaking to them, that’s a perfect mix of you’re not alone, I’m here, but I’m not intruding into your life.

The Vilna Gaon, in Mishlei 4,talks about the word lishmo’a, to hear. And he says that lishmo’a has three translations. one is the physical act of hearing. You have to have time to do this. I remember a case in which someone’s child had drowned in a swimming pool, Rachmana litzlan, Hashem should protect us. Someone who was going to be me- nacheim aveil called me and asked me, “What should I say?”
I said, “You don’t say anything; you sit and cry with the person.” So he said to me, “I don’t have time for that.”
I told him, “You know, on Shabbos you’re supposed to eat some- thing hot. So if you have three hours, then you can have a cholent. If you don’t have time, you make yourself a cup of tea” – although I felt that if a person doesn’t have time, maybe he shouldn’t go. A person has to feel your presence.
I remember Rav Matisyahu Salomon, the Lakewood Mashgiach, explained about a Jewish heart – that on the same night a person can go to a wedding and be mesamei’ach chassan v’challah and then cross the street and go into a shivah call. He said that’s what a Jewish heart is about: you connect. What does this person need? And what does Hashem want from me? It’s not a faucet that runs hot and cold; when I’m at a chassunah, this is what the Ribbono Shel Olam wants from me. When I go to a beis aveil, this is what the Ribbono Shel Olam wants from me. Now I’m going to try to offer what this person needs. Rav Aryeh Levine came into a shivah call, and he just burst out crying. When someone else feels my pain, that’s a nechamah.
Now, as we previously said, the Gaon tells us that the word lishmo’a has three meanings. one is the physical act of hearing, which we just discussed; the second is to understand; and the third is to accept. Shema Yisrael doesn’t just mean listen, it means hear, accept. The next shelav, the next stage, of nichum aveilim is, what can the aveil do once he has heard and accepted? He’s not cut off, and sometimes he’s even closer to the loved one. And if during the niftar’s lifetime he did not appreciate certain things, now he does. There’s certainly what to do for the niftar: there’s tzeddakah to give, there’s mishnayos to learn. In ruchniyus there’s no such thing as a small act. Something that lasts forever can never be small. It says, “Baruch meshaleim sachar tov liyrei’av.” But every sachar is tov, every reward is good. So why does it says “sachar tov?” The mefarshim explain that sachar tov means re- ward that is forever. When you do a small mitzvah, it only pays a penny a century – forever. No bank can cover that. And even a small act for a loved one is a connection.
When I was sitting shivah for my mother, Reb Elyah Weintraub told me that you stay connected to the niftar by just learning some mishnayos. He recommended learning the mishnayos of neshamah, in Maseches Mikva’os, and through that you’re connected. Reb Elyah said, “You can stay connected to your mother. Say a mishnah for her; it’s like sending her a love letter. ‘Ima, Mother, Mamma, here, here’s a mishnah.’” A mishnah is a diamond! Every word is worth taryag mitzvos. It doesn’t take a lot of time, but it keeps you connected. This is very important. The main tza’ar, the main pain, of someone sitting shivah is that you’re an aveil: you feel cut off. But you’re not cut off. We’re here, we’re here for you, we love you; you’re not alone. But even more, you’re not alone – you’re not cut off from that loved one. And that connection is permanent and forever.

You Are Not Alone, with Rabbi Yissocher Frand

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Rabbi Yissocher Frand is a senior maggid shiur (lecturer) at Yeshivas Ner Yisrael in Baltimore, MD, as well as a skilled orator who has given thousands of invited lectures throughout the world over the past decades. He is best known for his popular parshah shiurim, given in Agudath Israel in Baltimore and broadcast to over seventy cities worldwide. He is a board member and frequent speaker on behalf of the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation, an organization dedicated to educating the Jewish public about the laws of lashon hara (harmful speech). He has also published numerous books.
Key points
  • Show that you feel the pain of the aveilim.
  • Do not try to explain why the aveilim suffered a loss.
  • Show the aveil they are not alone through small acts of kind- ness and concern.
  • Provide a genuine listening ear.
Transcript
You are Not Alone

The following essay is the transcription of an excerpt of an address given by Rabbi Frand at The Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation Tishah B’Av event 5773, with permission from the CCHF.

If we were on the level of someone like Rav Pam, zt”l, we would literally feel the pain of those we are being menacheim. Rav Pam once went to be menacheim aveil a parent who had lost a child, Rachmana litzlan, the most difficult kind of nichum aveilim. Do you know what Rav Pam told him? He came in, he sat down, he cried. He got up, he said, “HaMakom yenacheim eschem,” and he walked out! And he didn’t say a word. The parents said that his was the most comforting nichum aveilim because that is the classic, true nichum aveilim. As Rashi says (Masechta Shabbos) on the Gemara of “ein menachamim aveilim b’Shabbos,” we don’t do nichum aveilim on Shabbos, according to one opinion, “mishum d’mitz’ta’eir im hamitz’ta’arim,” because you are causing yourself pain, which you shouldn’t do on Shabbos. That is classic nichum aveilim, to literally feel their pain.
And may I add parenthetically, that if you ever chas v’Shalom have to be menacheim aveil parents who have lost their child, do not try to
explain to them why they lost their child because you don’t know – unless you are a navi.
Most of us are not on that level, to come in and to cry with people, but there is something we can do at every nichum aveilim, and that is to convey to the aveilim that you are not alone.
Unfortunately, both my wife and I lost older siblings this year, and on both occasions our neighbors sent in food, everything from soup to nuts, including an entire se’udas hamafsekes on erev Yom Kippur before my wife got up from her shivah. We both found it extremely comforting. Why? How does a potato kugel assuage one’s loss? Because it says, “You are not alone. If I cannot replace your loss, if I cannot find the right words to say, if I can’t sit and cry with you, I want you to know that I am with you and you are not alone.”
On the 15th day of Av*, the Ribbono Shel Olam showed Klal Yisrael, “You are not alone” when they saw that the bodies of the harugei Beitar* had not decomposed. We can follow suit, in our own small way, with small acts like sending food or sending a note or just sitting with an aveil or a sick person or a lonely person. That is a nichum; that is comforting.
There are other things we can do for people in their times of need. And that is, we can listen to them. Not provide them necessarily with brilliant suggestions and advice, but we can listen. Rav Schwab, zt”l, who was a rav for many, many years, used to say that people would come to him and pour out their hearts and ask and tell him their difficulties and sorrows. He once commented, “Many times I don’t have much to tell them. I can’t solve their problems. I don’t always have brilliant solutions. I can’t wave a magic wand and make their suffering go away. But I can listen.” And he would listen. And it would be therapeutic because people felt that they were not alone.

* On this day, the millions of dead in the city of Beitar, who had been massacred years before and lay unburied due to Roman tyranny, were finally laid to rest, their bodies miraculously still intact.

The Source of the Pain, The Proper Way to Comfort, with Rabbi Mordechai Willig

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Rabbi Mordechai Willig is a Rosh Yeshivah of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) in New York City, as well as the rabbi of Young Israel of Riverdale.
Key points
• When performing the mitzvah of nichum aveilim, it is critical to achieve the goal of comforting both the aveil and the niftar.

• To achieve this, one should focus on the life and accomplishments of the niftar.

• When someone passes away, even though we believe the neshamah is being rewarded, we feel pain because of the separation. It is for this reason that crying at this time is appropriate. However, excessive grief is not appropriate because we recognize the immortality of the soul.

• Assure the aveil that the niftar is surely being rewarded. one should not try to distract him with idle chatter.

• One should demonstrate a measure of participation in the sadness of the aveil. Sitting quietly at the beis aveil is an ideal way to do this.

Transcript
The Source of The Pain, The Proper Way to Comfort

The mitzvah of Nichum Aveilim is part of the general mitzvah of gemilus chassadim, as the Rambam writes in the fourteenth perek of Hilchos Aveil. The Gemara tells us that nichum aveilim has two components: it is kavod hachayim and kavod hameisim, for the mourners and for the soul of the departed. Therefore, when one performs the mitzvah of nichum aveilim, he has to have both components in mind:
1) He should be helping the bereaved confront their loss and understand it, and he should be helping to alleviate their suffering, their pain and their anguish.
2) At the same time, as the Chazal have explained, when a person’s neshamah ascends on high and is separated from the guf, from the body, there is a measure of aveilus that the neshamah feels for the loss of the guf. For this reason it is critical that when a person comes to perform the mitzvah of nichum aveilim, he does his best to achieve both of these ends.
The Gemara describes various situations of nichum aveilim, what was said and how it was taken. The Rashba writes that no berachah is made on nichum aveilim because one never knows whether he will be successful. If the person is not “mekabeil tanchumim,” doesn’t accept the comfort, the mitzvah has not been fulfilled properly.
In order to achieve these two ends, the focus must be, whenever possible, on the life of the niftar. What were his or her accomplishments? How he can be assured that because of these good deeds the niftar will enjoy a tremendous reward in the World to Come? The very essence of nichum aveilim is our reaffirmation of our belief in hash’aras hanefesh, the immortality of the soul. This is what enables us to get past the initial grief of the loss of a loved one.

The Rambam explains the topis in Parshas Re’eih that states: “Banim atem laHashem elokeichem, lo sisgod’du v’lo sasimu karchah bein eineichem lameis,” as children of Hashem, you should not mutilate yourself when a loved one dies. We’re not to do as the non-Jews do. When a loved one dies, they are disconsolate; there’s no consoling them because from their vantage point, when a person dies, he falls off a cliff, his existence is no longer, and therefore there is terrible mourning and sadness. We believe – in direct contrast –that when a person passes away, the neshamah ascends to a higher and better and more peaceful world. And therefore we’re not permitted to scratch ourselves as the nations do, because this would indicate a lack of this fundamental belief.
Asks the Ramban, why then does the Gemara allow – even require
– sheloshah yamim l’bechi, three days for crying, as it says in Masech- ta Mo’ed Kattan, and shivah l’mispeid, seven to eulogize. Answers the Ramban, when a person loses a loved one there is a separation. Sep- aration itself leads to a feeling of strong emotion, to tears, to crying and to wailing. Whoever has read about or seen the scenes of mothers escorting their children from their European towns on their journey toward America would understand what this is about. They come to the pier or to the train station, and they’re crying and they’re bawling. What are they crying about — isn’t the person about to embark upon a better life? The answer is that there is a separation. The mother will no longer be able to see her son with her own eyes of flesh and blood. And therefore she cries, even as she understands that the child is now embarking on a better life. So too, when a person passes away, even though we believe that the neshamah is now being rewarded for all its good deeds, we will no longer be able to see that individual with our eyes, and therefore the emotional crying and eulogizing is completely appropriate and even mandatory. However, the scratching that the non-Jews do, because of the feeling that the individual is no longer in
existence, we are not permitted to do. Rather, we believe firmly in the immortality of the soul.
For this reason, when we go to a beis ha’aveil we are required to emphasize this fact. It’s appropriate to speak of the good deeds of the individual who passed away and to exclaim with certainty, based on our emunah sheleimah, that the individual who passed away will be rewarded for all the good deeds that he or she has performed. This gives a tremendous measure of consolation to the individual who has lost his loved one. Yes, I’m crying, yes, I’m eulogizing, yes, I’m sad because I can no longer see this individual. But I’m consoled because I have this certainty that the individual is being rewarded for all of his or her good deeds.

So these are the themes that are most appropriate for nichum aveilim. unfortunately, we often find that a person comes to a beis ha’aveil, and there is complete absence of these themes. People are talking about all kinds of extraneous matters. Perhaps they feel they should try to distract the aveil from his aveilus so he won’t feel so sad. That’s a mistake. An aveil may not be meisi’ach da’as, he may not divert his attention, from his aveilus. He’s supposed to realize the sit- uation that he’s in. But despite that fact, he’s supposed to be consoled by the understanding that the neshamah is being rewarded for all the good deeds that the person performed in this world. Trying to dis- tract the aveil and to involve oneself in idle chatter – sometimes even prohibited chatter – in an attempt to fulfill the mitzvah of nichum aveilim is not appropriate.
As I said before, unfortunately, when one goes to a beis ha’aveil there is very often all kinds of totally irrelevant conversations. When a person walks in, that person should try, whenever possible, to channel the conversation in the right direction. It’s not always possible, and one has to know one’s limitations. But whenever it’s possible, ask, “So, where was your father born? Where did he grow up?” These kinds of questions are often completely ignored even in a lengthy sitting in a beis ha’aveil. It’s really a shame; people want to fulfill the mitzvah properly, and they certainly do fulfill the mitzvah partially, just by coming and giving the kavod to the aveil. The aveil does feel better that the person came to visit, and even the niftar presumably feels better because the person came to visit. But the preferred method of fulfilling the mitzvah of nichum aveilim, as I mentioned before, is not to become involved in distractions, certainly not in idle or even prohibited speech, but rather to focus on the individual, what the great accomplishments were, what kind of family was left, all of which give consolation, and the great reward that the individual will undoubtedly experience in the Olam Haba. This is the preferred and ideal way to fulfill nichum aveilim.

Ideally, a person should share the pain and be nosei b’ol im chaveiro. Midina d’Gemara, by the strict Gemara (Mo’ed Kattan 28b), not only does the aveil sit on the floor, but so does the menacheim. As it says in Iyov, “Vayeishvu ito al ha’aretz,” they sat together with him on the ground. Nowadays we don’t do this for various reasons, but an individual should demonstrate some measure of participation in the sadness of the aveil. The poskim talk about the halachic aspects. The Gemara tells us that an individual who walks into the beis ha’aveil is not supposed to speak until the aveil speaks first. However, the ba’alei mussar explain that it’s not really a simple halachah; it has a much deeper explanation. If a person walks in and just starts talking, it indicates that he doesn’t really feel the pain of the aveil. If the person walks in, and he is quiet and everyone is quiet, it seems to be a little bit awkward; in today’s world everyone is always talking. But the Gemara tells us that the ideal for a beis ha’aveil is shetikusa, a person should be quiet. When a person is quiet, this is the greatest measure of nichum aveilim because the aveil understands that the menacheim participates in his sorrow. And that’s why the menacheim should not say anything until the aveil speaks first, to demonstrate that he too experiences a measure of sadness. In this way, we can try our best to fulfill the mitzvah of nichum aveilim properly, which is such an important mitzvah of gemilus chassadim, of kindness with both the chayim and with the meisim.
Whenever we come to a beis aveil we leave with the traditional conclusion of “HaMakom yenacheim eschem b’soch she’ar aveilei Tziy- on viYerushalayim,” which means that just as an individual is in avei- lus, so all of Israel is in aveilus because of the Churban Hamikdash. We hope and pray for that time when indeed every individual will be consoled and Klal Yisrael will be consoled and Tziyon and Yerusha- layim will be consoled, when the Mashiach will come and the Beis Hamikdash will be rebuilt, bimheirah b’yameinu, amein.

Chocolate Milk and Corn Chips: A Guide to Giving Chizzuk, with Rabbi Fishel Schachter

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Rabbi Fishel Schachter, a beloved rebbe in Yeshivah Torah Vodaath in Brooklyn, NY, is a highly acclaimed and much-loved scholar, international lecturer, storyteller and author. His witty, charming, warm, and down-to-earth style continues to grab the attention of and delight children and adults alike.
Key points
  • Put yourself in the aveil’s shoes to gauge if he’s ready for chizzuk. give a disclaimer about yourself so that it is clear that you are giving the chizzuk from level ground, not from a “high mountain.”
  • Don’t think of yourself as a hero in coming to be menacheim aveil. Think that you want to be there for the aveil.
  •  We are not nevi’im. We don’t know why the person passed away.
  • Ask Hashem to help you be menacheim properly.
  • We say, “HaMakom yenacheim eschem” because the niftar is also in pain. He wants to come back and reassure his family that he’s okay; he’s now in a better world.
  • There is a plan to every person’s life. In fact, Hashem has a malach show him the circumstances of his life before he’s born, and he agrees to whatever he is shown.
  • Let the aveil know you’ll be there for him, to help him move on in life. This can be a great chizzuk.
  • The prospect of one day being able to give chizzuk to others can be comforting in itself.
Transcript
Chocolate Milk and Corn Chips: A Guide to Giving Chizzuk

Chocolate milk and corn chips. Every once in a while, when I put out an article, I get a message from my friend: “Chocolate milk and corn chips.” Sometimes he says it
in front of people – I don’t mind, we’re really good friends – and they look at me and ask, “What, are you taking orders? Do you moonlight at a different kind of business?” And sometimes I tell people what it’s all about.
This friend of mine was together with me in the bungalow colony, and he, lo aleinu v’lo aleichem, lost several children. At that point, they weren’t well; the situation wasn’t good, and people knew a full recovery required a miracle, a neis shelo al pi derech hateva. As hashgachah would have it, I had a little office in my bungalow. Now this was a real bungalow, with really thin walls. You know what they say about bungalows? Someone went and knocked in a picture, and the neighbor came from the other side and said, “Do you mind if I hang my hat on the other side of the nail?” This was the kind of setup we had. One of the things I would do at night in my office was to record a series about chizzuk and simchah (encouragement and happiness) for a certain organization – a very well-known organization that does wonderful things. I would do this late at night, and my friend’s bungalow was right underneath me.
Apparently, he once heard me giving one of my great chizzuk speeches about how you have to strengthen yourself and how life has to go on, and we have no right to give up. All of a sudden the door to my office opened up, and he walked behind me and took this bag of corn chips that was lying on the desk, opened it up, and proceeded to empty the contents on top of my head. Again, this is a very good friend, so it was all good natured. I thought that would really make for an interesting shot on the video, and if that didn’t make people laugh, I don’t know what would. Being that I was concerned he was going to do the same with the chocolate milk on my desk, I shut off the recorder, turned around and said, “Hi, Moish, everything okay?” He said, “Do you mind if I tell you something?”
And I said, “Since you’re going to tell it to me whether I mind or not, go ahead.” He replied, “I just love this. I just had to put a kid in bed by lifting him with a type of a crane because he has no muscle movement. We had to lift him, crank him up, lay him down on the bed, take him off for whatever reason, put him back on; it takes us an hour to go through this maneuver of getting him off his chair and onto his bed. And I just love it. You’re sitting up here, and you’re giving chizzuk to people with a bag of corn chips and a little container of chocolate milk! How nice, eating corn chips and drinking chocolate milk and telling people to be strong!” He said, “I have a great idea. Why don’t you leave the corn chips and the chocolate milk up here and instead come downstairs as we’re putting the next child into bed and give your chizzuk shemuess over there?”
Now again, this was from a real good friend. They were wholesome words. He wouldn’t have said this to me if I wasn’t a good friend. But the words hit home. And it’s kind of my code. He once told me, “You know that a meis is asur b’hana’ah, it’s prohibited to derive any pleasure from a person that passed away. Whatever you do, don’t make a business out of being mechazzeik people.” I thought long and hard about what he said, and essentially I think the message is, “ein chacham k’bar nisayon,” no one is as smart as someone who is going through a situation. I really took his words to heart – and I’ll be thankful to him forever after, because he gave me this great introductory story whenever I do these type of chizzuk things – and whenever I am afforded the opportunity to speak to bereaved parents, Rachmana litzlan, may Hashem protect us, or others who have suffered loss or pain, I always start with this story. First people are quiet, and then usually there is this huge round of applause. I realize how important this story is to them, so I am making a disclaimer. I’m not coming here on top of a high mountain of emunah and bitachon, of faith in Hashem, and telling you, who are suffering down there, come now, you’ve learned Chovos Halevavos, you’ve learned Mesilas Yesharim. get up! Listen to me – I’m a professional at this! Because in a sense, there could be nothing as hurtful as that.
You know, I have a friend, the Ribbono Shel Olam should protect us, who lost a child. I was young then, in kollel. It was before we were in the chizzuk business, so to speak. I was just coming to be menacheim aveil, and as we were driving up to his house, I was thinking to myself, “What can I say to someone who just lost a child? I’m going to be mechazzeik him.” So I said to myself, “got it! You know that famous story with the Ba’al Shem Tov that there was this couple that had a child after many, many years, and when the child was only two years old, he passed away? The couple came back to the Ba’al Shem Tov, and the Ba’al Shem Tov said that that child had to be down here to nurse from a Jewish mother’s milk; that was the only reason he had to be down here. It was based on a whole story that the child was originally a prince and so on. That would be such chizzuk for this person because this child that passed away was two years old. He had to come down to nurse from the heilige Yiddishe mamme for two years. Surely that’s going to make him feel good!”
So I came into the house and sat down. Of course, the halachah is that you let the aveil talk first. He gave me this look, “Nu?” Suddenly my tongue got twisted a little bit, and he said to me, “I’ll tell you one thing: a couple of people were here today, and if I hear that story about the Ba’al Shem Tov with the milk one more time, I’m telling you, I’m going to get up and walk out!” I just stood there and said, “oh.”
“You wanted to say something?” my friend asked. Me, say something? I use this story also when addressing those who are struggling with tragedy.
I want to share something with you. There are times I have spoken to groups of people that have gone through terrible tragedies in their lives. I start with this story – I don’t tell them the first part; I just start with the story: “There once was a child…” And I can see the anger in most of them, the pain, and I understand that pain. When I come to the last part of the story, and I say, “And by the way, I once told this to a friend of mine who was sitting shivah, and he said, ‘If I hear this story one more time…’,” there is this huge roar of laughter in the crowd!

I understand the laughter. In a sense, it’s like a relief. Because they thought that this speech was going to be one of those, “What’s your problem? A neshamah came down for this tikkun, did its job and is on its way home; what are you crying for?” There is all this pain in the crowd, and once there is a turnaround, “And my friend was so angry when I said this story,” a sense of identifying with the people’s pain, there is this sense of relief, “Phew!”

Does this mean there is no place for chizzuk? Does this mean that there is no place for emunah and bitachon? of course there is. But the person that’s listening to it, who is in such a sensitive state, can read very quickly where you are coming from. If you placed yourself on top of the mountain and you’re demanding emunah and bitachon from someone who is in so much pain, that’s offensive. There’s another way of doing it. You can put yourself into that person’s shoes and allow him to feel that you’re feeling his pain; if there is a discussion and suddenly an appropriate opening comes up, you might try to inject a little bit of chizzuk; if the person says, “Really? Tell me that story again,” feel it out, look at the person’s eyes, and see if he is ready for the chizzuk – and always with a disclaimer: “Listen, not that I’m this big ba’al emunah and bitachon. I’m not the one that’s on the level of accepting everything with love. Trust me, when I hear a noise in my back tire, I’m petrified. You know, sometimes I say these things to myself and it helps me, so maybe we can kind of help each other.” If we’re coming from the position that we’re on level ground, it is so much easier to share such a message.

I’ll share with you an experience from when I was sitting shivah, Rachmana litzlan, for one of my parents. I should have long forgotten this, so many Yom Kippurs have passed. But I’ll tell you one of the things that bothered me at that time, and it touched on certain sensitivities that I try to be careful with.
I had three friends who came in from a different city, about a three-hour drive from where I was sitting shivah. They came together, and I got the feeling of, “Hey, it’s been a while since we got together, you know. We were able to enjoy this trip and schmooze.” And I’m thinking, oh great, you needed a night out, and you took the opportunity of nichum aveilim and came together. As they were on their way out, I overheard one of them saying, “Should we stop to eat over there?” And one of the others answered, “Yeah! You remember we used to do it as bachurim? okay, great. You know, listen, HaMakom yenacheim eschem.” Yeah, I’m going to need the Ribbono Shel Olam to comfort me.
There is a famous story of a person who came to be mevakeir choleh, to visit an ill person, and he was told, “He’s not ready for you yet. He really can’t speak to you.” The visitor said, “Come on, I came from so far; what do you mean he’s not ready yet?” He is told, “Yeah, well the person you came to visit fell asleep.” So the visitor says, “Well, wake him up and tell him I’m here!” Sometimes you see this. People come to be menacheim aveil, and they’re wearing a cape, “I’m the hero! I came to be mechazzeik you!” It doesn’t make people feel better.

So what do I do when I come to be Menachem Aveil? You do what Chazal tell us to do. There is a disagreement whether it is yikra d’chayah, for the honor of the liv- ing, or for the honor of the niftar, that we come to be menacheim. Is the neshamah of the niftar there, or is this mitzvah about the honor of the aveil? We say that we are coming in the honor of the aveil. That means I’m coming to be mishtateif b’tza’ar, to share in his pain. The greatest words of chizzuk I ever heard were the words of R’ Meir from Pruzhan, who once came to a widow crying and said, “Whatever I’m going to tell you is not going to make you feel better at this moment. Later on in life you’ll be ready for chizzuk, but not at this moment. Right now I just came to cry with you.” And they cried together.
This woman said to the Rebbe, “Nobody was mechazzeik me as much as you were.” of course there is a time for chizzuk in the process. But Chazal say three days of bechi (crying), three days of hesped (eulogy); everything has its place. You’ll be sensitive to where this person you want to be mechazzeik is up to if you’re not thinking of yourself as a hero, but rather, you’re thinking “I want to be here with you.”
I’ve been called so many times to the bedsides of people that are literally almost leaving this world. And I sit down and say, “I don’t know what to say. I haven’t the vaguest notion of what to say.” And I know what you’re thinking: so why am I there? It’s because it would have been so much easier for me to say, “I don’t know what to say, I don’t know the person so well, so I don’t have time for this.” But when I hear such a story, I have to be there. We all have to come to be mishtateif (join in) with the tza’ar of another; it’s the least I can do. I don’t know if I’m on the level of Reb Meir from Pruzhan, who can burst into tears and cry with someone, but any level of feeling pain with another is true nichum aveilim.
I want to share with you a story along the same lines. Many years ago in a certain camp there was a terrible tragedy that took place with a young bachur. A sheloshim se’udah was held, and the olam, the people present, was obviously very tzubrochen, broken and hurt. Rav Ya’akov Kamenetsky, zichrono livrachah, was there. one of the speakers got up and said, “Bachurim, you know why this happened? It happened because of bittul Torah,” and he really drilled it into us.
And then Rav Ya’akov, who also knew a thing or two about bittul Torah – they say that in Slabodka Rav Ya’akov didn’t go to sleep until he fell into bed; if he had enough strength to go to bed, he was still learning – began his shemuess. I guess he felt it was important enough to say what he did in public because Reb Ya’akov was very ois g’chesh- bened (well thought out). He turned to the speaker, and he asked him a question, “Iz ehrt a navi?” – Are you a prophet?
“No.”
“Iz ehrt a ba’al ru’ach hakoddesh?” – Do you have Divine inspira- tion; do you have a connection to the Urim V’tumim?
“No.”
“Aha. So how do you know it happened because of bittul Torah?” The first speaker said, “I assume, you know, Chazal say… “oh, it’s a hash’arah that you have, it’s your assumption. You don’t know that it happened because of bittul Torah. Because, you know, if you’re wrong, and this particular mishap did not happen because of bittul Torah, then you transgressed the lav of ona’as devarim, the negative commandment against causing pain with words – because the family is now saying, if only they would have gotten the niftar to learn more, it wouldn’t have happened; do you understand that?”
Then Rav Ya’akov turned to the crowd and said, “Bachurim, I want to talk to you about the importance of limud haTorah and the terrible punishment for bittul Torah.” And he almost repeated verbatim what the previous speaker said. Do you understand the greatness of Rav Ya’akov’s message? There’s nothing wrong with saying – and in fact, it’s what we have to do when a tragedy happens – how are we going to be mechazzeik ourselves? We’re going to finish Shas; we’re going to organize people to do things. That’s what the Ribbono Shel Olam wants us to do. That’s what the Rambam says we have to do. But don’t go deciding that this is the reason the person died unless you’re a navi, and Hashem told you that. Because that’s painful.

Now, there are two reasons people go to be menacheim aveil. one is, “oh, I have to make sure that he sees me. I have to make sure that he knows I was here,” which is fine, but understand what you’re doing; don’t overdo it. There are those who need to advertise, “I’m here, remember, I came. It wasn’t easy for me to come, but I came.” What do you want the aveil to do? Do you want a medal?
The second reason people come to be menacheim aveil is because they truly want to be menacheim the aveil. So what you have to say is, “Borei kol olamim (Creator of all the worlds), help me do this.” When Chazal say that the menacheim shouldn’t talk first, rather let the aveil talk, that means they’re trusting you to gauge his mood. Now, depending on who you are and depending on who he is, it could be he does want to hear words of chizzuk from you. Feel him out. As long as you’re thinking that the primary purpose is that this person should feel better, not that I did my job, then you’ll have siyata d’Shmaya.

Being that sometimes people do like to hear a good vort, let me share with you some of the messages that I heard when sitting shivah. The Sefas emes says, “Ha- Makom yenacheim eschem”; eschem is plural. Who is the eschem? You don’t always have multiple people sitting shivah. What if there’s only one person sitting shivah? Why did Chazal create one formula in lashon rabbim? The reason it says eschem, says the Sefas emes, is because it’s not only the aveil sitting shivah; the neshamah is also in pain. And why is the neshamah in pain? Because the neshamah would like to turn to his family member(s) and say, “I’m okay, don’t worry about it. I’ve come back to where I understand, and it all makes sense to me now; I’m back home. And you’re crying. You look at it like I’m gone, but I’m back home.” The neshamah says, “Can’t I just tell him? Can’t I just appear for one second and say, ‘Don’t worry, I’m okay?’” But part of how HaKaddosh Baruch Hu created this world is that the neshamah does not have the ability to be able to convey that message directly to the family member who is crying. And that is the pain of the neshamah. Look at how this person is crying; if only I could tell him it’s alright, that this is the real life. Says the Sefas emes, that is the HaMakom yenacheim eschem.
I heard this vort from someone who was so impressed with it; it meant so much to him. I looked at him and said, “You know, it takes a very big ba’al madreigah, a person on a high level, to be impressed with this vort and feel good about it.”
The person who shared it with me told me that his Rosh Yeshivah told it to him. “My Rosh Yeshivah was in the middle of the wedding of his own child, and he heard about my tragedy. He figured we had just come home from the levayah (funeral), and he called me from eretz Yisrael and said, ‘I asked the music to stop in the middle of the chassunah. I just want to tell you this vort.’ Can you imagine what my Rosh Yeshivah did for me, in the middle of his own child’s wedding? He had to tell me this vort?!” I realized what had happened. The emunah in that vort, how my friend really believed what the Sefas emes says, was because of the mesiras nefesh of his Rosh Yeshivah. You see how when you really genuinely are willing to give, then the person is willing to listen. Don’t talk from on top of the mountain, jump into the person’s mud and pain and speak to him from there.
The other vort the Rosh Yeshivah told him was the following: It says by the mitzvah of hak’hel, when the king would read the entire Torah for everyone, that the men come to learn, the women come to hear, and taf lamah ba’im (children, why do they come)? The answer is, litein sechar tov, to give a reward for those who bring them. The Chasam Sofer asks, “Why do little children go away from this world? We don’t understand it. But one of the reasons is to give a reward to the parents, to those who raised them up until this point.”

I once heard the following from a chasuve Rav who was talking to someone, and it was devarim hayotzim min haleiv, words that came out of his heart, that’s why it was nich’nasim laleiv, that’s why it entered the person’s heart. (The Amshinover Rebbe used to say, “My father would always say, devarim hayotzim min haleiv means you have to be so sincere that your heart fills up, and it has to pour out of your heart.”) This rav quoted a Rabbeinu Bechaya that says that when a neshamah is called to come down to this world, the neshamah is very frightened. The neshamah is kind of in a waiting room. The Derech Hashem says that Gan eden is broken up into three parts: there is the waiting room, because all neshamos were created at sheishes yemei Bereishis (the six days of Creation); there is the trip down here to this world; then there is the Gan eden after this world; and there is a third part of Gan eden, of the olam hatechiyah, of techiyas hameisim, when this world becomes Gan eden. That’s the kaddosh, kaddosh, kaddosh, the ultimate holiness, the Shelah Hakaddosh explains, whatever this means.
We try to picture this with a very simplistic analogy: A kid comes to the dentist, and he sees a beautiful waiting room with fish and toys. He’s so excited until they call him in to the dentist’s chair, and all of a sudden, uh oh! So when a neshamah is waiting, we’re in the waiting room; it’s so beautiful and so great. It’s so unbelievable. Then comes the malach and says, “You!”
“Me? What?”
“It’s time for you to be born.”
“No, no, no,” al karchacha atah chai. “No, no, I don’t want to be born!” Says the medrash, greater is the fear of being born than the fear of death. Fear of death is the unknown; the fear of being born is a greater unknown for the neshamah. So the Ribbono Shel Olam, in His great mercy, wants to make it a little bit easier for us. Chazal tell us that He sends a malach, and the malach gives us a tour of this world. We look through the entire world, and the malach shows us our parents.
The Kedushas levi says that one of the reasons women cry by a wedding is because the neshamos come, and the neshamos look and say, “Those two kids are going to be our parents! our whole future is in their hands!” Hashem knows what He’s doing; there’s a chain of events, the way it works. The neshamah starts crying. And the wom-en, who are much more sensitive to the sublime, also start crying. The neshamah is shown everything – marriages, homes, all the phases of life, ad zibulo basraysa, until the last shovel of earth. Exactly how bechirah, free choice, plays into this, Chazal deal with. After the neshamah is given the tour of this world and is told this is your mission, this is your job, this is the reason you are down here, the neshamah comes back up to Shamayim. HaKaddosh Baruch Hu says, “Do you understand the mission?”
And the neshamah says, “Yes.”
“You realize you have to be born; that’s the purpose of creation.” “okay.”
“You know, I showed you everything beforehand, and I explained it to you.”
“Right.”
And Hashem takes – kavayachol, of course not in the physical sense – a contract, and He says, “Here, everything is spelled out in the contract. I want you to sign off that you knew about this beforehand.” The neshamah signs off. We come down to this world.
After 120 years we come up there, and the neshamah says, “Ribbono Shel Olam, how could You have done this to me?”
HaKaddosh Baruch Hu answers, “Sheifele, I showed it to you beforehand, and you signed off on it!” The world is not hefker, without a plan.

Again, there is a time and a place to give chizzuk. There is a time and a place to give chizzuk to ourselves as well. I’ll share with you a vort that I once heard in the name of Rav Ya’akov. I heard it from Rav Ginsburg. There was a very chashuve Rosh Yeshivah who had already lost a child, and the Rosh Yeshivah himself had a serious heart condition and was going through a particular health issue when a terrible tragedy took place with his son in eretz Yisrael, and the bachur passed away. His family was scared to tell him the news, Hashem yeracheim, given his health condition. So the Rosh Yeshivah went to learn, and the house turned into a shivah house. They covered the mirrors and were sitting shivah, and before the Rosh Yeshivah came back, they turned everything back, and the wife smiled and served supper. This is how it went for three days! For three days they kept the Rosh Yeshivah at bay. You might say somebody else would have been more perceptive to pick this up – how could you hide a thing like this? – but if you would know how immersed this Rosh Yeshivah was in his learning, you would understand. There was a spy to check if the Rosh Yeshivah was coming home, so they could quickly get rid of all the small chairs and take off the signs of HaMakom yenacheim eschem.
After three days, Rav Ya’akov told the family that they should now tell this Rosh Yeshivah the news, since eventually he would find out. Somebody asked Rav Ya’akov, “Me’ikara mai k’savar v’hashta mai k’savar” – “So what did you think to start with? If you were going to tell him, what changed after three days?” Rav Ya’akov explained that when a person hears about an earth-shattering tragedy, Rachmana litzlan, he says, “My life is over; I will never be able to go on! I can’t, I can’t. Life is over! But now you’re going to be telling him that it happened three days ago, and therefore you will say, ‘You survived these three days, your life wasn’t over; you will continue to survive.’” one of the most important rules of being mechazzeik someone in this kind of situation is to let him know that life is going to go on. And when you let him know that I’m going to be there with you for life to go on – not that I’m this super mentor — but we’re going to be here for each other as life goes on, that’s really a chizzuk that is unparalleled.

I once read a story about a seventeen year old boy who was kind of an intern at Pearl Harbor; he worked on one of the ships. Then came the attack on Pearl Harbor. And this seventeen-year-old who was so excited about the huge ships was suddenly thrown into a world of death, a world of pain, a world of blood, a world of seeing people being burned up alive. He personally was not hurt, but the entire night he was ferrying back and forth with a boat, dragging people out of the water, soaked in oil. They were black from the oil from their heads
to their toes, in flames, and he threw his own body on them to try to extinguish the flames. When the night was over, he went into unbelievable trauma. He was going out of his mind. He just kept reliving and reliving the scenes of that terrible night at Pearl Harbor.
Somebody said to him, “How did you survive that night, going back and forth, when you were seeing it actually happen?”
He answered, “Well, then I had no time to realize the trauma. I had to help the people.”
“So why don’t you continue helping people now?” this person suggested.
This young man took a medical technician paramedic course, and he’s been saving lives since then. And he said that’s what saved his life.
When we’re busy helping others and saving others, it’s hard to feel our own pain. give people the confidence that they’re going to get through this and they’re going to have the power to give chizzuk to others. Even the hope of giving chizzuk to others is already a chizzuk.
May HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, Who is the only one who can really give us the chizzuk, give us the opportunities to help each other to be mechazzeik ourselves.

Following In the Ways of Hashem, with Rabbi Eytan Feiner

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Rabbi Eytan Feiner serves as the rabbi of Congregation Kneseth Israel (known as the White Shul) in Far Rockaway, NY. Known for his impressive breadth of knowledge, Rabbi Feiner was a lecturer at several seminaries and yeshivos in Israel before accepting his current post. He also serves as the rabbi in Chai lifeline’s Camp Simcha for children with cancer and chronic illness.
Key points
• Nichum aveilim is a manifestation of the mitzvah of “v’ahav- ta l’rei’acha kamocha.”
• We learn the mitzvah of nichum aveilim from Hashem Him- self, when He came to comfort Yitzchak Avinu on the demise of his father Avraham Avinu.
• The idea of nichum aveilim is to allow those sitting shivah to have a change in perspective.
• We say “HaMakom yenacheim…” to aveilim to express the idea that Hashem is the “Makom,” the place, so to speak, as He fills the entire world and is the source for everything. Just as He is the source for all that is obviously good, he is the source for this loss, and ultimately He is tov v’hameitiv (good and beneficent) for everything.
• One cannot fully accomplish the mitzvah of nichum aveilim over the phone or in a letter, especially since part of nichum aveilim is comforting the niftar, who is actually present at the shivah. However, one can certainly do so if necessary, or follow up with a letter to further express his thoughts.
• You should organize your thoughts before going in to be me- nacheim aveil. Do some research about the niftar beforehand if possible and think about what you are going to say.
• Remember that no two shivah houses are the same, and no two mourners are the same.
• All of you should be there, completely focused on the aveil. Turn off your cell phone, don’t greet others you know. You are there just for the aveil. Wait for the aveil to speak and lead you in what he wants to speak about.
• If the aveil can’t open up, the comforter can start first. You can redirect the conversation if necessary, i.e., if inappropri- ate topics are being discussed, because that’s what the aveil really wants.
• The words of “HaMakom” express that we are together with the aveil in his pain in the sense that we too have what to mourn – Yerushalayim and the Churban Beis Hamikdash.
• Follow up after the shivah with a call or a letter or another visit. or reach out to find out what the aveil needs.
• It is a nechamah to tell a child, “I see your parents in you. You’re perpetuating his legacy.” And it is a nechamah to the neshamah of the niftar that the children are continuing in the parent’s ways and thus raising them to higher levels in Gan eden.

Comfort for the Loss of a Child:
• Hashem chose you to parent this special child, pure and un- sullied from sin.
• In the same way that meat must be salted precisely, Hashem metes out the precise amount of suffering to a person – not enough to break him, but enough to bring out his greatness.
• Hashem gives tests to the best – to hold them up as role models, just as he tested Avraham Avinu to hold him up as a role model to the world.
• Every child is a world unto himself. Never tell a parent who has lost a child, “You have other children.”

Transcript
Following in the ways of Hashem: halachos and hashkafos

Whenever approaching a mitzvah one of the first things incumbent on the individualist, now lets understand the obligation of the mitzvah. Nichum aveilim is a tremendous mitzvah. In fact, the Rambam writes (Hilchos Aveil 14:1) that under the rubric encompassed
within the general heading of “v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha” (love your neighbor as yourself) (Kedoshim 19:18), about which Rebbi Akiva tells us zeh klal gadol baTorah (this is an important rule in the Torah), are so many mitzvos, including gemilus chassadim, hachnasas orchim, bikur cholim and nichum aveilim. The Rambam therefore tells us that nichum aveilim is a mitzvah d’rabbanan, whereas others sources, such as Rabbeinu Yonah, say that it’s a mitzvah d’Oraisa. Either way, it is clear that there is an idea of “v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha” connected to nichum aveilim.
It’s not just about me; it’s about what I can do for somebody else. But at the same time, the Gemara (Sotah 14a) tells us, based on that well-known concept “v’halachta bidrachav,” that we should go in the ways of Hashem, that just as Hashem dresses the unclothed, we should clothe the needy and the destitute. Just as Hashem is mevaker cholim – He came to visit Avraham Avinu after his circumcision – so too we have to visit the sick. And just as Hashem Yisbarach k’vyachol (so to speak) is menacheim aveilim – after the demise of Avraham Avinu he came and comforted Yitzchak the son of Avraham – so too we have to be menacheim aveilim.
So we see that when a person comforts mourners, it is a fulfillment of the Rambam’s explanation of “v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha” And it’s simultaneously a fulfillment of what it means to be g-d-like, what it means to emulate the ways of HaKaddosh Baruch Hu.
The Gemara only cites a few select examples of how we can emulate Hashem. It is far more applicable and has many more ramifications in halachah. But what do we see? one of the choice selections to illustrate how to emulate Hashem is by being menacheim aveilim.

So now let’s look at the definition of the words menacheim aveilim, to comfort mourners. What exactly is that concept all about?
I heard once from Rav Moshe Shapiro that the concept of being menacheim aveilim, which denotes, obviously, to comfort, on a deeper level relates to the idea of “ki nichamti ki asisim,” (I have reconsidered My having made them), which is what Hashem said after man’s first sins at the beginning of sefer Bereishis. We often encounter that identical terminology, the root of nunches-mem, connoting a sense of a change of perspective, a change of heart. It’s as if HaKaddosh Baruch Hu regrets, so to speak, that he ever made man. So to be menacheim means what? To give another person an opportunity to have a change of heart, a change of perspective, and thereby present them with an ability to be comforted. Because you’re showing them a different take, a different way to look at things.
One way of doing this is to allow the aveil to see “HaMakom yenacheim eschem,” that Hashem is defined as Mekomo Shel Olam, that which fills up the whole world. This is the opposite of those who believe like the 6th century Persian Zoroastrianism, that there’s a power of evil that g-d can’t control. on the contrary; everything in the world comes from Hashem. It is true that nowadays (Berachos 54) we do recite different berachos in response to various events that take place in our lives – one for joyful occasions and one for difficult circumstances. But at the end of time, we are going to see that all things good or bad are emanating from one source, and that source is only the Ribbono Shel Olam.
If we recognize in the here and the now that Hashem is HaMakom, He fills the world, and that everything that takes place, even if we perceive it as something that temporarily mandates one reciting the berachah recited on hearing tragic news, that of Dayan emes (the True Judge), then we will know in our heart of hearts that it’s all coming from the same Source. And that same Source is the ultimate source of good. HaKaddosh Baruch Hu is the ultimate source of kindness; He is the ultimate parent to us all, Who loves us far more than any parent can ever love a child.
Right now there’s pain. It’s a time of aveil, of bechiyah and hesped, but just know in your heart of hearts that ultimately we are going to have a change of perspective. “HaMakom yenacheim eschem,” it’s coming out of love, and everything the eibershter does is one hundred percent for the good.

The mitzvah that often precedes the mitzvah of nichum aveilim is the mitzvah that we know as bikur cholim; let’s add some clarification. A lot of people say bikur cholim means just go, visit. Sometimes we even go to the hospital and we expect or we hope
that maybe the person is sleeping, and we’ll just leave a letter or note. And then chalk one up for me, give me some brownie points for the World to Come; I did my mitzvah of bikur cholim. That’s not really the mitzvah.
We know there is a famous shaylah amongst the halachic authorities (Reb Moshe Feinstein, Iggros Moshe, Yoreh Dei’ah 223; Rav Ovadiah Yosef, Yechaveh Da’as 3:83; Be’er Moshe; Chelkas Ya’akov; Harav Yonasan Steif, She’arim Metzuyanim B’halachah; Tzitz eliezer; Minchas Yitzchak): can you fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim by telephone? And basically the consensus that emerges from the poskim is that certainly you do fulfill a portion of the mitzvah, but as Reb Moshe Feinstein writes, “lo yotzei yedei chovaso” (you did not fulfill your obligation), it’s not the complete fulfillment of the mitzvah. And what’s the idea behind it? He writes that this is because you haven’t really visited the person. Bikur cholim doesn’t just mean, as the word simply denotes, go pay him a visit. Bikur cholim is from a language of bikur hakorbanos, inspecting korbanos for a blemish, to decide whether or
not they are qualified to be offered on the mizbei’ach. You are scrutinizing. You are doing a deep, thorough inspection.
When you do the mitzvah of bikur cholim, it doesn’t just mean pay a cursory visit. It means go to the hospital and see exactly what this specific choleh needs. Can I offer him or her a blanket? What about a soda or a cup of coffee? A sefer or a book? What exactly are their needs? Do a thorough scrutiny of their needs, their wants. What does this specific ill person need me to do? How can I benefit them? How can I aid in their speedy recovery?
We have the same poskim addressing if you can fulfill nichum aveilim through a telephone. Along come the sefarim about aveilus (Kol Bo in aveilus; P’nei Baruch; She’arim Metzuyanim B’halachah) who say that, no, it is not the fulfillment, and again, this is the consensus of the poskim (Reb Ovadiah Yosef; Debretziner Rav; Be’er Moshe, cheilek 2). Certainly you fulfill a part of the mitzvah, but it’s not the complete mitzvah. Lo yoztei yedei chovaso because there’s a lot more to this mitzvah than just calling up on the telephone.
In addition, writes Rav Sternbuch (Teshuvos V’hanhagos 3:587), there is another element of nichum aveilim; the mitzvah is not just to be menacheim the aveilim, but it’s also to give solace, comfort, to the neshamah of the niftar. Therefore it’s necessary to actually go to the beis aveil. You can still write a letter to the aveil; it can bring a person comfort. Sometimes letters are the best way to bring nechamah, and I personally suggest, as I’m sure many others do, that even if you did the mitzvah of nichum aveilim – sometimes there are a lot of people around, and the aveilim didn’t necessarily notice you – now go home and write a letter. And write a lengthy letter, devarim hayotzim min haleiv, from the heart, and then they will have something they can hold onto for a long time. Sometimes in a letter you can say things and convey certain messages and feelings and emotions that perhaps you weren’t successful at doing when you were sitting opposite that aveil at the time of the actual mitzvah of nichum aveilim. So, yes, write that letter. But as Rav Sternbuch and Rav Ovadiah Yosef write about the letter or the telephone, you still didn’t go to the beis aveil; it can’t suffice. It’s only a portion of the mitzvah to write the letter, to pick up the telephone – because going to visit is simultaneously doing something not just to comfort the aveilim themselves, but for the neshamah of the niftar as well.
So now a person is ready to go be menacheim aveil. Let’s take the two ideas that we presented thus far and sort of fuse them together. Nichum aveilim, just like bikur cholim, means a scrutiny. Analyze what a person needs. Nichum aveilim means I’m not just going to do a mitzvah, I’m going to be menacheim, I’m going to comfort, and I’m going to try in some way to change the person’s perspective and bring him solace and comfort.

The Chaftez Chaim (Ahavas Chesed 5), and the Shelah Hakaddosh write that you should speak to the aveil. And the Shelah even talks about making him happy, cheering him up. The Chafetz Chaim says it’s one
of the greatest chassadim to go ahead and speak things that are relevant, that are germane and get the aveil to go ahead and speak, to open up a little bit about his mother, father or close relative.
But we all know the famous halachah (Yoreh Dei’ah, Tur Shulchan Aruch, siman 376) that “ein hamenachamim resha’im lifto’ach,” you’re not granted permission to open up and speak until the aveilim speak first. This is a very interesting halachah practically. It is important to keep in mind that before you go to the beis aveil, since we know bikur is to do a deep, thorough scrutiny, you have to know the needs of this specific beis aveil. No two battei aveil are alike. No two individuals are alike. They don’t react the same way. Everyone looks different, everybody reacts differently toward a tragedy.
The first thing you have to know is to organize your thoughts (Zohar Hakaddosh, parshas Korach, quoted by Rav Wosner in Yoreh Dei’ah
213) before walking into the beis aveil. one should think: Where am I going now? What are the people like? Don’t just say, “oh, you know what? I’m going out to eat, I’m going out to visit somebody else; let me stop in.” You have to know “tov laleches el beis aveil mileches el beis mishteh,” it’s better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a party. Don’t say, “Before I go to the wedding, let me stop in. Let me fulfill my obligation and pay a ten-minute visit.” No, before you go in, stand outside the house for a moment or two. or better yet, what I try to do is to sit in the car for a little bit and try to assess the situation. Who am I really going to speak to now? Who am I going to comfort? Know the people; know the situation. Did you do your research? Always look at the cards and know that you got the name right. Know that you know how to pronounce the name. Know that when you are going into a beis aveil you did your requisite research. I want to know, was this a father? Was this a mother? What did the father do? What did the mother do? Do your research before you say something wrong. Was this person frum? Were they unfortunately not frum? And certainly if you didn’t have the tools to do the proper research beforehand, at least sit in your car for a minute or two, stand outside the house, collect your thoughts and then walk in the door.
Now you walk in the door. Here we have a halachah. You don’t start speaking until the aveilim start speaking first. And now sometimes you walk into a house and the aveilim are very quiet, whether they are introverted by nature, or perhaps the situation has frozen them to a certain degree, and they just can’t open up. Rav Waldenberg (Tzitz eliezer) describes a situation in which the Chazon Ish, Rav Avraham Yeshayah Karelitz was once walking into a beis aveil and he sensed from the outside that the aveil couldn’t open up. So the Chazon Ish started first.
He also cites Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach, who said that even though, yes, we have a halachah that you don’t open up, if the aveil didn’t open up at all, certainly you can still say “HaMakom yenacheim eschem b’soch she’ar aveilei Tziyon viYerushalayim.”
Let me throw out another question in halachah. I myself have encountered this on more than one occasion. Sometimes you walk into a beis aveil, especially a house where perhaps not everybody is frum or they’re not as frum as you would have expected or hoped for, and they are talking about the latest sports, about the NBA finals. This is very unfortunate; what are they talking about?! This is a beis aveil! It’s certainly not kavod for the niftar, and maybe this is not even appropriate conduct for the aveilim themselves.
Rav Sternbuch writes (Teshuvos V’hanhagos 2:376) that certainly if you are dealing with a case where people are talking about inane, senseless ideas, and certainly if the aveil is sitting there quietly, then you are allowed to say, you know what, I’m going to get the aveil’s attention; you’re allowed to begin talking in such an instance to redirect the course of the conversation and focus on the aveilim and the niftar.
Sometimes in these cases the aveil is sitting there quietly. But I’ve seen cases when they drag the aveil into the conversation, and you
know in your heart of hearts that the aveil really doesn’t want to be talking about the Knicks or the Rangers. He really wants to be talking about his parent, his dear beloved mother or father. In such a case you can redirect and re-channel the conversation because at the end of the day that’s what the aveil really want to speak about.

Part of the idea (Aruch Hashulchan 376; Chafetz Chaim in Ahavas Chesed) is that you want the aveil to establish what the nature of the conversation is going to be like, and you have to try to model this yourself. The way you sit should be in accordance with the appropriate type of sitting at a beis aveil. Your cell phone should be turned off completely. Never think, Oh, what’s the big deal, the phone is ringing, I’ll shut it off. You’re there with the aveil, all of you has to be there with the aveil. And that means if you have a vibrating phone, he’s going to know if you have a vibrating phone. Shut the phone off completely. There’s nothing else going on. Don’t go in as a group. Why do we have halachos that you’re not supposed to shake hands and give a Shalom aleichem to anybody else in a beis aveil? Your focus has to be that you’re here for the aveil.
So you’ve sat there opposite the aveil, and you’re waiting for him or her to start speaking. They open up. Let them talk, give them the opportunity, “da’agah belev ish yasichenah l’acheirim” (worries of the heart are alleviated when shared with others). Let them speak. Let them release their pain, let them express their emotions. You are all there with them. Let your posture somehow model their posture. Let your behavior model where they’re at. Let them lead you and just be there, give them your ear – but more than your ear. give them all of you. And listen. The greatest comfort is that you came, that you weren’t rushing out anywhere, you didn’t look at your watch, you didn’t sense the vibrating phone in your inner jacket pocket. There were no phones and no notes taken out, no other distractions and no looking at the watch. You were all there for them and they got a sense of that. They’ll know that, and that’s what they want more than anything.
How many stories do we have of gedolim who came to pay a shivah visit? Whether it’s Rav Aryeh Levine or Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, the stories abound. They came, they sat
there and what did they do? They just cried with the aveil. They sat there listening, commiserating, empathizing and sympathizing with the aveil’s pain. That’s really what they want. Be there for me, be there with me in my pain.
So you did that, and you did your initial assessment and your requisite research beforehand. You know exactly what the relationship is, however much you can find out. Be able to come in and say, well, your mother did this and your father accomplished this, and I heard they were part of this organization and this chessed. Let them hear how great their parents were. That itself gives them incredible comfort. Let them hear the praise and positive attributes of their loved one. You are not there to play rabbi to them. You are not there to say, “Well, it’s a kapparah.”
You’re also not there to satisfy your curiosity. I’ve seen people asking, “How old was he? And what did he die of? And how sick was he?” If the aveil wants to talk about that, again, you’ll follow his or her lead. But you’re not there to satisfy your own curiosity. If they want to share it, that’s up to them. Rather, say over the shvach and the ma’alos because it’s good for the niftar, and it’s good for the aveilim themselves. Let them be establish what’s good for themselves. And everybody agrees that what every aveil needs is for you to be with them in their pain.

On that note we move now to the next stage. You were there and you waited until they opened up first. You might follow up with a telephone call, you might follow up with a letter. And you want to try to leave with some divrei nechamah, some comfort. We leave by saying the phrase, “HaMakom yenacheim eschem b’soch she’ar aveilei Tziyon viYerushalayim.” As we discussed earlier, “HaMakom yenacheim eschem” is recognizing first and foremost that Hashem is Mekomo Shel Olam, the all-loving and all merciful HaKaddosh Baruch Hu.
At the same time “yenacheim eschem,” we recognize that we will give the aveil a change of perspective. At the end of the day it’s all good. We’re not here to convince the aveilim how it’s good right now.
That’s something that takes time. We might not know it until the Next World. But right now, our job is to try to give them that basic level of comfort, which will in turn help give them a level of perspective. And then we go on to the end of the line: “…b’soch she’ar aveilei Tziyon viYerushalayim,” together with all the other mourners of Tziyon and Yerushalayim. Why are we bringing up the Churban? Why are we bringing up the mourners of Tziyon and Yerushalayim?
Rav Sternbuch (Teshuvos V’hanhagos 2:378) writes that part of what we are trying to convey is that they’re not the only ones suffering. We’re suffering with them because this to us is like the Churban Habayis. And the same way that all of Klal Yisrael are mourning as we have been for thousands of years, you should know that your loss is a loss for me as well.
Never go in and tell them, “I feel the loss.” It’s not equal. It’s never equal. Sometimes people go to a beis aveil and they say, “Well, you know, she lived until her nineties.” That is a berachah, and sometimes you could mention it if it’s an appropriate setting and an appropriate time; for example, “Wow, how did she merit such a long life? Was it kibbud av va’eim? Was it not speaking lashon hara? Tell me about what made her special.” But at the same time, you have to recognize going in as well that a Yiddishe mamma is a Yiddishe mamma. Whether she was nifteres, Rachmana litzlan, at a young age of fifty, at sixty, at seventy, whether it was at eighty, ninety, one hundred or 120 – a Yiddishe mamma is a Yiddishe mamma and a Yiddishe tatte is a Yiddishe tatte. I’ve gone to shivah homes, and it could be a seventy-year-old person sitting shivah for a one hundred-year-old parent, but a parent is a parent, a relative is a relative, and they always feel pain.
In addition, we can never feel the pain that they are feeling. But at the same time, writes Rav Sternbuch, we want to try to convey to them that we are attached to them in this pain because at the end of the day we’re all Klal Yisrael and “kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh,” all Jews are responsible for one another. Just as we’re mourning for the Churban, we’re mourning right now together with you. We’re mourning with all the other aveilei Tziyon viYerushalayim. And, adds Rav Sternbuch, not just are we mourning with you, but this is all connected to the loss. The fact that we don’t have Mashiach, the fact that we don’t have techiyas hameisim, it’s all emanating from the fact that we don’t have a Beis Hamikdash. At the same time, just like we don’t understand this ongoing harsh and bitter exile, so too, we can’t understand why you have to be suffering the way you are suffering.
Regardless of the age, regardless of the ailment, the infirmity, at the end of the day we don’t really understand everything. Don’t try to play the rabbi. Certainly don’t try to play HaKaddosh Baruch Hu – oh, this happened because of this reason. That’s not what you are there for. That’s between them and the eibershter – and if they want to speak it over with the rabbanim, there’s a time and a place.
You’re there with one primary focus. of paramount concern in the beis aveil is how to show these aveilim that you’re there with them, for them, that you feel their pain. You want to try to lift them up by letting them know, “I’m here for you – but I’m not just here for you now, I’m always here for you.”

When was the last time you paid a shivah visit that you gave a follow-up phone call? Did you write a follow-up letter? What about follow-up calls after the shivah? A lot of people say, “oh, shivah is over. Well, I got it in.” There are halachic questions about going on the first day, going in the first three days. But let’s say you timed it right and you went between day three and seven, and maybe you even went back for a second visit. Now the shivah is over; what about follow-up? If you really care, show the person that when you came it wasn’t just to fulfill your obligation, but that you commiserate and feel their pain and are there with them.
What about a follow-up visit when shivah ended? Did you go ahead and say, “Maybe I can still reach out. What does the person need?” Tell them, “I’m here with you, and I will always be here for you.” That’s what we want to convey. HaKaddosh Baruch Hu loves you. Hashem is always here for you, and so too, I will always be here for you, to comfort you. I will make myself available, and do whatever I can do. Please let me know. You want to schmooze about it? You want to go out for a cup of coffee? You want me to stop by? Whatever I can do, I will always be here for you.
We mentioned giving divrei nechamah (words of comfort) before leaving the beis aveil. one thing that I feel is very poignant, something that’s always moved me a lot, is a beautiful letter that Rav Yitzchak Hutner wrote to a student in the midst of shivah (Iggros U’kesavim, Pachad Yitzchak 242). Rav Hutner quotes the words of Chazal, “bera kara d’avuah,” that a son is literally the knee, the extension, the leg of his father. What exactly were Chazal trying to convey? Why is the son the leg? Why not the arm, the eye, or any other limb? You could have selected any limb of the body and said that the son is the continuation of the father. Yet Chazal, with their choice terminology, are trying to convey a much deeper thought and a far more profound message.
Rav Hutner writes so beautifully to explain this: The Gemara (Berachos 61a) tells us that to a living person who departs we say leich l’Shalom, go to peace. As the Gra, the Maharsha and others explain, you are always going toward peace, toward sheleimus, completion. l’Shalom doesn’t just mean a blanket statement of peace. It conveys the greater statement of peace between himself, his Creator and his friends – all-around, all-encompassing sheleimus. leich l’Shalom. go toward sheleimus. Why? Because you are holeich, you are always on the move.
But what do we say to a meis, a person who passes away? We don’t say leich l’Shalom, but rather, leich b’Shalom, go in peace. As the Maharsha and others explain, go in a state of peace. There’s no more opportunity for growth. No more opportunity for learning Torah, for mitzvos; this is what it means, “hayom la’asos u’machar l’kabel sachar (today is to do and tomorrow is to receive remuneration). So when a person passes away, we say leich b’Shalom, go in your current state of peace to bask in your reward.
Where do we see the point of distinction between l’Shalom and b’Shalom? Are you a holeich (going) or are you an omeid (standing)? The navi Zecharyah tells us (3:7), “V’nasati lecha mahalchim bein ha’omdim ha’eileh.” A person in this world has to be like a tzaddik, who is defined by the navi as a holeich. He’s on the move, he’s on the go, he’s always going up the ladder in ruchniyus (spirituality). As the Gra writes in Mishlei, if you’re not going up, then you’re going down. You have to be moving; you can’t be just standing in the same place.
What happens when a person passes away? You can talk about how they did so much, and you want to repeatedly convey to the aveil what a spectacular, remarkable role model this parent was because look at what they accomplished as a holeich in life. And not only that, but based on what they did, look how they’ve inspired others, whether directly or indirectly. “And you know what?” you can say, “They’ve inspired me.”
Let them know that your life has been changed. And if your own life hasn’t been changed until now, tell them how much of the lessons you’ve learned from the niftar you’ve now inculcated and ingrained within yourself – and that henceforth you’re going to change because of the life that their relative lived as a holeich.
But now, let’s go back to Rav Hutner. It’s true that when they lived they accomplished a, b, c, and d. give the aveilim that comfort, let them know what pleasure they can take from having such wonderful role models that they could emulate throughout the course of a lifetime. But at the end of the day, the niftar is in Gan eden. And yes, they have no pain, and yes, based on their merits they’re basking in the glory of the Shechinah. But they are not a holeich any longer. However, you children are bera kara d’avuah. The ko’ach halichah, the power of going forward, is ingrained in what? Not in the eyes, not in the hands, rather, it is specifically in the legs, which have knees, as opposed to the angels in g-d’s celestial court. They don’t have knees, so they can’t jump; they fly, they have wings, but they’re not holchim. They are described by the navi as omdim, as nitzavim, as idle, as motionless. They don’t have free choice. They are not growing.
So yes, this person was a holeich in the course of his incredible lifetime, but now he is an omeid. However, he left you, the dear beloved children, and you’re following in his ways. That’s a nichum that you can give.
on the one hand, look at your amazing parents. Look at what they accomplished as illustrious role models for not only you, the family, but also for others. But what about the nechamah to the niftar? Don’t worry, they’re still holeich. Look at the children they produced! Look at the aveilim you now came to be menacheim. Find something; they might not be the greatest people, but everybody’s got positive qualities. Find something great in these people and say, “Ah, I see your parents in you.”
That’s the greatest comfort – not just you’re doing great things, but I see you’re doing great things because of the parents you had. I see your parents in you. You’re perpetuating their legacy. Not just because you’re taking a name of a dear parent, and baruch Hashem you’re going to give it to a child, and im yirtzeh Hashem you should have simchos this year. (giving birth to a son within the year of aveilus brings atonement and comfort to the whole family [Yerushalmi, Mo’ed Kattan, Bamidbar Rabbah]).
But you know what? Beyond perpetuating the legacy by merely giving over a name, and far more importantly, you’re living by their ideals, you’re carrying on their messages. You’re carrying on their life work. You’re carrying out their core essence, what they were like.
Your parents didn’t stop being a holeich, since bera kara d’avuah, concludes Harav Hutner. The son is the metaphorical leg, the continuity, that perpetuity of what the parent was all about. As Rav Eliyahu guttmacher writes (Sukkas Shalom), saying Kaddish is very great and being a sheli’ach tzibbur is as well. But more valuable than all of them is doing mitzvos and of course, learning Torah, which is equal to all the other mitzvos. Learning Torah publically is the greatest nechamah and the greatest nachas ru,ach (pleasure) that you can bring for the neshamah of the niftar.
Yes, to the niftar we might have said leich b’Shalom, go in peace. But in essence it’s really leich l’Shalom because you are the kara d’avuah, you’re the figurative legs that carry on your parent’s noble work and all their accomplishments.
And tell the aveilim, “I see you continuing.” give them that push, give them that encouragement. The more they continue doing what they’re doing, the more they’ll give the greatest nachas ruach because that’s what allows the parents to continue onward. Your parents are really alive and well, as they always will be.
“Tzaddikim afilu b’misasam keruyim chayim” (righteous people, even in their deaths are called living) (Berachos 18b). This is especially so when their wonderful, remarkable children continue their noble life’s work. That nachas ruach (spiritual pleasure) will enable and empower the continuous ascent of that holy neshamah in Gan eden.
One of the most difficult and heart-wrenching scenarios is when one is presented with a mitzvah of nichum aveilim to parents – and very often young parents – who are sitting shivah for, lo aleinu, a child. Based on my work as a rav in Chai Lifeline’s Camp Simcha,
unfortunately, there are far too many cases — and even one case is already too many. When a young child loses his or her life in their fledgling years, often it’s due to cancer or sometimes it could be due to an accident, but regardless of the source of death, this is one of the most painful losses conceivable and imaginable to mankind.

So how does one enter such a beis aveil and do the
right thing? I think it’s important, first and foremost, that you follow the halachah to wait until they begin speaking and thus give you the direction.
Again, and it can never be emphasized enough, let them know that you’re there with their pain. You’re there commiserating, sympathizing with them, whether tears are coming down, or they see emotionally that you are fully there with them in the moment of nichum aveilim.
We can’t understand, we don’t understand. You’re not here to play the Ribbono Shel Olam. And you’re not there to ever tell them this is a kapparah (an atonement) for this and that. That’s between them and Hashem. You’re there to be their friend. You’re there to be their comforter. And what they need now is a listening ear. Let them talk about the wonderful attributes, the characteristics, the aptitudes, the talents of their dear child. Listen with an attentive, captivated ear. give them all of you, all of your attention, and let them lead you by the hand.
Follow their lead and talk yourself, especially if you did the requisite research beforehand. Talk about what was special about this child. And maybe make some inquiries before you walk in the door. Tell them, “I heard that your child did this, I heard your child was like that.”
What if it was a child at a young age, and they weren’t in school, and you couldn’t pick up any little stories? You can say I heard about their smile, I heard about their warmth, I heard about the way they
sang, the way they danced, the way they were at the Shabbos table, the way, they did their parshah sheets. Whatever the case is, you found out something, and you can highlight that. Tell them, “We’ll never forget how your child’s smile lit up the room, the way your child just looked at people or made other people laugh.”
Highlight those positive traits; let them know what an amazing child they had: “Wow, you guys must have done an amazing job in raising such a spectacular child! How lucky this child was to have parents like you. Even though it wasn’t for that long, HaKaddosh Baruch Hu decided that you were going to be the choice parents to raise this lofty neshamah.”
And yes, the Ramban (Sha’ar Hagemul) talks about gilgul neshamos (reincarnation of souls), when a child dies young and innocent before bar or bas mitzvah. We don’t understand gilgul, but what we do understand is that Hashem Yisbarach decided that you are the best parents in the world for Hashem to entrust with this lofty neshamah, which was going to be taken away prematurely, before the age of bar or bas mitzvah. Hashem took them away in their pure, pristine state. All they have are zechuyos merubos (great merit). All they have are mitzvos and ma’asim tovim, good things in their backpack, as they go on their journey to Gan eden to reside under the Kisei Hakavod (the Throne of glory). They are there with the Ribbono Shel Olam strolling in Gan eden. Hashem says, “I’m bringing them closer to Me than ever before.” Can you imagine? You must have been such amazing, amazing parents. I can’t imagine your pain, I can’t imagine your suffering, and I know that your loss is irreplaceable.

At the same time, dear parents, its amazing.
Hashem gave you this nisayon, this test, this challenge, and for some
reason He decided you’re the best parents in the world. And from what I heard about your son, from what I
heard about your daughter, now I can see it. You were the best parents in the world for them. And Hashem Yisbarach decided that whether it’s for that one year or two years or three, four, five years, Hashem decided that this holy neshamah, which was going to do so many great things, should be entrusted to these two people.
One idea the often comes to mind is an idea expressed by the Piaseczna Rebbe, Rav Klonimus Kalman Shapiro (Sefer Aish Kodesh, parshas Chayei Sarah.) The Gemara (Maseches Berachos 5a) tells us that “Ne’emar bris b’yissurim v’ne’emar bris b’melach,” the concept of a bris appears in conjunction to suffering and appears likewise in conjunction to salt. “Mah melach memasekes es habasar,” just as salt sweetens up the meat, so too yissurim are memarchin gufo shel adam. The suffering comes, and it cleanses all the impurities and imperfections; they cleanse the human soul.
The Piaseczna Rebbe then asks the following question (let’s keep in mind that this is a Rebbe who himself died at a young age, who was witness in the Warsaw ghetto to his students, his loved ones, dying in full view of himself. He saw the most fearful measures of suffering) in the name of Rav Menachem Mendel of Riminov: Why is suffering similar to salt? What’s unique about salt? Salt is put into the meat to get rid of the impurity and not allow any bacteria to come in. If you put in too much salt, you’re going to ruin the piece of meat. If it’s too salty, no one is interested in tasting it. But at the same time, if you put in too little salt, then you won’t achieve a perfected state of that piece of meat. So too, HaKaddosh Baruch Hu is the ultimate chef. He is the connoisseur, Who, so to speak, is cooking up the world. Hashem Yisbarach, with His infinite wisdom, knows to give an individual the precise measure of yissurim. He won’t give you one ounce more than you can handle because He doesn’t want to break you, because He loves you too much. But from the other side of the coin, from yet a different perspective, Hashem says that I want to bring out gadlus, greatness, in this person, in this young couple, in this family. And for some reason, in His infinite wisdom, Hashem gave you an incredible neshamah and then took it away so prematurely to give you this pain. But we know that if it’s not pain that you could handle, then Hashem wouldn’t give it to you.
There is a famous Ramban in several places, starting with the end of parshas Vayeira in connection with Akeidas Yitzchak. A nisayon is “neis l’hisnoseis bo,” it’s to lift you up high. And at the same time, as the Ramchal and others describe, Hashem is holding you up high, and He says, look what I’m selling, look at this Yiddishkeit, look at these people. I gave them a glorious special neshamah to care for. I entrusted these amazing people with this holy, pure, pristine neshamah, and look at them, look at this test and still look at their frumkeit (observance), look at their ehrlichkeit (sincerity). Look at how they are growing from this suffering. Look at these special people, look at their connection to the eibershter. Look at these anashim gedolim ad me’od (very great people).
Hashem Yisbarach picks His best. And you’re right, sometimes that’s hard. And many people say, “I don’t want to be the best; Hashem, don’t love me too much. I just want to be like every Tom, Dick and Harry. You know what? Let me just have my wife and let me have my two, three, four kids. Let me be able to pay their tuitions, let me be able to pay the bills, pay the electric bill and be able to have my set time to learn Torah; I’ll learn my two to three hours at night. Let me have my livelihood. g-d, I’ve got a good plan; this is what I envisioned. I’ll be an ehrlicher Yid (sincere Jew), and life will be great.” And you know what? Sometimes Hashem Yisbarach says, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Reuven, Shimon, Levi. I’m sorry Tom, Dick, and Harry. I don’t want you to be a regular guy. You’re not a regular Joe.” Hashem Yisbarach is only testing the very best; He’s only going to give it to somebody who could handle it. If He gives it to some average Joe, it’s going to break him. He’s giving it to the best people that He can hold up on high on that neis l’hisnoseis bo, on that staff. People who can serve as role models to all of Klal Yisrael and say look how I gave these people the biggest slap conceivable to mankind. I took away their child, and still look how they stay close to Me. This is gadlus. I want to be around people like you.
What was that test that made Avraham Avinu, the father of Yiddishkeit, who he was? It was Akeidas Yitzchak, a display, a readiness, a willingness to lose his son, to lose a child. Where is the first time we encounter in the Torah the idea of ahavah, love? The Rambam points out in Moreh Nevuchim that the first mention of ahavah in the pages of Chumash is, “Kach na es bincha es yechidcha asher ahavta es Yitzchak” (Please take your son, your only child, whom you love, Yitzchak). The first person loved on the pages of Chumash is a child. That’s paradigmatic of what unconditional love is all about. Regardless of if a person has a family of five, six, seven children, never lose sight. They could have many other children, but losing one child, that’s losing a world. It says if you save one life, you saved a world. Every child is a world unto his own. Never tell a parent, “oh, you have other kids, other nachas.”
Every child is “kach na es bincha es yechidcha asher ahavta es Yitzchak,” as precious as Yitzchak, that one, beloved son of Avraham Avinu. Every child is loved. Avraham Avinu became Avraham, became an individual who could start out Klal Yisrael, the Jewish nation. He starts out Klal Yisrael because what he felt for his son Yitzchak was the beginning, the underpinnings of what Klal Yisrael is all about: ahavah she’einah teluyah b’davar, how a father loves a child unconditionally. If the eibershter decides to take this child away, Hashem nassan Hashem lakach (Hashem gave and Hashem took), then I accept it. It hurts, it’s painful, and nothing can ever fill that void, but at the same time, Hashem only tests the Avraham Avinus amongst us. He only picks the best of the best.
We don’t understand the eibershter; down here there are a lot of questions with no answers, but upstairs there are no questions. You see everything with a clarity. until we get to Gan eden, we just don’t know. But what we do know is that if Hashem gave you this incredible, unfathomable nisayon, it’s because you are two amazing people who give endless nachas to the Creator and who will continue to give nachas. You’re going to continue that legacy of that wonderful, dear, smiling child, of that amazing child, who himself or herself might have endured tremendous suffering, but now that child is in the highest of highs in Gan eden Shel Ma’alah. And you, together with one another, will serve as role models for all of Klal Yisrael.
How could you handle it? I don’t know how anybody could handle it. But if Hashem Yisbarach in His infinite wisdom gave it to you, it’s because He knows that in the recesses of your heart you can handle it, and you will handle it and you’re going to grow as you are growing already. And Hashem is going to give you that strength to carry on, to inspire one another, to strengthen one another and to strengthen and inspire so many people in your community and beyond.
You’re going to be those role models for so many years to come, until that day when Hashem takes your holy neshamos and rejoins them with that holy neshamah that you lost years previous, so together you’ll be metayel (stroll) for all of eternity in Gan eden Shel Ma’alah.
Hashem Yisbarach should give you the ko’ach (strength) and the nechamah amitis bekarov (true comfort speedily). And im yirtzeh Hashem we should come together for only simchos, especially together with you, such incredible, special, amazing people that never stop for a second giving endless nachas ru’ach to the Borei Olam. You should have the ko’ach to carry on meichayil l’chayil (from strength to strength) for many happy and healthy years up ahead.

My Heart Is With You, with Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier is the Director of www.theShmuz.com. His lectures about major life issues, known as “the Shmuz,” have impacted thousands of people worldwide in a positive way. Rabbi Shafier is a graduate of Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim and served as a high-school rebbe within the Chofetz Chaim Yeshivah system for many years. At the request of Rav Henoch leibowitz, zt”l, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim, he founded Tiferes Bnei Torah, a venue where young, working b’nei Torah can continue to learn and grow.
Key points
• V’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha means to want the same good for others that you want for yourself. Therefore, performing the mitzvah of nichum aveilim means sharing the aveil’s pain with him, and when one shares another’s pain, it helps relieve it.
• Different people react differently to loss, so be flexible in how you deal with various aveilim.
• The actual shivah is a kavod to the meis. When the aveil sits on the floor and talks about his departed loved one, what he is in essence saying is, “Do you understand what we’ve lost?”
• One’s job as a menacheim is not to prattle endlessly to fill the silence, but rather, to encourage the aveil to speak about his loss.
• When being menacheim aveil, remember, you’re not there as a mussar teacher.
• Hashem is the ultimate giver. We try to emulate Him as much as possible. Sharing a person’s pain is an effective way of doing this.
Transcript
My heart is with you

Many people are uncomfortable with the mitzvah of nichum aveilim. When going to a shivah house they think, what do I say, how do I say it, how should I conduct myself? It becomes a burden. This becomes an issue that sometimes can stop a person from feeling comfortable and maybe even from doing the mitzvah.
So I would like to share with you a perspective that I think helps us define what the actual mitzvah is, and when we understand it from the right perspective, it actually becomes a guiding light in terms of how to conduct oneself, how to act and what to say.

The passuk says “v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha”. The typical translation is to love your neighbor as yourself. The Ramban on the Chumash observes that that can’t possibly be the explanation. It’s impossible, says the Ramban, that the Torah would obligate me to love my friend as I do myself. Self love is the strongest emotion in the human heart. My own self preservation and my own interest are innately put into me, and I can’t possibly love another human be- ing as I do myself. But even more than that, we are taught the rule of chayecha kodmin, your life comes first. Rebbi Akiva taught us that if you and a friend are in a desert with only one canteen of water, you come first. What, then, is the passuk saying? The Ramban explains that if you read the passuk very carefully, it’s not saying love your friend as you do yourself; rather, v’ahavta l’rei’acha, share love to him, feel love toward him, as you do to yourself. Whatever good you want for yourself, whatever things you’re interested in, whatever is valuable to you, you should want for him as well.
My rebbi, the Rosh Yeshivah Rav Henoch Leibowitz, would often share this Ramban – that we are one unit. The Jewish nation is one unit and one body, and I’m supposed to look at my friend and say, “What can I do to help him?” If I eliminate the jealousy, if I eliminate the competition, if there is no distinction between us, then obviously whatever I want for myself, I want for him. And more than anything, I’m with him. I’m with him in his joys, and I’m with him in his sor- rows. When it’s his wedding, I go there with tremendous joy, but not because I’m happy; rather, I go because I’m sharing in his joy. When he makes a bris for his son, I’m sharing in that emotion, I’m sharing in his ups. And as I share in his ups, I share in his downs as well. When he has bad news, if he loses a job, if he loses a business, I’m with him, I feel his pain. And certainly, when it comes to the loss of a loved one, I feel his pain, and I’m with him in that; we’re one unit.
I believe that while this is the definition of “v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha,” it’s also the underlying principle that guides us in nichum aveilim. What is my role? I’m going to share the aveil’s pain with him. I’m not going there to lecture, I’m not going there to be philosophical; I’m going there to share his loss, to join with him. And that emotion is the underlying principle and the guiding light in terms of what I should do and how I should conduct myself. If you think in those terms, the mitzvah becomes very clear and very well defined.
Obviously, before you go in, you have to think who am I visiting? If it was a ninety-two-year-old woman who passed away after a full, beautiful life, it’s a very different shivah house than if it was a six-year-old girl who was hit by a car. Before you go in, you have to put into your mind’s eye what the family is likely going through, and when you enter that door it’s with one intention: I’m here to share that person’s loss, I’m here to be one with them, I’m here to share their burden. If you walk in with that thought process, it will guide you through everything.
You also have to be flexible because not every person reacts the same way to a loss. Different people have different backgrounds and different experiences. I once went to the shivah house of an adam gadol, a great person, and I experienced very divergent scenes within that one house. The men were sitting in one area of the house, the women in another. I visited the men’s section first, where the sons were discussing their father. Their father was a very accomplished person. He was a posek. He had written sefarim. He was a person of tremen- dous accomplishments. And while the mood was somber, there was a real sense of sharing who their father was, a sense of pride; it was a very interesting experience. Then I went over to the women’s section, where the wife was sitting. And that was a shivah house because that was a woman bereft, a woman left without, and it was a very different emotional experience. Therefore, I have to not just walk in being pre- pared; I also have to be flexible to react to whom I’m going to be with. But again, my underlying thought process has to be that I’m sharing with them. And I think that if you walk in with that thought process, you’ll know exactly what to say.
Chazal defines what we shoudl say-basically nothing. I’m not there to answer questions, I’m not there to philosophize, I’m not there for anything other than to share in his burden. The reason why our rab- bis say that the aveil speaks first is part of this very concept. I walk in there, and I don’t speak. I walk in there, and the floor is open to the aveil. The person sitting shivah will express what’s on his mind, what he’s thinking. My role is, if anything, to draw him out, to be a sounding board, to allow him to express. When he expresses who the person was, he accomplishes a tremendous thing.
According to many Rishonim, early commentators, the actual sit- ting shivah is a kavod hameis, it shows respect for the deceased. When the aveil sits on the floor and talks about the meis, he’s showing “kasheh alai meisi,” look how severe my loss is. Do you understand who this person was? Do you understand what it is that we’ve lost? The more he speaks about the person, the person’s accomplishments and what the person meant to everyone there, the more kavod hameis it is, and certainly the more therapeutic; for a person to feel those emotions, to be attuned to them and be able to express them is a huge part of the consolation. Your role is to be on the receiving end, to listen, to be there to share in his loss. If you walk in with that perspective and that understanding, you know very well what to say. All you should be interested in doing is feeling and sharing. You’ll ask questions. oftentimes – if the aveil begins speaking – you can ask open-ended questions about the niftar: who he was, what he accomplished, etc.
I want to share with you one thing that many, many people make a mistake about. In this country there is a disease called prattle. There seems to be some kind of need to fill space with sound, as if to say silence is an evil and we have to constantly fill it with mindless chatter. Now, if you feel that’s appropriate, that’s okay, but it doesn’t belong in a shivah house. Your job is not to fill the air with words. Your job, if anything, is to coax the person to speak, to ask questions to bring the person out. When you share in the aveil’s pain in this way, that is the greatest nechamah.
We human beings are social beings. We have families, we have communities, we have friends, and that gives us a tremendous sense of connection. When you share in another person’s pain, it lightens it and makes it easier to bear the burden; it accomplishes exactly that which Chazal intended. This is real consolation. This understanding is, I believe, the theme that underlies everything. often it’s not easy because there are people who speak about different things at shivah houses, sometimes even inappropriate things. Now, again, it’s not my job to teach anyone, certainly not in a shivah house, and certainly not the people sitting shivah. And if they engage in frivolous conversations, it’s not my point to correct them in any sense. I’m there to support and I’m there to feel the pain, and the more that I feel that, the more likely it is that they’ll come back to the issue at hand, which is the deceased – who he or she was, what the loss meant to them. Feeling that pain and engaging them in it is the key to allowing that process to begin.
Sometimes it happens that people speak philosophical questions. Sometimes people have questions on Hashem, questions on how it could be. I’d like to share with you that your role as the menacheim is not to be a mussar teacher. Even if the answer is obvious, and even if they’re making a mistake, your role is not to be there to teach people.I’ll share with you a case in point. My mother, aleha haShalom, had a friend with whom she was very close for many years. A number of years after my mother passed away, this woman tragically and suddenly lost her forty-year-old son. It was a tremendous, tremendous loss. I didn’t have the kind of relationship with this woman that would normally prompt me to pay a shivah call; however, I felt my mother would have been there, and I felt that out of honor for my mother it was appropriate for me to go, although this woman was sitting shivah quite a distance from where I live. I arrived mid-day, and when I walked into the house, there were a number of people sitting there. The woman who was sitting shivah looked up and said, “oh, Barry’s here! He’ll answer the questions! Why? Why did it happen? How could Hashem let this happen?”
Now, if you listen to The Shmuz, my lecture series, you’ll know that I don’t shy away from philosophical questions. I’m not scared off by why these things happen. In fact, there’s an entire Shmuz, number 163, dedicated to that concept, which is entitled, “only the good Die Young,” about why, in fact, people die at different ages. So I’m not afraid to deal with that issue, but this was not the time for it. So when I walked in the door and she said those words, I walked over to her, I sat down on a chair, and I said basically nothing. After a few minutes I said, “My mother would have been here, and I wanted to be here for her.” And then I started thinking. I was older than this fellow who passed away, and I remember many years ago I was his babysitter one night. I had that mental image of him as a little guy in a big bed. I thought back on that, and I began crying and crying. I don’t think I said much else. I got up, I said “HaMakom yenacheim,” and I left.
After the shivah, this woman called my father, and she said she had tremendous nechamah, tremendous consolation, from the words that I had said. What did I say? I didn’t say anything. But I was there, feeling her pain and being with her. The point is that my job was not to answer why; my job was not to be the one who gives direction. My job was to feel her pain and to be with her. To be with a person in their joy and in their sorrow is a mitzvas aseih, a positive commandment, of “v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha,” and it’s certainly nichum aveilim. It’s something that requires reaching out, something that requires opening your heart, and it’s something that requires an understanding of people.
Sometimes People Are Extraordinairly insensitive– albeit not meaning to be, but they can make very cruel remarks. I’ll
share with you an example. A woman had a child with Down’s syndrome, and the child died very young. Another woman went to be
menacheim aveil and said, “Oy, oy, but you know what? It’s better this
way, it’s better this way.” I cannot describe the insensitivity of those words. If you feel that way, that’s your opinion, but it’s surely not the opinion of the woman who’s sitting shivah. This is a woman who’s in pain, it’s a woman whose life has been ripped apart, and your job is to be there with her, to do nothing other than to feel her pain and offer support by sharing her burden with her. This mitzvah done properly is one of the most intuitive and holy mitzvos imaginable.
Hashem is the ultimate meitiv, the ultimate giver. Hashem is mag- nanimous and generous. We were put onto this planet to grow, to accomplish, to make ourselves similar to Hashem. How do we make ourselves comparable, in some way similar, to Hashem? Much as Hashem is rachum, much as Hashem is merciful, we make ourselves merciful. Much as Hashem is the giver, we try to make ourselves be generous and magnanimous. When you go and share a person’s pain, when you share his burden, you are acting like Hashem, on your lev- el. You’re helping that person, and you’re also growing when you’re doing the mitzvah properly. This is a mitzvah that has tremendous, tremendous benefits for everyone involved.
I want to close with one last point. Rav Aryeh Levine, known as a tzaddik in our time, was a man of unimaginable compassion, a man with a heart that went out to others. If you’d like to know how to ful- fill the mitzvah of nichum aveilim, of making a shivah call properly, I’ll share with you one story about him. A woman had lost a child, and Rav Aryeh Levine went to be menacheim aveil. He arrived at the house, and as he was about to open the door, he burst into uncontrollable sobbing, tears and tears running down his cheeks. He couldn’t go in; he had to walk away, pull himself together and come back a second time. He finally walked in to sit with this woman; to anyone there, it was clearly obvious that this woman was being menacheim, was offering consolation, to Rav Aryeh Levine. He obviously felt her pain to such an extent that if you were an observer you would look at it as his loss, not hers. ultimately that is the way to fulfill nichum aveilim. I’m there to join this person and to offer but one thing – my heart, my feelings; I’m with you. If it were a joyous occasion, I’d be with you in that sense. unfortunately, that’s not the occasion, so I’m with you in your pain. That’s the defining essence of the mitzvah and that guides us in how to perform it.
May Hashem grant us that very shortly death should no longer be a part of our reality, and may Hashem redeem us soon.

The Essence of Nechamah, with Rabbi Noach Oelbaum

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Rabbi Noach Isaac Oelbaum serves as the rabbi of Congregation Nachalas Yitzchak in Kew Gardens Hills, NY and is a well-known and venerated speaker, published author and halachic authority.
Key points
  • When one is menacheim aveil, he is giving nechamah to the
    aveil and the niftar.
  • While in a circumstance where there is no other choice one can be menacheim aveil over the phone, the optimum way to do the mitzvah is to be there personally to truly connect to the aveil. Also, if one is not there personally, he is not able to comfort the neshamah of the niftar. The words “HaMakom yenacheim…” are not the main part of the mitzvah of nichum aveilim, but rather the gemar, the end, to the words of comfort. It is appropriate to share heartening words to assuage the aveil’s pain. Even just coming to the beis aveil is part of the nechamah.
  • It is a tremendous nechamah to talk about the impact of the niftar, what made him stand out, what his virtues and positive attributes were.
  • All who are marbeh b’nechamos (console abundantly) will merit the ultimate nechamas Tziyon (comfort of Tziyon). In addition, we are told that if one was menacheim aveilim and therefore was menacheim the neshamos of the niftarim as well, when he leaves this world, his own neshamah will merit comfort and to be joyously escorted into the portals of Gan eden.
  • Don’t be menacheim someone if there is animosity between you. He may feel that you are reveling in his pain.
  • According to the Chazon Ish, as quoted by Rav Chaim Kanievsky, an aveil is not obligated to stand up for a gadol b’Yisrael who comes in, but he can if he wants to. It is proper to say HaMakom while sitting. The aveil should be sitting as well. (Incidentally, bikur cholim should also be done while sitting.)
  • In order to actually accomplish the goal of nichum aveilim, there needs to be an atmosphere of nechamah. This is one of the reasons why doing nichum aveilim over the phone does not fully fulfill the mitzvah.
  • Just as Hashem sends the gezeirah, the decree, He also gives the person experiencing it the strength to carry on
Transcript
The Essence of Nechama

I welcome the opportunity extended to me by Rabbi Elchonon Zohn, the head of the chevrah kaddisha in Queens here, who has committed and dedicated himself for many, many years to chessed shel emes. And my berachos to him and to Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah is that they should be zocheh that HaKaddosh Baruch Hu should give them shefa berachah v’hatzlachah, simchah v’nachas mikol yotzei chalatzeihem ad bi’as go’el tzeddek bimheirah b’yamaneinu amein (abundant blessing and success, joy and pleasure from all their offspring, until the coming of the righteous redeemer, speedily, in our days, amen).

The first interesting thing we find about nichum aveilim (Maseches Sofrim 14) is regarding Shlomoh Hamelech, about whom it says, “Tikein sh’nei she’arim b’Beis Hamikdash.” Shlomoh Hamelech established two separate gates to the Beis Hamikdash, “kedei sheyeidu,” that people should know, “mi chassan oh mi aveil,” who was a bridegroom or who was a mourner; people should realize that if a person went into one gate he was a chassan, and if a person went into the other gate, he was an aveil. What was the purpose of this? “V’yishtatfu b’tza’aram u’vesimchasam shel Yisrael.” We see here the importance of Klal Yisrael being together and sharing, whether it is in the joyous occasions of other Jews or in their pain. The fact that Yidden would know that this is a chassan going through this gate, or this is an aveil going through the other gate gave the opportunity to Klal Yisrael to be able to join in either the tza’ar, the pain of the aveil or in the simchah, the joy, of the chassan.
Another important point about the mitzvah of nichum aveilim, which is part of gemilus chassadim, is that we find that HaKaddosh Baruch Hu in fact was menacheim Yitzchak Avinu when he lost his father Avraham Avinu. The passuk in parshas Chayei Sarah says, “Vayehi acharei mos Avraham,” it was after Avraham Avinu passed away; “vayevareich elokim es Yitzchak,” HaKaddosh Baruch Hu gave a blessing, a berachah, to Yitzchak. What does it mean, “vayevareich elokim”? Rashi says (c.f. Maseches Sotah 14), “shenichamo tanchumei aveilim,” Hashem was menacheim aveil at that time.

If you look a little bit in the sefarim, you will see that nechamah is not just for the aveil who is sitting shivah, but it’s also for the neshamah of the deceased. This is something people may not be so aware of because, of course, we don’t actually see the neshamah of the meis there. However, the nechamah goes not only to the aveil, but also to the niftar (Ma’avar Yabok). As a matter of fact, this is one of the reasons why we say when going to be menacheim aveil, “HaMakom yenacheim eschem,” in plural, even if there is one aveil sitting. People sometimes question that. Some of the posters that show the words of HaMakom say oscha if it’s for one aveil and eschem in brackets if there are many. If you look in the sifrei kabbalah, you will see that you should say eschem regardless of how many people are sitting there. What’s the eschem? It’s the aveil and the neshamah of the meis whom you are comforting. Therefore, there are always at least two that you’re being menacheim.
There is proof to the above from Chazal. The Gemara in Shabbos
(142) includes a fascinating halachah. It’s not our custom to do this – many of the things we find in Chazal have changed throughout the generations – but it is illustrative to see what the Gemara says there: “Meis she’ein lo menachamim,” one who has passed away and does not have relatives to comfort, “holchim asarah benei adam v’yoshvim bimkomo,” ten people go and sit in his place. In other words, you bring a minyan to sit in place of the aveil. But who are we comforting, if these are not the aveilim? These ten people sit in place of the aveil because the neshamah of the meis is there, and therefore, we are actually comforting the neshamah. The Gemara tells us that Rav Yehudah actually took ten men with him to do this. Chazal tell us that after the conclusion of the shivah, the niftar came and revealed himself in a dream to Rav Yehudah and said, “Tanuach da’atcha kemo shehinachta es da’ati,” may your mind always be at ease in the same way that you have comforted me.

Many, many, many years ago, a respected rav in my neighborhood was giving a shiur in Maseches Mo’ed Kattan in which the Gemara discusses the halachos of aveilus as we are familiar with them. This rav told me that one of the people at the lecture asked him for the source of the text commonly said, “HaMakom yenacheim eschem b’soch she’ar aveili Tziyon viYerushalayim.” If Klal Yisrael adopted this text, this nussach, there must be a reason or some legitimate source for it. The earliest mention I was able to find for this wording is in the commentary of the Derishah, at the bottom of the Tur. The Derishah says that it is the minhag ha’olam, the common custom, to say HaMakom yenacheim. This still does not provide a real source for that nussach. It occurred to me – and I believe this is really the truth – what the source for these words is. Everywhere in halachah – in Shulchan Aruch, Rambam – the halachos of bikur cholim and nichum aveilim basically go together. The passuk says, “es haderech asher yeilchu bah” (a person should follow in these ways); the Gemara explains that derech is referring to bikur cholim, and bah is referring to nichum aveilim. It’s an amazing thing that bikur cholim does have a nussach, but nobody says it. The Gemara (Shabbos 12) says that when you visit a sick person, you say the following: “HaMakom yerapei oscha b’soch she’ar cholei Yisrael” (Hashem should cure you amongst the other ill members of Israel). So when it came to nichum aveilim, they took the exact nussach but substituted HaMakom yenacheim in place of HaMakom yerapei, and instead of cholim they said aveilim. Now the only question is, why regarding bikur cholim, for which the Gemara does provide a text, you don’t hear it being used – and don’t try to say it or they’ll think you’re saying something else when you start off with that phrase. It does seem clear, though, that this is where we get the wording for nichum aveilim.
When we talk about nichum aveilim in general, there is a big question whether this mitzvah actually requires a personal visitation to the aveil or if it can be accomplished by telephone. It’s certainly, according to all opinions, the optimum to be there personally because then one is able to firsthand, face to face, look the aveil in the eye and share in his pain. It’s brought down in the poskim that if there’s really no other choice – whether you are far away or because of other constraints – b’sha’as hadechak, you can fulfill the mitzvah on the telephone. But nichum aveilim is not to merely saying the words HaMakom yenacheim. HaMakom yenacheim is very fine and is of course the text that we say, but really nichum aveilim is to add extra words. The Chafetz Chaim (Sefer Ahavas Chessed 5) says that yes, you can fulfill the mitzvah of nichum aveilim by saying HaMakom yenacheim, but “mikol makom yoser tov im yevo’u l’dabeir el libo,” it’s always better to say some heartening words, “u’lehafeik mitza’aro be’eizeh diburim, shezehu ikar hanichum,” to be able to neutralize his pain, as this is the main way of offering comfort. So HaMakom yenacheim is not the main comfort that one offers; rather, it is the attitude and the various different things that a person comes to say that are the most crucial.
In truth, just the fact that you have come, as Rav Elyah Lopian once pointed out, shows the aveil that you’re joining in his pain. So even if sometimes you did not say anything, the reality that you were there showed that you cared. You made the effort and came to that person; this itself is already a comfort. Sometimes actions really do speak louder than words. As a matter of fact, sometimes it’s better not to say anything at all because people say the wrong things. But when the aveil sees that you have come in, right away it offers comfort for him.
What does nechamah really mean? It doesn’t change the reality; the loss is still there. It’s a fact and you’re not going to bring back the niftar; rather, the idea is that the aveil should hear about the significance of the niftar, that the niftar made some sort of contribution to society. Rav Wosner writes in sefer Shevet Halevi that before one goes to do nichum aveilim there should be preparation, just as you’d prepare if you were commissioned to give a speech. You should choose your words carefully. Think what you are going to say: what is appropriate for this particular situation and this particular aveil – what might be appealing to him in terms of words of nechamah.
In choosing your words, try to find some sort of virtue, some ma’alah in the niftar that you feel was appreciated by society. When an aveil hears that the niftar really lived a life that made a difference, it can offer very significant comfort. People remember him for the good things that he did. Not everybody is a Rosh Yeshivah about whom you can say “He was a great marbitz Torah,” or a rav, or a leader of a kehillah or of a community, but if you really think into it, you will find that every Jew had a certain ma’alah. And if you’re able to somehow expand on that ma’alah a little bit and even share what a difference he made in your own life, that is a tremendous thing that releases and relieves some of the pain that the aveil is going through.
We find this concept in another area, and that is in the mitzvah of kibbud av va’eim. The Chayei Adam says that a person who honors his father in many, many ways, feeding him, giving him to drink – that is not enough. Rather, true kibbud av va’eim is to be able to find a virtue in your father or your mother so that you can respect him or her. Sometimes it’s very difficult. Sometimes people have parents whose lifestyles or characters are very far from anything they’d want to emulate. Yet, everybody has a ma’alah, and according to this Chayei Adam, it’s a tremendous responsibility to try to find it in one’s parents, no matter what the situation is – even if chas v’Shalom you have a father who is a drunk, or society looks down upon him, there has to be something positive there somewhere. And if you find a ma’alah – ah, because of that ma’alah you’ll see a reason to respect him. Kibbud means to respect. giving food and drink is one thing – that’s shimush, service; it doesn’t mean you have to respect the person as a person. Kibbud av va’eim means to find the ma’alah that shows he deserves respect.
When we’re talking now about nichum aveilim, it is also important to find a ma’alah in the niftar, and that is something that will certainly help to remove some of the pain.
The Shelah Hakaddosh, as a matter of fact, says very clearly in the beginning of Maseches Pesachim what we reiterated: “lo dai b’nichum levad, ela yeish lomar gam kein divrei nechumin,” it’s not enough to just go be menacheim aveil; you have to find words, devarim tovim, until he forgets his pain somewhat. So you see that the various words that are being said are very important. Many times people come to be menacheim aveil and are talking about everything except that which is really important. In some cases, that is also appropriate. The way each person reacts to tza’ar is unique; you will not find two people reacting in the exact same way. Some people become very, very depressed, so they need a distraction. But the distraction is superficial and artificial; that’s not what true nechamah is. True nechamah is dealing with the situation and yet trying to find ways to alleviate the pain.
The Mateh Moshe (a talmid of the Maharal) writes (perek 5), “Kelalah d’milsa y’dabeir divrei nechamos hamiskablim laleiv, v’chol hamarbeh b’nechamos yizkeh v’yireh b’nechamas Tziyon.” A person should try to find the right words [to tell the aveil], which are going to be received well, and all who increase their words of comfort will merit and see the comfort of Tziyon. This is an amazing berachah – one who puts forth this great effort to be menacheim aveil properly will merit the coming of Mashiach, a tremendous thing. Yet, it’s something people are not aware of. Certainly every mitzvah has great reward, and that is enough of course, but here you find a specific reward in the berachah that the Mateh Moshe gives. Marbeh b’nechamos means it takes some time to try to do the mitzvah in the best way possible; but if you do so, you’ll be included in the ultimate comfort.

Now, there’s one more very important point that is so beneficial for someone who comes to be menacheim aveil to find,
and that is brought down in the Sefer Hachayim, written by the brother of the Maharal. We all know there is going to come a time when we are also going to have to leave this world, and it means that our neshamah is going to hopefully go to the right place. What will enable our neshamos, when the time comes, to be received by HaKaddosh Baruch Hu in the best way for us? one of the ways is if during one’s lifetime he was menacheim other aveilim, and therefore he actually comforted the neshamah of the departed; middah k’neged middah, measure for measure, when the time comes for his own neshamah to depart, he himself will find comfort in Shamayim. I am going to quote a very important lashon: “V’chol hamenacheim l’aveilim u’mari nefesh,” a person who comforts other mourners and people who have bitter hearts, “b’eis misaso,” when the time comes for the comforter to leave this world, “amar HaKaddosh Baruch Hu l’malachei hashareis sheheim memunim al hanechamah,” Hashem says to the malachim that are designated to give comfort. “l’holich nishmaso l’Gan eden b’chedvah v’gilah,” to escort the neshamah of the comforter to Gan eden with tremendous rejoicing. Here you have a ticket to Gan eden! “U’lenacheim oso middah k’neged middah,” and to be menacheim that neshamah measure for measure. “Shehu haya menacheim bechayav, HaKaddosh Baruch Hu nosein lo secharo hatov v’yosher l’fanav,” since when the neshamah was alive, it comforted other people, Hashem gives him this reward.

I would like to mention some situations in halachah pertaining to nichum availim. Ahavas Yisrael is a great mitzvah, but sometimes we have neighbors we just don’t get along with. I don’t want to use the term “enemy,” but that also happens sometimes. What is the halachah if a sonei, or someone you really don’t get along with, is sitting shivah? Basic halachah says, “lo yenacheim aveil shehu sono.” Halachah says that one should not go to comfort an aveil who is an enemy. Why not? Maybe now is the time to reach out – sort of like a reconciliation; now you’re going to be menacheim aveil and overlook the situation that you have between yourselves. But the downside is that if you’re going to be menacheim the enemy, there’s a chance that he will think you’re coming to see his misery. This is how we see how halachah really understands the psychology of a person. And we have to be sensitive. Sometimes when we think we’re doing something that is right, we need to be aware that maybe, yes, the intention is for the good, but in fact it might have just the opposite effect. However, halachah also says that it all depends how strong the feelings of enmity are – hakol lefi godel hasinah. Sometimes you just don’t get along with him, but it’s not that you really hate him. You have to juggle that and evaluate the situation when it comes to whether you should be menacheim aveil or not.
Here are some questions regarding nichum aveilim that were posed to Rav Chaim Kanievsky: “Ma hu l’nacheim aveilim derech hatelefon?” Can one be menacheim aveil via the telephone?
“V’shamati shebehayos chamav, Maran Hagaon Rav elyashiv, yosheiv shivah al bito” – the questioner said that he heard that when Rav Elyashiv, the father-in-law of Rav Chaim, was sitting shivah for his daughter, “higi’a telefon begaon echad, shlita,” someone called to be menacheim aveil via the telephone.
When he received the telephone call, Rav Elyashiv said, “Ki b’Rambam kasuv shenichum aveilim hu bishvil hachayim u’bishvil hameisim,” nichum aveilim is for the living and the deceased. Remember, as we mentioned before, that nichum aveilim is not only for the aveil; it’s also to comfort the meis. And the deceased is not at the other end of the telephone. This aspect of nichum aveilim is thus lost. Rav Chaim in fact replied that this is one of the reasons one should not rely, if possible, on nichum aveilim via the telephone.
The second question happened to me many, many years ago when I lost my father, and the Skvere Rebbe came to be menacheim aveil. It really says that an aveil does not get up for anyone, and the question is if an Admor or gadol b’Yisrael comes, what is the proper conduct? I asked the Rebbe’s gabbai about the minhag in Skvere; should one who is sitting shivah stand up for the Rebbe or not? You don’t want to do the wrong thing either. They said the custom is that you don’t stand up. This same shaylah was also asked of Rav Chaim Kanievsky. The basic halachah is that an aveil eino kam, an aveil does not stand up. How do we interpret these words? Does it mean he does not stand up, meaning he is not obligated to stand up for a talmid chacham, or does it mean that he is prohibited from standing up? The questioner said to Rav Chaim Kanievsky, “I heard that when Maran Hagaon Rav Shach came when Rav Chaim lost his mother, Rav Chaim asked Rav Shach this question.”
Rav Shach answered, “Freigt dem tatte,” ask your father, ask the Steipler. He didn’t want to answer this question. When Rav Chaim was asked this question more recently, he answered, “I’m not sure what my father said, but what I can tell you is that it was said in the name of the Chazon Ish that the aveil is only not obligated, but mutar lo lakum, it’s permissible for the aveil to get up.”
Now, let’s mention another important point, an area in which I noticed people make a mistake; it’s not a tremendous sin, but it’s something to be careful about. This question was also asked to Rav Chaim, but this ruling is found in several sources. The question is when one is menacheim aveil, should the person who is giving comfort be sitting or standing? Is it better to be sitting? We find that many times people get up to leave, and they say the HaMakom yenacheim while standing. Rav Chaim Kanievsky said that the proper way of performing nichum aveilim is b’yeshivah, sitting down.
Now, we know that the aveil should be sitting when he is receiving the words of comfort. As a matter of fact, the halachah says that if the aveil is standing, one should not say, sheiv, sit down, even though he should be sitting to be mekabeil tanchumim. Why? Because sheiv might mean remain in your situation, and of course, we don’t want to say that, and we don’t mean that. Although you’re not allowed to tell him to sit, the aveil should be sitting. Rav Moshe Sternbuch points out – this is something I noticed also – that in numerous congregations, on Tishah B’Av night, when it can be difficult to sit low, many people who are saying the kinnos, the lamentations, and Megillas eichah, do it standing. It’s the opinion of Rav Moshe Sternbuch that being that this is an expression of aveilus, the Megillas eichah that is said on Tishah B’Av night should be done while sitting.
This question was also posed to Rav Chaim Kanievsky: is it really more appropriate for nichum aveilim to be done sitting down? Rav Chaim brings together what we mentioned, that we find that nichum aveilim and bikur cholim go together. Rav Chaim brings a Gemara in Nedarim (39), which discusses bikur cholim – and this people don’t know either – and says that bikur cholim should be done while sitting. When you go to a hospital to visit someone, sometimes the ill person tells you, “There’s a chair. You can sit down,” and you say, “Eh, don’t worry. I don’t have to sit down on a chair; I’m standing.” This is not correct. Says Rav Chaim, well, if for bikur cholim we find that it’s more appropriate to do it in a sitting fashion, the same thing is true for nichum aveilim. Here is another indication of how we connect the mitzvah of nichum aveilim and the mitzvah of bikur cholim, and both should be done while sitting.

Let’s summarize what we just discussed. First, remember that although HaMakom yenacheim eschem is the accepted text, those are not the main words of nechamah. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggros Moshe, Ohr Hachayim) says the following:
“It is clear that the mitzvah to comfort mourners is not just to bless them with “HaMakom yenacheim…” Clearly this is not the main mitzvah, says Rav Moshe. He explains that the aveil is not comforted with this – especially if the words are being rattled off, as is commonly done by many, as if by rote. Do you really think the aveil has been comforted by you saying the words “HaMakom yenacheim”? Rather, the main thing is that the person should be comforted. So what are the words of nichum aveilim? R’ Moshe tells us that we can see this from Sefer Iyov, which is full of the suffering of Iyov. There we find that the friends of Iyov came to be menacheim, “shehirbu l’dabeir eilav,” and spoke to him at length. Rav Moshe says later, in a different paragraph, that we see that saying the HaMakom “heina rak gemar devarim shel tanchumim,” is just the closing of the nechamah.
Rav Hutner (Iggros Pachad Yitzchak) discusses nichum aveilim on the telephone. It is interesting how he makes a distinction, in his opinion, between bikur cholim and nichum aveilim. Rav Hutner says that in this case they are not exactly the same. Bikur cholim one can pretty much fulfill over the telephone. What does bikur cholim mean? Well, the word bikur is colloquially translated to mean visit, to be mevakeir. Rav Hutner says no, that’s not really what bikur cholim means. Bikur is from the terminology of investigate, to try to find out what the ill person needs, to be busy with his needs. That can be done sometimes very well via the telephone. You can call and investigate and find out and ask questions: what to bring, what to do, etc. In such a situation, therefore, you can fulfill the mitzvah through the telephone more or less.
However, as far as nichum aveilim is concerned, it’s only literally without a choice that it can be done over the telephone. When it comes to nichum aveilim there is a mesibah shel nechamah, an atmosphere of comfort, that we have to create. It has to be a setting of nechamah. A setting of nechamah can be created if you’re there. This doesn’t happen when you call on the telephone. And that, by the way, also explains why you should be sitting when doing the mitzvah. Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s ruling then fits very well with Rav Hutner’s words. Rav Hutner says you have to have an atmosphere of nechamah, and that takes place when you sit. As we know, yeshivah, sitting, is always that which creates a kevi’us, a certain established setting. Rav Hutner points out that that’s why right after the kevurah we do a quick nechamah by making a shurah, a line of people by which the aveilim walk. Rav Hutner explains that this is because of the need for a kevi’us of nechamah; by making a shurah you’re creating an atmosphere, showing a setting in which the aveil can receive nechamah. over the telephone you don’t have that atmosphere.
Let me just conclude with some beautiful words from the Chafetz Chaim. The Chafetz Chaim himself suffered a lot of different tragedies in his lifetime, one of which was the loss of his son Rav Avraham. When Rav Avraham passed away,the Chafetz Chaim was in Warsaw selling his sefarim. While there he received a telegram to come back home right away. When he arrived at home, he realized what had happened. And the Chafetz Chaim, when he saw that he lost his son, said the following: “Hashem nassan, v’Hashem lakach, yehi sheim Hashem mevorach mei’atah ve’ad olam,” Hashem gave and Hashem took; may the name of Hashem be blessed from now and forever. We have to be mekabeil b’ahavah, accept Hashem’s will with love, and anything that HaKaddosh Baruch Hu gives, HaKaddosh Baruch Hu takes.
At the same time, the Chafetz Chaim related the following story – you see the level that he was on, from the way in which he related this true story, which is brought down in a sefer called Toldos Adam. This story took place in the year 1492, when the Jews were expelled from Spain. There was a woman who had two young children, and her children were murdered. This woman was now bereft; she had lost her children. So what does a woman like that do?
The Chafetz Chaim related that she raised both of her hands and spoke to the Ribbono Shel Olam: “Ribbono Shel Olam, there is a mitzvah in the Torah of ‘V’ahavta es Hashem elokecha b’chol levavcha,’ to love HaKaddosh Baruch Hu with all our hearts. Ribbono Shel Olam, I always had two children, which means that my heart had to share the love, the ahavah that I would have given to You. My heart was split in two because I had to share some of the ahavah with my children; I’m a mother, which means that I was not able to fully dedicate the ahavah of my heart to You. However, now that my children are no longer here, I’m able to fulfill wholeheartedly ‘V’ahavta es Hashem elokecha.’ I will not have to split my ahavah between You, HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, and the children.”
This was a tremendous, tremendous madreigah, an incredible level, and the Chafetz Chaim said the same thing. “A portion of my ahavah was, of course, to my son, Avraham,” who by the way, seemed destined for greatness – he had tremendous kishron (talent) – which compounded the tza’ar and the pain regarding the situation. The Chafetz Chaim pointed out that now, v’ahavta es Hashem elokecha, I have the ability, the opportunity, to be fulfill ahavas Hashem on the highest level.

Let me just conclude with a tremendous idea. The previous Skulener Rebbe, zichrono levrochah, the father of the current Rebbe, yibadel l’chayim, was occupied with mesirus nefesh, great personal sacrifice, in saving many Jews; that was what he basically dedicated his life to. He lived in Romania at the time when the Communists were in power, and if anybody did anything to further Yiddishkeit, they imprisoned him. The Skulener Rebbe was himself imprisoned – sentenced to jail for something like twenty-five years. He was put into a narrow cell with hardly any light; he was able to know when it was morning because there was some sort of a crack in the wall, through which some little rays of light came through. He thus realized that it was the morning so it was time to do some sort of davening. He didn’t have much water, so he took his hands and rubbed them against the walls in place of washing them. He realized he didn’t have his yarmulke, so he took his shirt and raised it up over his head.
He started to daven, seeing himself in this bitter situation. He came to the tefillah of Baruch she’amar. All of a sudden a tremendous kasha, a difficult question, came up in his mind. He said, “I never realized this: I’m saying “Baruch meracheim al habriyos,” HaKaddosh Baruch Hu should be blessed because He has mercy on mankind. “Baruch meshaleim sachar tov liyerei’av,” Hashem pays reward to those who fear Him. And we continue on talking about the benefits Hashem conveys, and we bless HaKaddosh Baruch Hu for all the good things that He does. All of a sudden, there is a turnaround, and we say, “baruch gozeir u’mekayeim.” This refers to a gezeirah ra’ah, a difficult decree. Is that such a good thing? Baruch, we bless HaKaddosh Baruch Hu that He decrees and fulfills? We find that Klal Yisrael always try to nullify the gezeiros; we don’t want those decrees to come to fruition. We go for a berachah to a tzaddik – we want to nullify the troubles. Here we are saying, among all the good things, “baruch gozeir u’mekayeim.” What does this mean?
All of a sudden the following came to his mind: baruch gozeir u’mekayeim means HaKaddosh Baruch Hu makes the gezeirah – u’mekayeim, and He is mekayeim, He supports, the person! He gives strength to the person! He gives him the ability to be able to endure all the tzaros. When a person is going through hard times, at that point he really thinks, This is going to ruin me; this is going to destroy me. I’m never going to be the same again; I’m never going to be able to go on with my life. In a time of tzarah a person is weak, he does not feel that. So the Skulener Rebbe said, no, no, no. That should never be the case; remember, baruch, we bless HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, Who is gozeir u’mekayeim. If He gives you a gezeirah, realize that together with the gezeirah is the refuah, the cure. U’mekayeim, He gives you the ko’ach and the ability to be able to endure and tolerate all of this suffering.
As a matter of fact, an adam gadol once said a beautiful explanation on words that we say in davening all the time. once you hear this, these words will never mean the same to you. We say in the Hallelukahs every day, “hanosein sheleg katzamer,” HaKaddosh Baruch Hu gives snow like white wool. When you shear a sheep, you have flakes of wool, which are white like snow. There is another explanation, a much deeper peshat. Sheleg is cold. There are many people who have no heat, and chas veshalom they can freeze. The passuk is telling us, hanosein sheleg, if HaKaddosh Baruch Hu gives you snow, if He gives you cold, katzamer, he gives it to you in proportion to the amount of wool you have, to have a coat to wrap yourself in to protect yourself from the cold. HaKaddosh Baruch Hu makes snow, He gives cold, yes. But He will only give you that much cold, katzamer, as the amount of wool you have to warm you. This is something that is very important to remember, and this is certainly something that can be imparted when one goes to be menacheim aveil, to relieve and reduce the tension that the aveil is going through.
HaKaddosh Baruch Hu should help all of us to merit to be protected from all types of suffering, whether communal suffering, or personal pain. We should be zocheh to all the good from Shamayim, and to finally see the fulfillment of the pasuk, “u’macha Hashem elokim dimah,” HaKaddosh Baruch Hu should wipe away the tears from all of Klal Yisrael. We should merit only simchos, and to the ultimate berachos and hashpa’os, full of simchah and nachas, abundant blessing and success, until the coming of Mashiach, bimheirah b’yameinu, amein.

Halachic Guidelines in Offering Comfort, with Rabbi Simcha Bunim Cohen

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Rabbi Simcha Bunim Cohen serves as the rabbi of Khal Ateres Yeshaya in Lakewood, New Jersey and has authored an extensive collection of englishlanguage halachic works that deal with the intricate laws of Shabbos and Yom Tov. He is the grandson-in-law of Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, and a senior kollel fellow at Beth Medrash Govoha.
Key points
  • When we are menacheim aveil, it is a dual mitzvah of gemilus chassadim – chessed with the aveil and chessed with the niftar.
  • We can comfort the aveil by helping him strengthen his emunah. By helping the aveil to accept the din, we are en- couraging him.
    Although it is painful that we can’t see the niftar, it’s really like he’s just travelled overseas on business; it’s actually beneficial for him, while sad for the loved ones he left behind.
  • It’s important to prepare what you want to say before going to be menacheim aveil. If you don’t have the proper words, don’t say anything.
  • According to many poskim, the aveil can say hello when answering the phone, as it is just a way to start the conversation.
  • We cover the mirrors in a beis aveil because looking at oneself brings happiness, which is not appropriate during shivah. In the same vein, we do not bring young children to a shivah house.
  • When a person sits shivah, he should also think of the pain of HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, who is far from Yerushalayim and His Beis Hamikdash. And indeed, all pain and loss that we have stems from the Churban Beis Hamikdash.
Transcript

Halachic Guidelines in Offering Comfort The Rambam writes (Hilchos Aveil, 14:7): “Yireh li shenechamas aveilim kodem l’bikur cholim,” if you have the opportunity to do the mitzvah of nichum aveilim versus bikur cholim, nichum aveilim comes first. Says the Rambam, “Shenichum aveilim zeh gemilus chessed im hachayim v’im hameisim,” nichum aveilim is chessed with the living and the ones who passed away. on the other side, gemilus chessed is only with a living person. With this introduction, we see that we have to be careful what we say when we go to be menacheim aveil because we are menacheim the meisim, the deceased, as well. And the meisim for sure don’t want us to say things that are not appropriate if we’re coming to do gemilus chessed with them. Most people don’t have an inkling what the mitzvah of nichum aveilim is. Let me quote from different sources. The Aruch Hashulchan says that the mitzvah of nichum aveilim is to talk a little bit about the deeds of the person, but mainly to try to give nechamah to the aveilim that kol milsa d’avid Rachmana l’tav avid, whatever HaKaddosh Baruch Hu does is for the best. This is the language of the Aruch Hashulchan: You can’t say, “Ma aleinu la’asos” – what can we do – because that’s like showing that what was done was not good. Says the Aruch Hashulchan, Rather, comfort him that everything that Hashem does is for the good and that he should accept Hashem’s decree with love; “v’ein anu yod’im mah nikra tovah, umah hi hahepech,” and we don’t know what is called good and what is the opposite.” With that I want to share a story what does it mean to comfort someone? Just like there’s a mitzvah to comfort someone who lost a relative, there’s a mitzvah to comfort someone who lost his money or was sentenced to jail. There was once a person, the Chafetz Chaim says, who was sentenced to jail for several years; it was freezing there, and the food was inedible. When this Jew came out of jail, he was unaffected. All the psychologists and psychiatrists wanted to meet this person and find out his secret. “You were so tortured, and you came out in such good shape; what was your key to success?” He explained in a few sentences: “It’s true, everything was taken from me – my freedom, my dignity, my family, my friends, and all my possessions. However, there was one thing they couldn’t take – the way I look at things. You can’t take away how I look at things. My faith in the Creator remained mine, and I knew all along that just as He put me into prison, so too He could remove me whenever He wanted. And no matter what, I retained my ability to pray to Him and entreat Him to release me.” So what do we see from here? That one of the main things we’re supposed to talk to the aveilim is about emunah b’HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, faith in Hashem. It doesn’t mean that you tell the aveilim they didn’t suffer a tragedy. That is self-understood; everyone understands that when you lose a close relative you are suffering a tragedy. But we can tell them how great HaKaddosh Baruch Hu is, that whatever He does, we don’t understand it, and we have to strengthen ourselves in emunah and bitachon. That’s the chessed with the meisim; the kindness that we do with the deceased is that through them we strengthen our emunah. The Ramban explains that when somebody is niftar, it’s like a relative who goes away overseas. You cry because you’re missing the person, but you know he went away for his benefit. The same thing when someone is niftar; we have to try to look for ways to strengthen our emunah in terms of this loss being beneficial. Now, you have to work on this – you have to look at the sefarim to see stories about emunah and bitachon; but just to talk about meaningless things? At least talk about chessed that the meis did. But just to go and remind yourself about the olden days, how you learned in the same yeshivah and the principal was so-and-so, that’s not what is supposed to be spoken in a house of aveilus. I remember there was somebody years ago who lost his wife before they had any children. Thousands of people came to be menacheim aveil. And Rabbi Avigdor Miller came to be menacheim aveil. He was there for exactly a minute and a half. The young man told me he got the most chizzuk from Rabbi Miller. Rabbi Miller said that since this person wanted to do all the mitzvos and he wanted to have a large family but had not had the opportunity, it’s like he raised children and brought them to the chuppah; he just didn’t have to go through the pain of tza’ar gidul banim. Chisheiv la’asos mitzvah, k’ilu asah mitzvah – when one wants to do a mitzvah, Hashem considers it as if he did the mitzvah. The young man told me this was the greatest comfort for him. There were times when Rabbi Miller didn’t walk into shivah houses of close people because he didn’t have the right words of comfort. The sefarim write, “Ikar mitzvas nichum aveilim l’daber el leiv ha’aveilim b’devarim hamiskablim el haleiv,” the main point is to say things that people can accept; “sheyekablu aleihem din Shamayim velo yitzta’aru,” that they should accept upon themselves the Heavenly decree and they shouldn’t feel so distressed. Like I said before, its not possible to take away the complete distress that a person has, but if you speak the right words of emunah and bitachon, you’ll be surprised. The only thing is that when we go to be menacheim aveil, we usually don’t prepare ourselves. Just as before a dinner, if you are a guest speaker, you have to prepare the speech, when you do the mitzvah of nichum aveilim, you have to prepare what you’re going to say to the aveilim, what’s going to give them encouragement and what’s going to make them stronger and become bigger ma’aminim in HaKaddosh Baruch Hu. This takes time, and therefore you see gedolei Yisrael sometimes didn’t say anything because they didn’t have the proper words to say. The eibershter should bentsch us that we should never have to do this mitzvah, but it’s always going to come up. The eibershter made it that people die, and there is a reason why the eibershter did that; the eibershter wants to give people their reward in the Next World. Whatever it is, we need to strengthen ourselves and think before we talk when performing the mitzvah of nichum aveilim. Rabbi Miller used to say, “If you don’t have anything smart to say, then don’t say anything.” But if you just talk and talk and talk without thinking, you could end up mishandling the whole mitzvah of nichum aveilim. One of the areas where people don;t know the proper halachah is concerning picking up the telephone when sitting shivah; people commonly don’t say hello. la’aniyus da’ati, in my humble opinion, and other poskim also say this, you can say hello because hello is not a way of she’eilas shalom (greeting); hello is just to start the conversation. Therefore, when the aveil picks up the telephone he can say hello according to many poskim, although each person should ask his local orthodox rabbi. Rabbi Haikins, Shlita, this great tzaddik who does so much for the klal, asked me, “Why do aveilim cover the mirrors?” One of the reasons is because when one sees himself in the mirror, it brings a certain happiness to a person, and during aveilus, you’re not supposed to be happy. That’s why you’re not supposed to hold children on your lap. And if you do bring children, it should be children shehigi’u l’chinuch, children who are old enough to comprehend the concept of aveilus. It’s not proper for families to bring young children because it causes the aveilim to be distracted from the aveilus. I just want to end off with one little story. When Rabbi Miller was sitting shivah, he didn’t let anybody come upstairs; he did nichum aveilim in the shul. Now, Rabbi Miller was on a madreigah, a level that is hard to emulate, but he used to say that when a person sits aveilus for his own pain, he should think of the tzaros, the affliction that HaKaddosh Baruch Hu is going through since the Yidden are in galus for so long. The Nefesh Hachayim says that we don’t know how much tza’ar the eibershter has, how much distress Hashem has that we are in galus; it’s a million times more tza’ar than we have when we lose a loved one. This is what we say as we leave a shivah house: “HaMakom yenacheim eschem b’soch she’ar aveilei Tziyon viYerushalayim.” When you are sitting shivah yourself, think about the Churban of Yerushalayim, that HaKaddosh Baruch Hu is not sitting in His house. once you are in a down mood because you have your own aveilus, focus on HaKaddosh Baruch Hu’s aveilus. And that’s why Rabbi Miller didn’t let anybody come to be menacheim aveil in his house; he only let them do it in shul. He said that the rest of the day he wanted to think about the Churban of the eibershter, the Churban of Europe, the Churban of the Inquisition – because we’re all suffering, and all tzaros are because there is no Beis Hamikdash. This is something for the aveilim to remember: while you’re sitting shivah, don’t forget that we’re children of the eibershter, and the eibershter also has a tremendous Churban that He is dealing with, as He is not sitting in Yerushalayim in the Beis Hamikdash. May HaKaddosh Baruch Hu bless us that we should merit to see the Melech Hamashiach, the binyan Beis Hamikdash and techiyas hameisim.

Nachamu, Nachamu Ami, with Rabbi Ben Tzion Klatzko

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Rabbi Benzion Klatzko is a motivational speaker, successful author and mohel. He hosts a radio talk show and travels the country, inspiring Jewish students to reconnect to their heritage. Rabbi Klatzko also works with Morasha Olami, funding Jewish trips and experiences, and works closely with organizations that have dedicated millions of dollars toward Jewish identity. His latest project, www. Shabbat.com, is now the world’s largest Jewish social network, helping people find Shabbat in 100 countries.
Key points

• When close family members first hear that a person was niftar, it’s a surreal experience, shocking and difficult to process that the neshamah is no longer in the body.
• Shivah is like a cocoon. It protects the aveil. It’s also a time when the aveil is not distracted by anything else so that he can totally focus on the life and impact of the niftar. During shivah we focus on the niftar’s contribution and on the void that now needs to be filled.
• The walk around the block at the end of shivah is very powerful. The aveil now has to think about life going on without the niftar.
• giving nechamah requires great sensitivity. Crying with the aveil, saying you’ll be there for them, showing you share their pain, are effective ways of providing comfort. Allow the aveil to teach you what he’s going through.
• Prepare yourself before walking in. Don’t just “pay a shivah
call” as an obligation.
• Talk about what the niftar accomplished, what kind of impact he or she made. Celebrate the life of the niftar. “V’hachai yitein el libo – the next step is for the aveilim (and for us) to roll up their sleeves and accomplish things because we are all only here for a limited amount of time.
• When being menacheim aveil someone who is not observant, we need to be very sensitive and not condemn. This is a golden opportunity to give encouragement. If the niftar wasn’t observant, you can focus on what he or she contributed bein adam l’chaveiro, between man and his fellow man. Encourage them to take on a mitzvah as a zechus for the niftar.
• When giving comfort, it is important to be sincere, to show empathy and give it our all.

Transcript

Nachamu nachamu ami: The keys to offering true nechama I was asked to speak regarding nichum aveilim because I lost a brother. I want to share with you the different stages of grief and perhaps how to do nichum aveilim in a way that truly gives comfort, rather than just going through the motions and being yotzei your mitzvah, fulfilling your obligation, to drop in. I lost a brother who was two years younger than me. His name was Gavriel – Gavriel Klatzko. He was niftar in his sleep. And my first reaction – especially common when there’s sudden tragedy, there’s no warning and no illness that preceded the petirah – was shock, disbelief. The truth is, that could be the case even if there was a warning, even if the person was ill; until the person finally goes, it still takes us by surprise. Certainly when somebody is niftar due to a tragic accident, it’s very hard to digest the reality that the person was niftar. I remember when I heard the news – it was on a Motza’ei Shabbos – I felt like the oxygen had left my lungs. I just didn’t know what to believe, what to think. During that time, before the levayah, when everyone is preparing for the funeral, and hespeidim have to be written, and families are coming together, and they’re crying together, it’s surreal. That’s why the halachah is that we’re exempt from many of the mitzvos; it’s almost impossible to concentrate on anything else when a levayah of a loved one is looming. At the levayah itself, there is a very unique kind of anguish. And the anguish is due to the fact that very often the guf, the body of the niftar, is right there. It’s present, right in the room, and it’s hard to know how to deal with that. We’re so used to being able to approach somebody and touch them, and that creates their reality. Now the body is right there, and yet the neshamah is gone. It’s a surreal experience. I was part of a chevrah kaddisha, and yet when it happened to me it was a completely different experience. It actually changed the way that I deal with people who are in aveilus. Going through that experience myself allowed me to understand firsthand the grief that is involved when someone passes away. I’ll tell you one particular point that was extremely painful. My brother was buried in Yerushalayim, and he had been living in South Africa at the time of his passing. They took the body and brought it to eretz Yisrael in a metal container. When they took the body out of the metal container, it was wrapped in a tallis and put in the ground. So there would be one moment that the body, the face, would be exposed. The chevrah kaddisha told everyone who was at the cemetery to please turn around so they shouldn’t look at the face, they shouldn’t look at the niftar; they shouldn’t gawk. That’s not the Yiddishe way; we don’t look for no reason, just for curiosity, at the face of the niftar. I hadn’t seen my brother in weeks. I was living in New Jersey, and he was living in South Africa. I don’t think there was anything I wanted to do more in my life than not turn around. I wanted to look; I wanted to say good-bye. I wanted to see his face. I wanted one last memory. obviously I did turn around – it was the right thing to do – but it made me much more sympathetic when I deal with people who are not frum, and they want a showing and they want the body dressed up. That’s against halachah. We don’t do that. But instead of just being very strong about it, I understand. And I understood at that point why it’s so compelling to have that one last look, that one last memory. At that point they buried my brother on Har Tamir, which is right next to Har Hamenuchos, and we sat shivah in Har Nof, a neighborhood in Yerushalayim. During the shivah I was able to appreciate those who came and gave a real nechamah. Many very big people came; the Klausenburger Rebbe came and Rav Moshe Sternbuch, amongst others. The Klausenburger Rebbe drove in from Kiryat Sanz, and again, there was a lesson there. The lesson was that people who are in aveilus appreciate those who extend themselves to pay their respects, to be menacheim aveil. until this day – already a number of years have gone by – I remember that the Klausenburger Rebbe took of his time. I remember those who lingered and those who offered us food and drink and were there for us. I learned a tremendous amount about how to be menacheim aveil. The shivah itself is like a cocoon. That’s how we look at shivah; it protects you, it takes care of you, it’s there to watch over you. That’s why we don’t do anything else during those days. We’re not distracted with shaving, and we’re not distracted with going to work. We’re not distracted at all. We’re focusing on the life of the niftar. I never understood how in sports, for example, you could have a person who loses a mother or a father, and two days later the coach expects them to be on the team and play in the big game. Besides for the fact that it’s not respectful for the person who passed away – this was a life – how does a person focus, and when is a person going to revisit the life of the niftar? So the wisdom of Chazal is that they tell us not to do anything but focus on that life that was lost. There’s a very famous poem called The Dash. The poem has somebody looking at a tombstone, at a matzeivah, and they see the name of the person. Then they see the date of birth and the date of death. And then they see a dash in between the date of birth and the date of death. The poet is looking at that dash and says that dash is not just a line, it’s not just a separator; that dash represents the person’s entire life. The dash is your life. During the shivah we focus on the dash: we focus on what kedushah that person brought to the world, what spirit and light that person brought to those who were around him. We spotlight the contribution their life represented and what now needs filling due to the absence of this person. Shivah is a very critical time. There are those who don’t take shivah seriously; there are some, not within Torah Judaism, for whom the entire aveilus is just coming back from the funeral, food and cake are served, and then they say, “We don’t want to have a shivah.” It could be they don’t want to disturb or inconvenience others, but I don’t think they understand that without that time to focus on the dash, they are going to revisit it, perhaps for many years to come. So during the seven days of mourning, people came and told us stories, which we wrote down. Letters were produced that my brother had written, and it was very powerful and cathartic. I’m going to tell you a small story that happened at the end of the shivah. This was very powerful, as it teaches us how to give nechamah. The halachah is that people don’t mourn for the entire last day of the shivah, when there is a halachah of miktzas hayom k’kulo, part of the day is like the entire day. There’s a custom to walk around the block that morning to signify the end of shivah. I was warned that that walk around the block is a very powerful and traumatic walk. We had davened and finished eating breakfast, and my father said, “okay, it’s time to walk around the block.” I got up together with my brothers, and we walked outside. We were mourning in Har Nof, and it was a very hot, sunny day. This was about 10:30 in the morning, and the streets were deserted. Kids were in school, parents were at work or in kollel. We went outside, the sun was beating down, and we began to walk. During that walk you don’t speak. Often the community walks with you but not next to you, sort of like to protect you, but not to infringe on your space. So we walked, and some people in the community were about fifteen feet behind us. During that walk you have the time to think about how now life has to go on without the niftar. I remember this being a very painful experience because life going on meant flying back to America and continuing my job and continuing as if things were normal, but they weren’t normal! Life is forever changed for me, and life is forever changed for our family. This is what aveilus feels like; it’s not a one-time occurrence, it’s a paradigm shift in one’s life. I turned to my father – my father is an ER doctor – and I was thinking, okay, he’ll know how to handle this, he’ll be the strength of the family. But then I looked at him, and he was bawling. One can’t be strong in certain circumstances. My mother said that during the first year after my brother was niftar, she would wake up in the middle of the night, and my father would be sitting at the edge of his bed with his face in his hands, crying. I learned a very important lesson, which is that one never recovers from the death of a child. one is forever changed, in discernible ways. And that’s something we have to appreciate. Chas v’Shalom, when somebody loses a child, it’s different. We have to be sensitive to that. So I looked at my father, and he was bawling. And as I was walking along this very long, silent block, I could hear my footsteps on the pavement and I thought, I can’t do this! Now I’m going to walk back into the house, and life is going to go on, and I’ll hop aboard a plane and continue? I was supposed to get old with my brother, we were supposed to share simchos together, we were supposed to be at weddings together, marry off our children together – and now all that was gone? The best way to describe it is that I felt like I was walking down the steps to a very dark place. By the time I finished that walk around the block it felt like I was back at the levayah again. That realization that the cocoon of shivah was over was that devastating. To make matters more difficult, my mother and the new widow were just leaving the house to begin their walk. They were going to walk with us, near us, but my mother was so frail that they needed people in the community to stand next to her to make sure she wouldn’t collapse. I looked at the face of the almanah – she was twenty-six years old, and she would have to raise four little children who would never know their father. How was she going to do this? How was she going to get remarried? The whole thing was so tragic. I walked back into the house, and I was thinking to myself, I hope no one says anything to me. Don’t say it will be okay, don’t say time heals all wounds, don’t give me clichés, don’t say anything. That’s why the Gemara says, “agra d’bei avla shetikusa,” the reward for a beis aveil is to keep quiet. Sometimes silence is golden. I walked into the living room and there was a young man sitting on a stool. He was a very good-looking fellow, and he was wearing this beautiful, long jacket. As we walked in, he just began to sing; he didn’t say a word to us. I want you to feel the moment. He sang, “Nachamu, nachamu, ami, yomar elokeichem,” which means be comforted, be comforted, My nation, so says Hashem. We listened to this young man just sing to us, and we knew what to do. Myself, my brothers, we took chairs, we sat down next to him, and we linked arms and began to sing together, “Dabru al leiv Yerushalayim, v’kiru eilehah,” speak to the heart of Yerushalayim, call out to her. She is mourning, you are mourning, she is in pain, you are in pain. give each other comfort, and together you are going to find nechamah. We sat and sang with this young man for about fifteen minutes. When we finished singing, we jumped up, and I gave this young man a hug and said, “Who are you and how did you know how to give nechamah? Anything else anyone else would have said would have been wrong, could have even been hurtful, but you just gave our family nechamah; how did you know, how did you know?” So he said, “My name is Sheftel, and I was one of your brother’s best friends. I loved him like my own brother. I was so close to him.” He continued, “About a year ago, I got engaged to the most beautiful girl that you can ever dream of. You know, you wait all your life to find your bashert, and you don’t know, maybe you’ll have to compromise, maybe you’ll have to settle. I didn’t settle; I found the perfect girl for me. I was deliriously happy. My engagement passed, preparations for the wedding, and finally we got married in the most beautiful, holy chassunah in the courtyard of the great Synagogue under the Jerusalem stars. I was the happiest man on planet Earth. A month after we got married, I came home to find my wife sprawled out on the kitchen floor. I called Magen David Adom (Emergency Medical Services in Israel). They took my wife away; she was unconscious. And she never woke up. I was devastated. You wait all your life to find your bashert, and then after thirty days, that’s it, she’s gone? I didn’t know what to do with myself. The levayah was so painful, I can’t describe it to you. The shivah? I was numb. People were trying to give me nechamah, and I couldn’t even accept it; I didn’t know what to do with it. “Then finally the shivah was over, and it was time to walk around the block. I remember my walk. I remember how painful it was. I remember hearing my footsteps on the pavement and that silent, lonely walk, knowing I had to approach life now without my bashert. I got thirty days with her, and that was it. By the time I finished my walk, I was at the lowest place in my life. I walked into the house, as depressed and as low as one can imagine, and there, sitting, singing this song for me, was your brother Gavriel. He was singing Nachamu, nachamu. I learned from him how to give nechamah. And just like you, I sat down next to him, and we began to sing. We sang nachamu, nachamu, and we linked arms and cried together. At the end he jumped up, gave me a hug and said, ‘My dear Sheftel, my dearest brother, what happened to you was such a tragedy, no one can give you proper nechamah. You were privileged to have this wonderful woman that you were able to call your wife, even for thirty days. It was a zechus, it was a privilege, it was a gift from Hashem. You’ll never forget those days that you had to spend with her. But life will go on, and I will be there with you every step of the journey. You will one day get remarried, and you will have a family, and I will hold your hand through it. I will be at your chassunah, and I even know what I’m going to buy you for your wedding present. I’m going to buy you a tisch bekeshe for you to wear on Friday night while you sit around with your whole family.’ He gave me such nechamah. He’s the one who taught it to me. And here I am, a year later, sitting and singing nachamu, nachamu, for Rav Gav himself, for Gavriel, together with his family, wearing the tisch bekeshe that he bought me to wear as I got married a week ago to my beautiful new kallah, under the Yerushalayim stars.” It requires great sensitivity to give nechamah. One needs to understand what the person is going through and to understand that you don’t understand. One needs to understand that there are times when silence is golden, and a hug is critical, and looking into the person’s eyes and crying with him is the greatest nechamah of all. Sincerity, just saying, “I will be there for you, you can rely on me” – that’s nechamah. So if you’re going to a shivah and you feel, “I have an obligation, I have to pay a shivah call – as if that’s your social obligation – I would tell you to take two minutes before you walk in. Think about what it’s like. Did you ever lose somebody close to you? You wouldn’t want someone just to “pay” a shivah call, to “pay their respects,” but you would want that person to take a moment to appreciate your pain. “Imi anochi b’tzarah,” I am with you in your pain. Your pain is my pain, your suffering is my suffering, and your comfort is going to be my comfort as well. If you can convey that message, that’s the greatest nechamah of all. We all have that ability. “V’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha zeh klal gadol baTorah,” love the person like you love yourself. “Mah d’sani lach l’chavercha lo sa’avid,” what is hateful to you don’t do to your friend. “V’ahavtem es hageir, ki geirim heyisem,” love the convert because you were also strangers [in Egypt] – empathy, empathy, empathy. Empathy is saying, “I’m not going to be the teacher, I’ll be the student. I will be the listener, you be the teacher. You tell me your pain. Teach me what you’re going through.” That’s nichum aveilim. It’s making the person sitting there close to the ground, without shoes, who is forlorn, who has a jacket and a shirt ripped, your teacher. Sit at his feet, let him teach you about the niftar, and let him teach you about pain. “Tov laleches l’beis aveil milaleches l’beis mishteh,” it’s better to learn about life by being in the beis ha’aveil, than by going to the house of party, a simchah. one can gain a tremendous amount there. But if you do the mitzvah just as if you’ve punched the clock, so then what? Did you add anything? You have to add something. I’m on hidarbroot radio and people call in to ask different questions about how to deal with pain and how to deal with the challenges in life. Just this morning a lady asked the following question: “I love Hashem, and I have such gratitude to Hashem for everything that He does for me. But I just recently lost two people who were very dear to me, and I feel down. What do I do? I want to love Hashem and I want to get back up.” So I explained to this lady that one of the things that happens to people who experience death is that they fall into some sort of a depression. one of the ways that we deal this pain is through the shivah and speaking about the niftar. But there’s something else, which is that everyone is niftar. We’re all taking steps toward the edge of the cliff. I quote Rabbi Einstadter, who says, “We’re all taking steps; some of us have miles to go, and some of us don’t realize, but we’re one step away.” When we think about the person who is niftar, we celebrate their life. We say, what did they do with their life? Whose life did they enhance? What chessed did they do? What did they represent? What deeds will live on? Did they make a shidduch? Did they help the poor? Did they raise a loving family? Were they involved in their shul, in their minyan, in their kollel? Were they involved with others? And when we look at the person who was niftar, and we celebrate their life, it has to be a motivation for us to get up and not dwell on the niftar. “V’hachai yitein el libo,” pay attention to your own life; a person who is alive and understands that death is part of life has to pull himself up and say, ”Just as we’re celebrating what the niftar has done, so too we have to roll up our sleeves and do.” So the great nechamah, the great way of being consoled, is by doing. Doing is cathartic. Doing is a healer. Just to simply dwell – that’s not what our loved one wants. That’s one of the reasons that when Chazal gave us the halachos of aveilus, they slowly weaned us away from the niftar and the aveilus. There’s a week, and then there’s thirty days, and then there’s toch shanah, within the year of passing. Slowly but surely, the message is that we need to get up and do. Rav Brevda said that we’re all writing a book. Just like we read, “eileh toldos No’ach,” these are the generations of No’ach; and just like we read Chayei Sarah, about the life of Sarah Imeinu; and we read the story of Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe Rabbeinu; when Mashiach comes there’s going to be a book about each and every one of us. It’s going to be Toras elokim Chayim. The question is not how long the book is or how many pages that novel has. Yes, some of the books can be very long, 100 years long, 105 years. Some are sixty-five years long; some are much shorter than that. The question is not how thick the book is; the question is, does it have a satisfying conclusion? When you close that book, do you say, “Wow! What an amazing read! What a story! How inspirational, how motivational, how spiritual!” So when we look at a person who was niftar, and we want to give nechamah to the mourners, the best thing that we can do is to find something that the aveilim can do that will give them inspiration, will give them meaning for living, reason for continuing on. Recently, I was menacheim aveil somebody who lost her mother. The daughter of the woman who was sitting shivah said, “I’m worried. You know, my mother had been spending all this time with her mother, taking care of her, and now she won’t have anything to do. She herself is getting older. She’s just going to get depressed that she lost her mother.” So I went in and I spoke with this woman. And I said, “Look, I hear that you have a talent in going to hospitals and helping out with the administration and helping people get the attention that they need. Sometimes a person who is ill comes to the hospital, and they’re not receiving proper attention. Maybe you can go and make that your calling. go to hospitals, see who needs the care; be an advocate for them.” She was very happy to know that there was something she could do. That’s a great motivation for a person who is mourning. Doing is what gives us reason for living. “V’hachai yitein el libo.” When being menacheim aveil somebody who is not Torah-observant, one has to be very sensitive. Death creates questions. Are we doing it right? What’s the purpose of life? Is there a life after life? Do we believe in a Gan eden and Gehinnom? We have to be careful not to condemn, certainly not to give mussar, not to condemn. This is a golden opportunity to give chizzuk and to say, “Look, everything that you are is in the merit of your parents or the person who was niftar. All of the goodness that makes you a person of fine character, makes you a person who is kind and compassionate, is in their merit.” You can focus on that. You can tell them, “Look, the Torah is divided into two parts, bein adam laMakom, between man and g-d, and bein adam l’chaveiro, between man and his fellow Jew. It could be they didn’t learn mitzvos bein adam laMakom, they didn’t know. But let’s focus on what they contributed. If we can explain that to the family of the person who was niftar, we can give them tremendous chizzuk. In addition, we have the opportunity to encourage them to come and say Kaddish. It’s not such a good thing, necessarily, to offer to say Kaddish for them. It’s better to say, “Look, I’ll come with you to shul, I’ll teach you how to say the Kaddish.” There was a person who was niftar, and he had a young son who was not yet bar mitzvah. So I made a tape of Kaddish, repeating it again and again and again, and this young son learned how to say Kaddish and said Kaddish for his father all year. until this day they thank me for that. one can encourage the aveil to do something as a merit for the niftar. Whether it’s lighting Shabbos candles, putting on tefillin, etc. I have a website called Shabbat.com, and a person on the website wrote in their profile, “My father passed away, so this year I decided I’m going to put on tefillin and go to shul.” They also signed up for Shabbat.com, which is a way to be invited to someone for Shabbos. Why? Because apparently his father being niftar told him that he should say Kaddish. Someone at that point mentioned to him that if you’re in shul, you should put on tefillin. Tefillin got him interested in Shabbos, so he signed up with the site; one mitzvah leads to the next, which leads to the next. This is a golden opportunity to encourage that person to be in touch with their roots. That’s a very valuable lesson. I think the last thing I was to convey to you is that when we’re going to be menacheim aveil, no matter who it is, we have to stop a moment and become sincere. We’re all sincere to a degree, but we also have our chiyuvim, our obligations, and we have our day-to-day things that we’re busy with. If we’re not sincere, it comes off, it shows. When I was a rabbi in New Jersey, I used to perform funerals. The funeral home would call me up, and they would say, “Rabbi, someone passed away. Would you do the funeral?” usually they were part of my shul, even if I hadn’t met them, even if they had moved to Miami. But their plot was still in my shul’s cemetery, so I performed the funeral. When the chapel would call me up, I would take the name and the information about the niftar, and then I would use that for my hesped, for my eulogy. It happened once that a lady passed away, and I called up the sister and asked for information about the niftar so I could perform the levayah. The next day I came, and there were hundreds of people there. I asked, “Who else is delivering a eulogy?” They said, “Rabbi, it’s all you.” So I said, “okay, I’ll do it. I’m a professional.” I got up there and everyone was silent. I took out my notes to deliver the hesped when I noticed I had all the information necessary except for one very critical piece of information I forgot to ask. You guessed it – I forgot to ask the name of the nifteres! There was no way that I could walk back down and ask for her name. That would have been terrible. So I proceeded to deliver a hesped for twenty minutes without ever mentioning the name of the nifteres – which is trickier than it sounds. Imagine starting a hesped, “We are here to pay our respects to an amazing woman. She inspired us to grow, and she did great things in her life,” never mentioning her name. It was embarrassing. If I had had a shovel I would have dug a hole right there for myself and jumped in. When it was finished, it was terribly embarrassing – the whole place buzzing, “Hey, why won’t the rabbi mention her name?” It was now time for me to call people up to tear keriyah. So I announced, “okay, Sophie, please come up to tear keriyah.” And then the whole place erupted. I didn’t know what happened. Finally, the sister came over to me, and she said, “Rabbi, how is Sophie going to tear keriyah? She’s in the box!” I tried to say, “No, tear keriyah for Sophie” – ah, nobody believed me. It was a great lesson. You can’t do a perfunctory funeral; you can’t just punch the clock. You have to care, and it has to mean enough. If it would have meant enough to me, I would have made sure I knew her name. So from then on, I took it to heart. of course I was very nice to the family afterward, and I apologized, and it was okay. But it’s a lesson. This is a great mitzvah, levayas hameis. We should give it our all, and feel empathy for those who are in pain, and Hashem will make sure, middah k’neged middah, measure for measure, that we ourselves won’t feel pain.

Lessons From Our Leaders: How to Offer True Nechamah, with Rabbi Dr Tzvi Hersh Weinreb

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb is the executive Vice President emeritus of the Orthodox Union, as well as a psychotherapist and former pulpit rabbi.
Key points

• Many have misconceptions about the purpose of shivah and how to properly conduct oneself in a shivah house. It’s important to familiarize oneself with the halachos and hash- kafos associated with the mitzvah of nichum aveilim.
• Min HaTorah the source for this mitzvah is when Hashem comes to bless Yitzchak Avinu following the death of his father Avraham. The Rambam holds that this mitzvah is a rabbinical directive. In any case, it’s a very important mitzvah, the fulfillment of v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha. Keep this in mind when paying a shivah call.
• Nichum aveilim takes priority over bikur cholim because in doing this mitzvah you are helping both the deceased and the mourner.
• Nichum aveilim is difficult to fulfill properly because everyone reacts to loss differently, and there are different types of losses. Therefore, it is so imperative to adhere to the halachah about letting the mourner open the conversation. This way you can take your cue from him or her about how to proceed.
• According to Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach, if the mourner says nothing at all, wait a respectable amount of time, say “HaMakom yenacheim…” and leave.
• Another important halachah: leave when the aveil indicates to do so.
• It’s inappropriate to say, “How could this have happened?” “Did we do everything we could have?” or “What can you do?” We need to react with the perspective of “Hatzur tamim pa’alo,” Hashem’s ways are perfect, and therefore we accept this judgment.
• Sefer P’nei Baruch is a volume that can be very helpful for both the mourner and the one paying a shivah call. No one is ever totally orphaned because we all have a Father – Hashem.
• It’s important for the aveil to take care of his health and not to let himself go.
• The aveil’s loss is part of the greater loss Klal Yisrael suffers, which is what we express when we say, “HaMakom ye- nacheim…b’soch she’ar aveili Tziyon…” May Hashem com- fort…amongst the mourners of Zion…” This idea can pro- vide nechamah when expressed the right way, at the right time.
• one of the greatest divrei nechamah is that the niftar had a
sheim tov, a good reputation.
• It’s appropriate to bring the idea of Olam Haba, the World to Come, into the conversation at a shivah house.
• The passuk tells us not to mourn excessively because we are b’nei melachim, which means that when a Jew passes away, he is really a prince going back to his Father in the palace.

Transcript

Lessons From Our Leaders: How to Offer True Nechama One of the experiences that I think many Rabbis have-I know I had it, especially when I was working as a rabbi of a shul – is that someone in the community dies, and the family sits shivah. The family is an observant family, but in many families there are many members who are not observant and often who are just not knowledgeable at all about Jewish customs and Jewish practices. They too are part of the shivah; they may even be aveilim themselves halachically – brothers, uncles, children. And they all come together – the observant members of the family and those who are non-observant and not knowledgeable in Jewish matters. As a rabbi of the people who wanted to keep the laws of the Torah and all the minhagei Yisrael, our Jewish customs, I was faced with a challenge. How do you introduce the proper practice to people who do not know the appropriate protocol for sitting shivah? What makes it more difficult is that the custom has evolved in the Jewish world – which has no religious basis – that the shivah is almost like a party. A lot of food is served, people are sitting around and engaging in idle talk, sometimes even jokes. And it certainly is not appropriate. It’s the rabbi’s role to somehow explain in a very polite and courteous way that the family whose home we are in are an observant family, and they want to keep the Jewish custom in the way that it was traditionally done and the way that it should be done. Sometimes it’s very difficult because people don’t want to hear the rabbi come and tell them what to do; this is something they’ve always done. “Whenever someone dies we always break out the best whiskey. We have the special platters of food, and we talk about the good old days.” So the rabbi has to be very tactful and diplomatic and with appropriate derech eretz has to explain to the people what the proper way is. I’ve done that many, many times in my career. Almost without exception, after the first day or two goes by, these relatives come over to me and say, “You know rabbi, your way is the right way. It’s much more appropriate to do things in the customary way that you’ve taught us.” And I say, “Look, it’s not my idea. our rabbis from the Talmud and throughout the ages have taught us the way to do it.” They tell me, “Those rabbis knew what they were talking about. They understood human psychology; they understood.” You hear this from people who, to say the least, didn’t respect rabbis a few days ago. But when they see the wisdom of our Torah and our Chazal and our customs, they are impressed that not only is this religiously the appropriate thing to do, but from a humane point of view this is the proper way to say farewell to the person who has departed and the proper way to begin the cycle of mourning. It shouldn’t be thought that it’s only irreligious Jews who have a misconception about what shivah is all about. Even Jews who were raised in a frum environment, who received a proper religious education, who even received an advanced Jewish education, are sometimes unaware of what a nichum aveilim is supposed to be like, what the experience is supposed to be like at the beis aveil, the so-called shivah house. They don’t know what should be said and what should not be said. of course there are halachos about this – halachos that are in the Shulchan Aruch, not in some footnote somewhere, but that are explicitly spelled out and that are based in many cases upon ma’amarei Chazal, upon Gemaras. I’d like to speak about some of them. This is not going to be a lecture in all the halachos, but we will mention some of them that are especially important, perhaps from an interpersonal point of view, from the point of view of the emotional situation in which a person in mourning, an aveil or an aveilah, finds himself or herself. First of all, I want to point out that nichum aveilim, to comfort the mourner, is a mitzvah. There are Rishonim, early commentators, who feel that it’s a mitzvas aseih d’Oraisa, that it’s a positive command from the Torah. We find that the Ribbono Shel Olam blessed Yitzchak after Avraham died. And there’s a Rabbeinu Yonah on Maseches Berachos that says that that is the source from the Torah of the practice of nichum aveilim. The Rambam feels it’s a d’rabbanan, a rabbinical directive. one way or the other, it’s a very, very important mitzvah, and it’s one of the ways that we have of fulfilling what Rebbi Akiva calls the klal gadol baTorah, the great rule of the Torah, which is v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha, you should love your fellow as you love yourself. How do you do that? The Rambam explains that there are various ways to fulfill this. one way is that when a person is in mourning – and of course if you were in mourning you would want to be consoled, you would want someone to help you to cope and deal with the loss that you suffered – you have a mitzvah of v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha, of expressing your love for your fellow Jew by going to him or to her and expressing how bad you feel, how much you’re with him, and also how to put his loss in perspective if you can do that, to assign to it the proper religious spiritual significance, or simply to be there. Just being there is also a way of making the person feel better, that he is not alone, that he’s supported; his friends, his family, his community are with him. These are all ways that we can fulfill the mitzvah of v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha. That’s extremely important. One of the things we find as our communities have baruch Hashem grown and become larger and larger is that often we feel that nichum aveilim is almost a chore: “Oy, I have to go be menacheim aveil someone. I have to go and do it.” And you take it upon yourself as a chore, another job to do. You have a list: “okay, today I have a 9:00 appointment, a 9:30 appointment, and at 10:00 I have to ‘pay a shivah call.’” It becomes burdensome. A mitzvah is not supposed to be that way. The nevi’im, particularly Yeshayah Hanavi, decry mitzvas anashim melumadah, that sometimes a mitzvah becomes a habit, routine. You wake up in the morning, you put on your tefillin. A mitzvah is supposed to be something much more than that. It’s supposed to have a certain degree of seriousness, of awareness of what you’re doing, whether it’s halachic intent or just realizing that you are doing something extremely important, something that is a fulfillment of v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha. This is something very powerful. Chazal say that if a person has a choice between nichum aveilim and bikur cholim – let’s say you have twenty minutes and your choice is to go to a hospital to visit someone who is sick or to go to a house of mourning to console someone who is in mourning – nichum aveilim takes priority. The reason for this is that when you do the mitzvah of nichum aveilim, you’re doing something for the deceased. You are honoring his family and his memory by showing up at the beis aveil, and you are doing something for a person who is alive, the mourner. Bikur cholim is only for the person who is ill; it’s only for the person who is alive. So nichum aveilim on the scale of things is very, very high up. Just being aware that you’re doing such a tremendous mitzvah itself puts you in the proper frame of mind. Let’s go one step farther. You come to the beis aveil, and you’re confronted with somebody who is sitting on a lower chair or on the floor, and who just lost a father, a mother, a sister, a brother, or g-d forbid, a child. obviously the person is distraught; the person has suffered a great loss. You are there to be menacheim him, to somehow comfort him. What do you do? Almost everyone I’ve met and discussed this with tells me, “I feel uncomfortable; I don’t know what to say.” That’s natural. That’s very natural. Many times I’ve had the experience of accompanying a great rav, a great Rosh Yeshivah, a great Rebbe in a couple of cases, to a beis aveil. And in so many of those instances I remember the person saying to me after we left, “This was difficult. It’s always hard to find the right thing to say.” And I wonder: Here is a person who is a great talmid chacham, who has so much experience in so many areas of Jewish practice. Why does he find this so difficult? I once had this experience with a great Rosh Yeshivah and rav, Rav Dovid Kviat, who passed away some years ago. He was still from the old school, a European rav. He served as the rav in the Agudas Yisrael on 18th Avenue in Borough Park, and he wrote some beautiful sefarim. We were at a beis aveil, and when we were leaving he expressed to me how difficult this was. So I asked him the following question (we had a certain relationship, and I felt comfortable enough asking him): “The rav has so much experience with these kinds of things, and you still find it so difficult?” He told me, “Ich vil zich masbir zein, I’ll explain it to you. The problem is az yeder mentch is different.” Every person is different. You can’t have a stock phrase that goes for everyone. There are many mitzvos, baruch Hashem, that you know exactly how to do. You follow the prescription, you say the proper berachah, and the mitzvah is done. But when you’re dealing with people, he explained to me, there’s never one way to do it. Bikur cholim for one person requires one approach; bikur cholim for another person requires a different approach. The same thing is true with nichum aveilim. Everyone reacts to loss differently, and there are different types of losses. There’s a loss of a parent, which is one thing; there’s a loss of a child, which is a different thing. There’s a loss of an old person, there’s a loss of a young person. There’s a loss of someone with whom you had a wonderful relationship, and sometimes there’s a loss of a person with whom you didn’t have a great relationship. Sometimes you come to a family where two brothers did not get along so well all their lives; now one passed away and you are going to be menacheim the other one. What do you say and what don’t you say? It becomes very delicate, and you have to be very careful. It takes a lot of thought and a lot of siyata d’Shmaya to say the right thing and to do the right thing. This was something extremely important that Harav Kviat taught me. People are different, and therefore they have to be approached differently. Some of the halchos help with just this problem of dealing with different people in different ways. There’s one halachah that is almost the key to everything. That halachah, based upon a Gemara in Mo’ed Kattan, is that when you’re menacheim aveil someone, you don’t start talking until the aveil starts talking. The mourner has to start the conversation. Sometimes, the mourner will say nothing. He’ll just sit there; either he’s so distraught or he just doesn’t know what to say, and you’re sitting there and he doesn’t say anything. What do you do? No one likes to sit there and not make conversation, so the natural temptation is to think of something to start the conversation. Sometimes that’s appropriate, but you have to be careful because the halachah is to wait for him. I saw recorded in the name of Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach that in a situation where the mourner does not want to speak, you should say nothing, wait a respectable amount of time, say “HaMakom yenacheim eschem,” may g-d comfort you together with all the mourners of Tziyon and Yerushalayim, and then you leave. If the mourner said nothing, maybe the best thing is igra d’vei tamya shetikusa, to remain silent. You are just expressing, “I’m here, I’m with you.” But most times the mourner does say something, and that gives you a clue as to what your next step is. In general, this goes way beyond just nichum aveilim. When you are dealing with people, one of the things I learned long ago is that you can’t go wrong if you just listen. If you say something, you might say the right thing, you might say the wrong thing, but if you just simply listen, then it’s extremely appropriate. The person feels he’s being heard. There is a concept in the secular world, but it makes good sense in every world, of active listening. Active listening means you don’t only listen with your ear and shake your head – although that’s fine too – but you say something that is really telling the person, “I understand what you are saying.” So when the person says, “Ach, this is a terrible loss,” and you say, “It must be really a terrible loss. You had such a wonderful wife and she’s not here anymore,” you’re not telling him anything he doesn’t know; you’re reflecting his feelings. And then he can go on to the next step and tell you specifically what he’s feeling and why he’s feeling this way. The key is to take your cue from what the aveil says. If he opens up on a certain tone, then you pretty much know what your next reaction should be. Listen, say a little bit more than what he said, and take your cue from the aveil himself. This is an extremely important guideline, and this is a halachah in Shulchan Aruch. There’s another halachah in Shulchan Aruch that is interesting, and that is when the aveil gives you a signal, which could be just a nod of his head, that tells you enough, time to go – you go. People think, “Kol hamarbeh harei zeh meshubach,” the more the better. In certain areas of Torah that’s true. For example, when relating the story of yetziyas Mitzrayim on Seder night, the more the better. of course, when learning Torah, the more the better. And in many other areas, such as tzeddakah, the more the better, although there too there are limits. But when it comes to nichum aveilim, it’s not always true; sometimes the less the better, and more becomes a burden to the aveil. He is embarrassed, he’s tired, he’s distracted, or there are other people in the room he wants to hear from. Learning that it’s time to go is a very important halachah and a very important thing to do. Very often, when I teach or speak about different aspects of the Torah, I think back to the first time in my life that I experienced this particular mitzvah or this particular situation. I remember the first time I put on tefillin, a month or so before my bar mitzvah. I remember it like it was today. I remember long before that, when I was four or five years old, sitting in the sukkah with my grandparents. When was the first time I remember a shivah situation? In this case my experience wasn’t really with sitting shivah, but rather with dealing with death and with the reaction to death by someone who in some sense was an aveil. I had an aunt and uncle – who are both since gone – who had three children. Two of them are still alive and well today, and baruch Hashem, they are wonderful Jews, disseminators of Torah. one of them, his name was Simchah, died as a very young child; he was maybe two or three years old. It was a sudden death; the baby went to sleep, and the next morning he was gone, and they were not sure what happened. Nowadays, maybe they would know what happened, but when this happened, about sixty years ago, they didn’t know. I remember my aunt and uncle lived in a distant city from where we lived, but we found out about it. My parents were upset of course – this was my father’s brother who was the father of the baby – and obviously the parents of the baby were upset. one of the things they decided was not to tell my zaidy, the zaidy of this baby. He was an old man, and they figured it would be too difficult for him. So they didn’t tell him right away. My zaidy came to visit us in our home several months later – at the time I was not yet bar mitzvah, probably about twelve years old – and they told my zaidy the news. My zaidy was a Yid from the old school — a chasiddishe Yid who learned literally day and night. He was a big talmid chacham, a very, very special Jew. He was old and sick, but it was very interesting. When he heard the news that his grandchild had died, he of course was upset, and of course his immediate response was to burst out crying, but he took it better than everyone else because he was able to put it in a certain perspective that I certainly didn’t have and neither did my parents. The day that they broke the news to him, he sat and talked about it and then got on the telephone with my aunt and uncle in the distant city and spoke to them. And then he called me into a room. He wanted to talk just to me. That experience was my first experience in a sense with nichum aveilim because of something he taught me. And this is what he told me. He said, “You know, you were in the room, Heshele, when we were talking about this loss, and you remember what everyone was saying. Everyone was saying, “Did they do everything they could have done? Did they call the right doctor? They tried everything, they did everything, etc.” He took out a Rav Ya’akov Emden siddur, in which is printed the halachos related to aveilus. But I later found out that what he showed me is a halachah in the Shulchan Aruch too. The halachah is that you shouldn’t be saying things like that. You shouldn’t say, “Ma lecha la’asos,” what can you do? You shouldn’t even say, “That’s what happened; you can’t change it.” Why? Because that implies that if you could change it, you would change it. And our reaction has to be – not everyone is able to have this reaction – but our reaction should be tzidduk hadin, accepting Hashem’s judgment. “Hatzur tamim pa’alo,” g-d’s ways are perfect, and this was g-d’s will. To say words that imply, oy, if we could have changed it, if we could have done this in time, done that in time, administered the right medicine, found the right doctor, the right procedure – we could have changed it. obviously, when the person is alive you have to try everything you can possibly do – find the best doctors, the best procedures, etc. But once there is nothing more to do, then your attitude has to be – and it’s difficult many times to have this attitude, but a religious Jew has to try – this was the will of the Ribbono Shel Olam. g-d wanted it this way, and I accept it. Again I stress, it’s tough to do that; not everybody can do that. Sometimes we feel angry at the Ribbono Shel Olam. Why did this have to happen and why to me, etc., and those feelings are understandable. But a Jew, a believing Jew, believes that Hashem runs a perfect world. Even though many times we don’t like the perfect world that we have, and we think we could do better, we have to say to ourselves, “No – this is what tzidduk hadin is; I accept it – Hashem nassan v’Hashem lakach, g-d gave and g-d took.” That’s what we have to work toward. Therefore we have to avoid the kind of conversation that says we could have changed it somehow. once it’s done, once it’s the end, it’s the end. g-d is the Dayan Ha’emes, g-d is the true judge. There’s a sefer on mourning called P’Nei Baruch which I have found very helpful; it has been translated into English as well. There are many, many books about aveilus; some are better than others. Some are excellent on halachah but don’t really help in practical situations, and some tell you a lot about practical situations but don’t tell you about the halachah. This is one sefer that I personally use a lot; it helps me in my rabbinical work and in the personal aveilus I experienced, losing both parents. In P’nei Baruch there’s a chapter on nichum aveilim, which includes some of the laws and rules about nichum aveilim, some which I won’t even mention here. For example, what do you do about nichum aveilim on Shabbos – what do you say, what do you not say? What do you do if you meet an aveil after the shivah? What if you meet him two, three weeks later, or six months later, or five years later? These are all important areas that are covered in this sefer. (There are other sefarim like this as well.) What I want to bring to your attention is a precious document that’s found in this sefer, and I’m sure it can be found in other places too. It’s a letter that was written by one of the greatest Torah giants of all time, and certainly of his time in the 18th century: Rav Yonasan Eibishitz, popularly known as the Rebbe Reb Yonasan. The Rebbe Reb Yonasan wrote powerful, masterful halachic works: on Choshen Mishpat he wrote the Urim V’tumim, on Yoreh Dei’ah he wrote the Kereisi U’pleisi. He also wrote many works delving into Torah sources and ideas, such as Ya’aros Devash. I had the privilege of visiting his grave in Hamburg, germany. At the end of his life he was the rav in the community known as AH”u: Altona, Hamburg, and Vandsbek. These were once three cities; now if you go to Germany, there is one city of Hamburg with two suburbs. Reb Yonasan’s matzeivah still stands there – even after the Holocaust. In any case, he wrote a letter to his sister-in-law following the death of her husband, in what’s called Jargon, a kind of a german-Yiddish. The letter was translated into Hebrew, and we have a copy of this letter here. When you read the letter you realize how she was his sister-in-law. The man who died was Rav Yonasan’s wife’s brother. So this was his wife’s brother’s wife, not a very close relationship and certainly not a blood relationship. In Hebrew the word for brother-in-law is gis. So it says, I’m writing this “l’achar petiras gisi ha’avreich,” after the death of my brother-in-law, the young man. In this letter, he writes divrei nechamah. It’s a long letter, and I’m not going to read the whole thing, but I recommend it to everyone who is interested in such matters because it shows you how a gadol b’Yisrael writes to another person, who is a woman, who is not directly related to him. At first he apologizes to her about why he can’t come to see her in person. This was about 300 years ago, and you couldn’t just take a plane and hop from once place to the other, so he apologizes for not being there in person. But he writes to her, “I want you to know that this past zayin Adar, the seventh day of the month of Adar, which was the yahrtzeit of Moshe Rabbeinu, when I of course gave a eulogy for Moshe Rabbeinu, I also included words of eulogy for your late husband, alav haShalom. To us this might sound like no big deal. But he’s apologizing for not being there in person. That says a lot. That’s so important in guiding us in how to behave. I’m sorry, sister-in-law, I couldn’t be there in person. It’s too far, but I want you to know something that I did do – something that obviously would make her feel good. She can now think, my brother-in-law, who is a big rav, when he spoke about Moshe Rabbeinu in public, also spoke about my husband, alav haShalom. You know what that opening line must have made her feel in terms of nechamah? It made her feel important, that her loss was important. A great rav, who happens to be her brother-in-law, recognized the importance. other people, whom she never met and probably never would meet, heard about her loss and her wonderful husband who died. This was so encouraging to her. Even if there was nothing more than that, it would have already been a nechamah for her. He goes on to say many things. First of all, he tells her, you now have the task of raising orphans. And you wonder, How am I going to be successful raising these orphans? This is what he writes to her: “Rov hane’arim hamaztlichim b’Torah v’chachmah v’yirah u’masa u’matan, heim yesomim.” Powerful. Most of the young people who are successful in Torah, in wisdom, in fear of g-d, and in business, are yesomim, orphans. orphans – as he goes on to say – have a special degree of success in life. He explains why, but first of all he’s telling her, “Don’t worry about your children.” She was surely thinking, Oy! How am I going to pay tuition? How am I going to raise children without a husband? Who’s going to teach them? Who is going to do their homework with them? Who is going to learn mishnayos with them? How am I going to do this? How will they possibly be successful? How will they ever have a livelihood? I’m a poor woman, a widow.” “I’m a man of experience,” he tells her. “I know the best boy in the yeshivah, the best boy in the school, the best businessman and the most religious Jew; they’re orphans. They all grew up as yesomim – a special thing. This is very comforting to her on a practical level. You’re not talking about philosophy. These are the woman’s worries. Who’s going to make these children into mentschen, into functional adults? He tells her, “Don’t worry, my experience tells me they’ll be fine. They’ll be wonderful; they’ll be better than others.” A tremendous nechamah. But then he says why – and this brings me to tears just sitting here: because they lost a father who was flesh and blood. They lost a father who was a human being, a mere mortal. Now, g-d is their father because g-d is the Avi yesomim, g-d is called the Father of orphans. So g-d is their Father, and He’ll see to it that they’ll be successful. They have a father. Don’t think they don’t have a father. I saw a phrase in the writings of Rav Yitzchak Isaac Sher, who was the mashgiach in the Slabodka Yeshivah in Slabodka and eventually in eretz Yisrael. He says that when we say the phrase “yesomim hayinu v’ein av,” we are orphans and there is no father, this is incorrect. He goes on to say that very often we say nowadays, “oh, our generation is a dor yasom, an orphaned generation; there are no great leaders.” Rav Sher doesn’t say it’s heresy to say this, but he says it’s wrong to say it. The passuk in the haftorah we read on Shabbos Shuvah, the Shabbos between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, says, “Ki becha yerucham yasom,” you, Jewish person, have to understand that the Ribbono Shel Olam recognizes and shows compassion to the orphan. The orphan is not an orphan. The orphan is not abandoned. The Ribbono Shel Olam is becha, in you. The yasom always has a father. So if it’s a poor child that lost his father, or if it’s we who feel that we are an orphaned generation, g-d forbid, neither one is the case because we have a father. That father is the Ribbono Shel Olam. This is part of the comfort that Rav Yonasan Eibshitz gave to his sister-in-law. I’m giving you this as an example of how one person speaking to one desperate woman at a great geographic distance was able to deliver words – and some of these words we can use in our own contexts – of great nechamah, words that would be very powerful to her. There’s more here, I first realized one of the things that he emphasizes from learning this particular letter, but as I’ve gotten more and more experience I found out just how important this is. He says to her and to the children that there are non-Jews who when they suffer a loss like she suffered, committed suicide. “Kevar hayu miyamim kedumim harbei goyim she’ibdu aztman lada’as b’chashvam latzeis min ha’olam hachashuch u’lehagi’a el olam shekulo ohr.” They make a mistake and think: This is so terrible a loss, why do I have to stay in this dark world? I’ll kill myself and I’ll enter into the world of light, the Next World. The Jewish way is not to do that, chas v’Shalom. When I first saw this paragraph, my reaction was that these are pretty strong words, talking about suicide. obviously there are aveilim who are thinking those kinds of thoughts, but we hesitate to mention it to them, and I’m not recommending that we do. But he goes on and says to her, “You know, there are many ways of committing suicide.” I’m going to give you an example from our world: you can jump off a bridge. There’s another way of committing suicide, which is much slower, but it’s also a kind of suicide. We would call it “self-destructive behavior.” That is when you don’t take care of yourself. You don’t exercise, you don’t eat properly, you let yourself go. “Be careful,” he says to his sister-in-law. “Al kein, achos v’hayeladim,” my dear sister – it’s not really his sister, but he’s calling her his sister – and my dear kinderlach, my dear children, “hashgichu al beriuschem,” be careful about your health. The natural tendency is to say, “Oy, my world is lost, my husband is gone; I’m not going to take care of myself. I’m not going to eat properly; I’m going to eat what makes me feel better.” What makes you feel better is a lot of carbs and a lot of sugar, and that’s not going to help you. You know, a good piece of cake with icing is going to make you feel better – actually physiologically, it stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain and it makes you feel better when you are in mourning – but it’s also not very good for you. So “hashgichu al beri’uschem,” take care of your health. Nowadays we would say, watch your nutrition, exercise, go for a walk, whatever it takes, because you have to stay healthy. our attitude is not like those goyim. We don’t want to jump away from this dark world. We want to stay in this world and make it lighter. And to do that we have to be healthy, we have to do what they call nowadays “self-care.” Then he adds something, which is really his halachic ruling: “Zeh hu yoseir chashuv mimah sherak tomru Kaddish avur avichem, z”l,” your health is more important, he tells these little children, than saying Kaddish. You’re a six-year-old, eight-year-old; there are going to be people in the shul who are going to say, “Come, come, say Kaddish!” That’s important, but it’s not as important as your health. He doesn’t fill in the blanks, but I can fill in the blanks. A child needs his sleep. The minyan is at 6:00 am, the child is seven years old, and he has to go to school. Maybe it’s more important that he sleeps another hour than he goes to say Kaddish. That’s what he’s telling us. “Zeh hu yoseir chashuv mimah sherak tomru Kaddish avur avichem, z”l, ki zos hi mitzvah yoseir gedolah,” it’s a bigger mitzvah, “shetashgichu al beri’uschem” to take care of your health. “U’tekablu hakol mei’HaKaddosh Baruch Hu beahavah u’b’chibah,” take everything that g-d gives you with love, “v’zeh niskabeil me’od lirtzonas HaKaddosh Baruch Hu,” this is something HaKaddosh Baruch Hu wants. HaKaddosh Baruch Hu wants you to be healthy, and that takes priority over many things that people think are more important. He’s not saying they shouldn’t say Kaddish, but these are children; sometimes you have to suspend certain things in the interest of their mental health or physical health, and this is what he’s telling his sister-in-law. He also tells them something that useful and practical. The words that Chazal gave us to say at a shivah are, “HaMakom yenacheim eschem,” may the Ribbono Shel Olam comfort you, “b’soch she’ar aveilei Tziyon viYerushalayim,” along with all the other mourners of Tziyon and Yerushalayim. Rav Yonasan says – and this is in my words, not in his words – you have to put everything into a certain perspective. You are an individual person who suffered an unspeakable loss. You are also part of the Jewish people. And the Jewish people are all widows and orphans. In his words, “v’hineinu kulanu yesomim v’almanos,” we are all in galus. We are a people who have suffered all sorts of losses: national losses, community losses, personal losses. We are all part of that. And even this woman who now can’t see beyond her own loss has a part of her that’s aware that she’s part of a bigger picture of Klal Yisrael, and Klal Yisrael is in mourning al Tziyon viYerushalayim. Somehow that lesson is also a nechamah. I’m not alone. I’m part of this bigger picture. What do we say nowadays? It’s not just all about you. But you can’t go to a woman who’s crying and say it’s not just about you. You can, however, begin to give her a context. You are a person, but you are a part of the rest of aveilei Yisrael. You are part of a bigger picture. You have to begin to give the aveil that context in a way that’s appropriate, and of course, when he or she is ready to hear it. Rav Yonasan then goes on to tell an interesting story about a gentile king, Daryaveish, Darius, a Persian king. “Melech gadol hayah u’ben yachid,” Darius was a great king, an only child, and he died as a young man. Before he died he called over his mother and his wife and said to them, “I’m dying. I don’t want you to cry until someone comes to you and tells you something bad about me.” This is the wisdom of King Darius. Don’t cry until someone comes and says, “oh, your son, your husband Darius, he was a terrible king.” Then you can start crying. Now, of course, we understand this was a ploy. He didn’t want them to be very upset. of course they were going to cry, but whenever they were crying they would remember that their son or husband told them just before he died not to cry until somebody said something bad about him; and he could bet that no one was going to come to the queen or the queen mother and tell them, “Your son was a horrible fellow,” so they would always feel the need to hold back those tears. That’s the story that the Rebbe Reb Yonasan tells about King Darius. But then he brings it back to a Torah perspective. What he says is this. Your husband had a sheim tov, a good reputation; he was a talmid chacham, he was a kosher Jew, he was an honest fellow, he had good friends, he was a popular fellow – that is your biggest nechamah, that there is nobody who is going to come to you and have a bad word to say about him. The nechamah is in all the good things he accomplished in his life. If you want to mourn, when someone comes and says, “Ach, your husband was a crook,” then you have to mourn. The good reputation that a person leaves behind is his biggest legacy; that’s what he leaves over, and it’s also some of the greatest words of nechamah you can tell a person. He ends the letter with the following words: “Al kein achos v’hayeladim,” again, the way he addresses them three times in the course of this letter, my sister and the children, “bazeh rotzeh ani l’sayeim,” here is my conclusion, “heyi b’simchah,”– in the feminine, please be happy, “shehu niftar b’sheim tov u’beli dofi,” he died with a good reputation, with no faults. “V’eizehu ben Olam Haba? Kol shek’neged zekeinav kavod.” one who is worthy of his portion in the World to Come is someone who dies and everyone can say he was a wonderful person. Therefore, he concludes, “u’vechein achos,” my dear sister, “nichyeh b’tikvah laHashem,” let’s live together – in the plural – with hope to g-d. “V’kovei Hashem yachalifu ko’ach ya’alu eiver kanesharim,” he wishes her the special strength and energy that the Ribbono Shel Olam gives to those people who have hope in Him, who have bitachon in Him. He writes, “mimeni, gischa,” from me, your brother-in-law, “hakatan, Yehonasan ben Harav Nassan Nata, choneh poh Metz.” He was then living in the city called Metz, where he was the rav before he became the rav in AH”u. The footnote says this letter was printed in a book called Gedulas Yehonasan, b’lashon Jargon, in Yiddish-german, v’turgam l’lashon hakoddesh, and it tells you who translated it much more recently into Hebrew. This letter for me is a model of how a person can give comfort and must give comfort. It sets such a powerful example. One of teh subjects that in my experience is hardly ever brought up at a beis aveil but should be is the whole concept of an Olam Haba, the World to Come. It’s fascinating because sometimes people feel, I don’t want to talk about philosophy at a beis aveil; I want to talk about how the niftar died. Did he have pneumonia or did he go into cardiac arrest? That’s neither here nor there. Rather talk about techiyas hameisim, that there is resurrection of the dead. Talk about Olam Haba, the Next World, and about what the Next World might be like: the tzaddikim yoshvim v’atroseihem b’rosheihem, the righteous sit with crowns on their heads, v’nehenin miziv haShechinah, and get pleasure from the radiance of g-d. Sometimes we think these things are way up in the clouds. I can’t talk to the aveilim about that. You know what I say to people when they tell me that? You daven three times a day or sometimes four, even five times a day [on Shabbos, Yom Tov and Yom Kippur]. What do you say in the very second berachah of Shemoneh esreih? “Baruch atah Hashem, mechayeih hameisim,” blessed are you Hashem, who revives the dead. We have a whole berachah about this in Shemoneh esreih; it’s not a philosophy that only appears in the Ani Ma’amins, the Thirteen Principles of Faith recited at the end of the davening. It’s part of the davening we say every day. The Ribbono Shel Olam is mechayeih hameisim, He revives the dead. You can talk about that. How you talk about it, what words you use, depends upon the person, like Rav Kviat says. But this too has to be part of the conversation. And for that there’s a bautiful idea that’s alos in the same sefer. The author quotes it in the name of likkutei Anshei Sheim. I’ll conclude with this because this is very powerful. The passuk says, “Banim atem la’Hashem elokeichem,” you are sons, children of g-d, “lo sisgodedu v’lo sasimu karchah bein eneichem lameis.” You are not sup- posed to react to the death of a close person by scratching yourself and tearing yourself and pulling out your hair. This is Torah prohibition. Why shouldn’t you have this extreme grief reaction? “Ki am kaddosh atah laHashem elokecha u’vecha bachar Hashem lihiyos lo l’am segulah,” because you are such a holy people to Hashem, chosen to be His treasured nation – therefore you shouldn’t have that reaction. So the likutei Anshei Sheim quotes someone, I’m not sure who, but a gadol b’Yisrael who asked a question – a powerful question: This knowledge should make us want to tear out our hair even more. If you’re nothing, you’re an animal, you’re one kind of a monkey, like evolutionists say, and another monkey dies, so what are you going to tear your hair out for? But if you are “banim atem laHashem elokeichem,” if Hashem chose us, if He is calling us His princes, and one of these precious sons of royalty dies, that’s all the more reason to tear out your hair. He gives a mashal, a parable: If I lose a diamond that’s worth a thousand dollars, are you going to tell me, “oh, that diamond really wasn’t worth a thousand dollars. It was worth a million dollars!” Is that going to make me feel better? It’s going to make me feel worse! Then he gives another mashal, which answers the question beautifully: Suppose there’s a king, and he has a son, the prince, whom he sends to marry a princess in a distant country. The prince grows up in the other country and lives his life there supported by his father-in-law, the king, living in a beautiful palace, with a royal coach and crown. And then the father says, “okay, prince, my son, it’s time to come home.” So the prince is going to have to give up everything he had by his father-in-law – the foreign king – but he’s going to come home; he’s going to come back to his father, where he’ll have a bigger palace and more royal coaches and a chance to get the royal crown, to become the king, so he doesn’t mourn. He knows that he’s going to an even better and higher place. This is what the passuk is telling us. Don’t mourn – because you are princes. We need to realize that the person we are mourning for, whoever he or she was, however precious they were, is going back now to their Father, they are going back to the ultimate palace, and therefore we have to mourn for them, but “lo sisgodedu v’lo sasimu karchah,” extreme mourning is wrong. Mourning has to be appropriate and measured. The Rambam tells us that at a certain point the grief has to stop because we are ma’aminim, we are believers, and we believe that the person we lost is now in a better place, a different place, a higher place. He or she has gone back to his or her Father.

Embracing the Ribbono Shel Olam, with Rabbi Aryeh Sokoloff

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Rabbi Aryeh Sokoloff is the rabbi of the Kew Gardens Synagogue, Adas Yeshurun. He is a teacher and inspirational speaker. His personal experience with tragedy and challenge has given him the ability to inspire others.
Key points

• The source for nichum aveilim is either from the passuk of “v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha,” loving your fellow Jew, or from the passuk of “achar Hashem elokeichem teileichu,” emulating the attributes of Hashem. Whichever is the source, your degree of success in offering comfort hinges on how well you carry out these directives: How much do I love my fellow Jew? How closely do I follow in Hashem’s ways?
• Only Hashem can bring true comfort. When we say “HaMakom yenacheim eschem…” to the aveil, we are admitting that we cannot facilitate the comfort the aveil seeks. But these words are also reassuring. “HaMakom” – Hashem can be found everywhere, and He will not only bring comfort but turn the pain into berachah.
• The word “yenacheim” means “will bring comfort.” Why is this in the future tense? This teaches us that achieving true nechamah is a process, something that will happen.
• The role of the menacheim is to validate the aveil’s suffering and share it with him. Just coming and listening can accomplish this. Crying with the aveil creates a bond between the aveil and the niftar.
• Be extra sensitive when you do speak to the aveil. Prepare what you would like to say beforehand.
• According to Rav Dessler, real nechamah is a neis, so only Hashem can make it happen. Time doesn’t heal. only Hashem does. By lightening the load of the aveil, the menacheim is helping the person to embrace Hashem and achieve nechamah. It is therefore important not to distract the aveil from his pain but rather to validate it.
• Sensitivity is key. Turn off your cellphone before going in to a shivah house, and don’t come in dressed for a simchah.
• The art of giving nechamah comes from a culture of giving. You should show you care for others and that you follow in Hashem’s ways on a regular basis to hone these middos.

Transcript
Embracing the Robbono Shel Olam-The Path to Nechama The mitzvah of nichum aveilim is a mitzvah in which a person is required to give comfort to one who is in aveilus. The Rambam says that the mitzvah of nichum aveilim is a mitzvah mid’rabbanan, a rabbinical ordination. Yet, he says, it’s included in the larger Torah mitzvah of v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha; whatever you would expect to do for yourself in a time of need, you should do for that person. The Gemara in Sotah attaches the mitzvah of nichum aveilim to a different verse, the passuk of “achar Hashem elokeichem teileichu,” walk after the Ribbono Shel Olam. The Gemara explains that what that means is to go achar midosav shel HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, to follow the attributes of Hashem; just like the Ribbono Shel Olam comforted Yitzchak after Avraham died, we should be menacheim aveilim. These two opinions, the view of the Rambam and what appears in the Gemara, are trying to explain to us what it is that we need to do in order to succeed in nichum aveilim. According to the Rambam, nichum aveilim, the degree to which I can be successful in offering comfort depends upon the degree to which I have ahavas Yisrael, how much love I have for another Jew, and that will determine the degree to which I can somehow comfort him. But according to the Gemara in Sotah, it seems that the degree of success in offering comfort results from how much and to what extent I have integrated into my very being the attributes of the Ribbono Shel Olam – that I’m a menacheim aveil, that I’m an ish chessed, a person who is committed to performing acts of kindness. That depends upon how attached I am to the Ribbono Shel Olam, and that will determine the success in my effort. What exactly is the goal of nichum aveilim? How can I comfort another Jew in a time of mourning? There is a line that every menacheim says to the aveilim: “HaMakom yenacheim eschem b’soch she’ar aveilei Tziyon viYerushalayim,” may the Ribbono Shel Olam comfort you among the mourners of Zion. Most understand this line to mean that it is only the Ribbono Shel Olam who can give true comfort. We cannot. No matter what we say to the mourner, we will never succeed in granting full nechamah, a complete comfort. If one understands, if one tries to put himself in the mindset of a mourner, there is incredible grief and incredible pain, there is despair, there is loneliness, and there is anguish. When a person loses one who is dear to him, a spouse, a parent, or, Rachmana litzlan, a child, it’s as if an integral part of that person has been fully removed. He’s no longer whole; there is an emptiness that overcomes him. For another individual to turn to this aveil and offer words that can comfort him is almost impossible. The thought occurred to me that the word aveil, spelled alef, veis, lamed, spells another word: aval – but or however. Whatever words I could offer an aveil, however meaningful they may be, the instinctive response and reaction of the aveil is, aval, but how can I go on? How can I manage without my spouse to whom I’ve been married for so many years? How will I be able to raise my family without my parents whom I’ve lost? A part of me feels, how can I possibly go on? The pain, the fear, is simply too intense. There’s an aval that will hold back the aveil from being able to receive any words of comfort that I can offer. The only thing that can save an aveil, the only thing that can take away that pain, that can fill the hole that was created by this terrible loss, is the embrace of the Ribbono Shel Olam. He is the only one who can cure – nobody else can do so. I can’t do it, only the Ribbono Shel Olam can. In fact, I believe that’s the meaning of a passuk in Tehillim 147 that we say every single day in davening. David Hamelech says, “Harofei l’shevurei leiv u’mechabeish l’atzvosam,” HaKaddosh Baruch Hu is the one who heals the brokenhearted, and He binds up their sorrow. Who are the shevurei leiv? The Ibn Ezra explains that they are the aveilei Tziyon, the mourners of Zion. Who can cure them, who can heal them? The one who binds up their sorrow. What does it mean that the Ribbono Shel Olam is mechabeish l’atzvosam? The Metzudas David says that He removes their sorrow. But the Malbim says something else: “B’makom itzavon bah simchah.” According to the Malbim, true comfort, this binding of sorrow, means to transform the pain into berachah, to be able to find blessing in the midst of the terrible pain. only the Ribbono Shel Olam can do this. Nobody else can do this. I can’t do it, you can’t do it – only He can. When we say the words “HaMakom yenacheim eschem b’soch she’ar aveilei Tziyon viYerushalayim,” this is an acknowledgement on the part of the comforter. He is admitting, “I can’t achieve the comfort that you desire, the full comfort; only HaMakom yenacheim eschem, only He can. He will be able to transform your situation, my dear aveil, into a blessing, so that you can find berachah and discover simchah, true joy, in your life. When one finds himself in aveilus it’s difficult to embrace the Ribbono Shel Olam. That’s why we say “HaMakom yenacheim eschem.” What is the meaning? Why do we refer to the Ribbono Shel Olam in this context as Makom, mekomo shel olam, the place of the entire world? The answer may be that a person who is an aveil doesn’t feel the Ribbono Shel Olam fully there. He feels a distance. There is fear and pain and anguish and despair and sadness, and that separates him from the Ribbono Shel Olam. There is a perceived distance. So what does the menacheim say to the aveil? HaKaddosh Baruch Hu is the one who can be found everywhere, in any place, “HaMakom yenacheim eschem b’soch she’ar aveilei Tziyon viYerushalayim.” I once spoke to a woman who became a widow at a young age. She raised her children herself, and each one became an accomplished member of Klal Yisrael, contributing, with chessed, to the wellbeing and learning of Klal Yisrael. I once went over to her and told her how much I admired her for what she had achieved. She said to me, “It’s not me. The Ribbono Shel Olam saved me; He held my hand and carried me through all those difficult times, and that’s why I merited to have such wonderful children.” That’s nechamah. Only the Ribbono Shel Olam’s embrace can bring that kind of comfort. Another point to be noticed: the word yenacheim is lashon asid, it’s in the future. HaKaddosh Baruch Hu will bring you nechamah. Why don’t we say HaMakom menacheim eschem – HaKaddosh Baruch Hu comforts, He is the comforter, He is the healer, in the present tense? Perhaps what Chazal wanted us to understand and recognize is that true nechamah is a process; it doesn’t happen overnight. Embracing the Ribbono Shel Olam from the context of aveilus is something that can take time. A person needs to be patient, hoping to be able to embrace the Ribbono Shel Olam so that the word aval, but, can be removed. I’d like to share with you a personal anecdote because I believe that I experienced this very phenomenon that I am speaking of right now. When I was about twenty years old, my mother was killed in a car accident. I was also in that accident, and I almost did not survive. HaKaddosh Baruch Hu helped me, and I survived an emergency surgery. My mother, unfortunately, did not. I didn’t find out about her death until almost three weeks after she passed away because both the doctor and the rav determined that I wasn’t well enough to be able to accept and to hear this tragic news. So it was only then, almost three weeks later, right before I left the hospital, that I found out that she had passed away. I sat shivah after that, and then I tried to go back to my life. And I must tell you, it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy for me to daven in the same way that I davened before. There was a certain sense of confusion, perhaps even resentment; I just wasn’t able to deliver. I wasn’t able to embrace the Ribbono Shel Olam. And then, a good few months after this terrible event, one morning in shul, I watched my father. My father, alav haShalom, was not a learned man. He was a fine person, a shomer Shabbos, shomer Torah u’mitzvos. And I watched him one morning in shul. He was davening with such incredible concentration, and I looked at him and said, “How? After what happened — our lives have been completely changed, overnight, with no warning. How could you do it?” At that point I looked inside the siddur, and I said, that’s not a question. The question is not about my father, the question is about me. Because if anyone stood to lose more, it was him. I was young, I could start a life. That was a life-changing moment for me. It was at that moment that I felt the embrace of the Ribbono Shel Olam. The hole was somewhat filled, the pain somewhat dulled, and I felt HaKaddosh Baruch Hu. I was able to live a life with Him in a way that perhaps I really didn’t have before. My experience taught me so much. It taught me how to find the Ribbono Shel Olam in the midst of crisis. Not to let go of Him, that He is there all the time, and He is holding our hands, if only I’ll put my hand out to Him. That’s when I achieved real nechamah, personal nechamah, for the loss of my mother. HaMakom yenacheim eschem, only HaKaddosh Baruch Hu can do it, the one who heals the brokenhearted and binds their sorrow – if we are willing to embrace Him. Sometimes it takes patience, but that’s true comfort, that’s real nechamah, that’s the goal of “HaMakom yenacheim eschem b’soch she’ar aveilei Tziyon viYerushalayim.” If thats the case, then there is an obvious question. What role is there for the individual who comes into the beis aveil with the task of being menacheim the aveil? My intention, my purpose as a menacheim, is not necessarily to change the aveil’s attitude the way HaKaddosh Baruch Hu can. When I walk in to see the aveil, there is an aval, a “but”; that’s the immediate response. I cannot preach to him in the same way the Ribbono Shel Olam can communicate with him. He is in too much pain! If anything, my preaching would hurt more than help. What can I do? The answer is that I am not there to bring full nechamah, I am there to give, to recognize, to validate his suffering, and in some way to try to share it with him. I want him to know that I share this experience with him. The Perishah writes that the primary mitzvah of nichum aveilim is achieved when you walk into the house of the aveil and simply sit there. You don’t necessarily have to say a word. Your presence is offering nechamah. In what sense? You are addressing the loneliness and isolation that the aveil feels. When you walk in you’re sending him a message: you’re not alone, I’m here. That in and of itself can offer a degree of comfort. And when the aveil speaks, just the way you listen to the aveil can give him nechamah and create the feeling that you are participating. You are involved in his pain, you’re sharing it. How you listen is very important – do I listen intently, do I want to hear what the aveil has to say, do I want to give him the opportunity to express himself? Listening is an art. To listen can mean to be involved. But a person has to learn how to listen and how to focus. This can be taken to an even greater level. If a person is nosei b’ol im chaveiro, if a person is able to cry with the aveil, that creates a bond between the comforter and the mourner. I share your burden. Rabbi Benjamin Blech writes in one of his essays that he was present in a beis aveil in which Rav Moshe Feinstein had come to be menacheim aveil a young widow with four children. Her husband had been a talmid chacham, and Rav Moshe knew him. He walked into the house and sat down. He began to say just a couple of words, “I knew your husband. He was a great talmid chacham,” at which point he could no longer continue to speak, and he broke down in tears. He cried and he cried, and he stopped talking. He sat there for twenty minutes and didn’t say a word. Finally, he stood up and said, “HaMakom yenacheim eschem b’soch she’ar aveilei Tziyon viYerushalayim,” and he walked out. This almanah said that the greatest comfort she received throughout the shivah was Rav Moshe Feinstein crying – not saying a word, just crying. That offered the most meaningful nechamah. She felt she wasn’t alone, he understood what she was going through, and he was crying along with her. That demonstration of carrying the burden with the mourner is an incredible expression of nechamah. But it goes even farther. Part of the validation of the suffering, of the experience of the aveil, also calls sometimes for speaking. When I speak it doesn’t necessarily accomplish the same thing as tears; maybe I’m not on the level to cry the way Rav Moshe Feinstein cried. But words also can sometimes bring nechamah to another person. And therefore, what a person needs to do is think very carefully before he speaks: what words can I express that could in some way lighten the burden on the aveil? As the Ramban writes in the Iggeres HaRamban, “Chashov hadavar kodem sheyotzi’enah mipicha.” He wrote to his son to read this this letter every day, and he apparently considered this line to be important enough for his son to think about. He told him, “Before you utter a word, think about what you’re about to say, think about the consequences.” To say a word without thinking could ultimately do incredible damage. You have to be very careful. That’s in everyday life. Can you imagine what your words could do or could not do while in a beis aveil? I believe the Zohar Hakaddosh writes that before a person walks into a beis aveil, he should think about what he is going to say. You don’t walk in and just speak. You have to think about what it is that you’d like to say. And that’s part of the halachah. The Shulchan Aruch says, “ein hamenachamim resha’im liftoach,” the comforter is not allowed to begin to speak; rather, sheyiftach ha’aveil techilah, the aveil speaks first. Why is that? It’s not just a cue – he spoke so now I can say whatever I want to say. When the aveil speaks, you have to listen carefully because the aveil is indicating to you what he needs to hear. This will be a gauge to help you know what you should say and what you shouldn’t say. I once went to visit a certain individual who had lost a daughter. The daughter herself was a young woman, a mother of many children, who was sick for an extended period of time. I went in to see this person, and he was talking about his daughter. He was saying that throughout the period of her illness, everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. No matter what – the doctors tried this, the doctors tried that; everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. I knew this person, and I knew he was a ba’al bitachon, one who trusts in Hashem on the highest level. I sat and listened, and then, I must admit, I took a chance. I said to him, it’s a rayah berurah, it’s a full proof, that this was all min haShamayim. If everything went wrong it had to have been clearly the ratzon Hashem, the will of Hashem. I said those words to him, and I said them with hesitation. He looked at me, and you could see the glow on his face, “Yes, it was the ratzon Hashem.” And he repeated it again. I would never have said that to just anybody, but I knew that this would lighten the load for this person, and I really believe that it did. You have to understand, you have to feel the person’s pain. On another occasion, I went to be menacheim someone whom I didn’t even know. That person lost a daughter, a young married woman, in a car collision that wasn’t her fault at all. It hurt me because I identified with that. I lost my mother that way at a young age. I almost died myself that way. So I felt I had to go to this person, whom I didn’t know, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had never met this man before. When he saw me, he motioned for me to come over. He asked me who I was, and I told him why I came. I told him that it hurt me to read about what happened because I identified with him. He wanted to know what had happened to me, and I told him. And you should know, he didn’t stop talking to me. Everybody else was sitting there, but he only wanted to talk to me. He felt that I shared his pain, I was nosei b’ol im chaveiro; I was able to find the few words that could lighten his load. That’s the role of a menacheim. “HaMakom yenacheim eschem b’soch she’ar aveilei Tziyon viYerushalayim.” HaKaddosh Baruch Hu says, “only I, HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, can bring real nechamah. And as Rav Dessler points out, real nechamah is not something that is a natural process; it’s a neis, it’s a miracle! only Hashem can do it. No person, no human being, can achieve the full nechamah of removing the pain. As Rav Dessler writes, when a person says “HaMakom yenacheim eschem” it’s not merely an acknowledgement that I can’t give nechamah; it’s a statement. Not even time heals. The common expression that time heals the wound, says Rav Dessler, is not true. If it was, Ya’akov Avinu should have been able to experience nechamah for the loss of his son Yosef after a period of time, but he was never able to achieve nechamah all those years. That’s because there was no niftar, and HaKaddosh Baruch Hu doesn’t give nechamah if there’s no niftar. Time doesn’t heal; only embracing the Ribbono Shel Olam does. But Rav Dessler explains that HaKaddosh Baruch Hu says, so to speak, I need you, the menacheim, to help Me because the aveil can’t fully embrace Me; there is too much pain. I need you to lighten that load and share the pain, be nosei b’ol im chaveiro; if you acknowledge the pain, then that person will ultimately be able to embrace Me. Don’t distract him from his pain. Don’t try to avoid the issue. In many batei aveil people come in, and they don’t even speak about the niftar, but rather, they talk about everything else. They don’t even validate the pain. That’s not what the aveil is looking for. There are often cross conversations in the beis aveil. This is not the place for a reunion with neighbors or friends. It has nothing to do with nichum aveilim. The period of shivah is supposed to focus on the aveil, and if it means sitting quietly until it’s your turn, then sit quietly until it’s your turn. Then perhaps you’ll have an opportunity to give nechamah. Even if you don’t say anything, the fact that you came will enhance the nechamah because you’re addressing the issue of loneliness. You have to be so sensitive to the needs of the aveil. You should be focused completely on him. People should be sure to turn their cellphones off before they walk into a beis aveil. People should not first get dressed up to go to a simchah, and then before going to the simchah, stop by the beis aveil. That’s not sensitive. The aveil needs the menacheim. He needs to feel that there are others who are sharing his burden. That’s the only way he’s going to get to the Ribbono Shel Olam’s embrace. In conclusion, I come back to what I said at the very beginning. The art of nechamah is not something that can be acquired by going to a beis aveil once or listening to a lecture. The art of nechamah emerges from a culture, a culture of giving. What kind of a person am I? The Rambam says the mitzvah of nechamah is a mitzvah of v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha, to what degree do I try to experience and express loving my fellow Jew every day of my life? Am I actually showing concern, looking for ways to be responsive and helpful to an individual in need? I have to try to give nechamah every day, to share a person’s load. Every day acharei Hashem elokeichem teileichu, I need to try to follow in the path of HaKaddosh Baruch Hu and to emulate his attributes. It’s an effort; it requires a certain measure of cognition and awareness. It means thinking about these things every day in your life, turning yourself into a genuine oheiv Yisrael, into a person who integrates HaKaddosh Baruch Hu into his life. Then, when you walk into a beis aveil, it’s not the same. You’re walking in with different lenses, you’re walking in with a different heart because you’ve worked on it before. There’s no greater gift in life than being able to bring a smile to the face of a person who is in the midst of pain and suffering. There is no greater chessed, there is no greater sense of fulfillment, than to be able to do that. We need to work on these middos of v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha and acharei Hashem elokeichem teileichu every single day. Think about it, work on it. That is the best way to offer true nechamah when one walks into a beis aveil.

A Time For Growth, A Time To Hope, with Rabbi Moshe Tuvia Lieff

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Rabbi Moshe Tuvia Lieff serves as the rabbi of Agudath Israel Bais Binyomin in Brooklyn, New York. He is a respected talmid chacham and a warm and dynamic individual. For close to twenty years prior to accepting his post in NY, Rabbi lieff served as the rabbi of K’hal Bais Yisroel in Minneapolis, Minnesota and was instrumental in creating the Minneapolis Community Kollel. Rav Lieff is a sought after guest speaker throughout the United States and abroad. He is also a popular speaker on Dial-a-Daf and Torah Tapes.
Key points

• First and foremost, one has to be menacheim aveil with the mindset that this is the ratzon Hashem. A person doesn’t live a moment longer than was ordained by Hashem.
• Sitting shivah is about tzidduk hadin, unconditional surrender to Hashem’s judgment.
• We must realize that our challenge in holding onto emunah
is when we are grappling with pain.
• Sometimes it’s helpful, when being menacheim aveil, to personalize the situation.
• The main way of offering nechamah is by telling stories about the niftar and talking about how his memory will be perpetuated.
• Aveilus can be a tool for kiruv. The aveilim can be warmed by the care of the community and motivated to connect to their lineage.
• When being menacheim aveil, you’re comforting the niftar and the aveilim. The neshamah of the niftar remains with the aveil during the shivah. one can say “HaMakom” during the entire year of aveilus when someone has lost a parent; this means the neshamah of the parent is with the children that whole first year. The aveil can accomplish so much during the year of aveilus in elevating the neshamah of the niftar and can continue to do so in the subsequent years.
• One must be so careful with his words in a beis aveil because each word can accomplish a great deal or, alternately, cause great distress.
• The primary reason for turning around during lechah Dodi is that this is the last time before Shabbos when one can say “HaMakom.” It’s a way of seeing if there are any aveilim entering the shul at this time to be menacheim.
• Don’t be stringent with children when they’re sitting shivah
or in aveilus.
• Despair is not a Jewish trait. An aveil has to know never to give up hope and to always be waiting for Mashiach and techiyas hameisim.

Transcript

A Time For Growth: A Time For Hope Rav Avraham Pam, the Rosh yeshivah of Yeshivah Torah Voda’as was sitting shivah for his father, Hagaon Rav Meir, zt”l. One of the family members said, “Maybe we followed the wrong doctor’s advice; had we gone to a different doctor, followed a different medical procedure, maybe our father would still be alive.” Rav Pam’s mother interrupted and decisively said, “This was his time. There’s no second-guessing HaKaddosh Baruch Hu. His allotted years were up.” First and foremost, when a person attempts to be menacheim aveil, he has to go in with the mindset that this was the retzon Hashem. A difficult time, a tragedy – even when the parents are elderly people in their nineties, the children become yesomim, orphans; it changes their whole lifestyle, as they become the next generation. Whether we’re dealing with younger people, Rachmana litzlan, or older people, we have to have the solidified thought, ma’aminim benei ma’aminim, as people of faith, that this was Hashem’s will, the retzon Hashem. A person doesn’t live a day less, a moment less, than was ordained by HaKaddosh Baruch Hu. Mori V’Rabi Rav Mordechai Gifter, when he was sitting shivah for his mother nearly forty-five years ago, told bachurim from Telz that came to be menacheim aveil, “The only one who was menacheim aveil me according to halachah was Rav Dovid [referring to Hagaon Rav Dovid Kronglas, the Mashgiach and Maggid Shiur in Yeshivas Ner Yisrael] because R’ Dovid gave me mussar.” According to Rav Gifter, the concept of sitting shivah is to lower yourself, to subordinate yourself to HaKaddosh Baruch Hu. During those seven days you’re being matzddik the din to justify, so to speak, what HaKaddosh Baruch Hu does. As the passuk says, “Hatzur tamim pa’alo, ki chol derachav mishpat Keil emunah v’ein avel” (The Rock, His work is perfect because all His ways are just; L-rd of faith with no iniquity). It’s very important that a person try to convey, even subtly, tzidduk hadin, Hashem’s righteousness of judgment. How do you give mussar to an aveil? It has to be at the right time, in the right place. It’s always with words of encouragement. “You’re so wonderful, what mussar can I give you? Just continue in the legacy of your father or your mother or your family.” But it’s important somehow to convey a need to grow during the period of aveilus. Individuals can grow through celebration and through tragedy. The concept of sitting shivah, as we said above, is really to be matzddik the din. My grandfather would call it “unconditional surrender.” In World War II, whether it was the Japanese or the germans, yemach shemam, the United States wanted only one type of surrender – unconditional surrender. And that’s what it is to sit on the ground: unconditional surrender, accepting the will of Hashem. The Darchei Mussar asks, “How do we define HaKaddosh Baruch Hu? “Tzur tamim pa’alo, ki chol derachav mishpat Keil emunah,” L-rd of faith, “v’ein avel,” with no perversion, with no iniquity. Can you imagine introducing someone and saying, “This is my friend Yankel. He’s a wonderful person, and he’s not a thief. That’s the virtue of HaKaddosh Baruch Hu? ein avel, there’s no perversion of justice? Says the Darchei Mussar, when things are going well in life, then clearly Keil emunah, tamim darko, all that HaKaddosh Baruch Hu does is perfect. The challenge in emunah is when it’s ein avel, when we need to acknowledge that everything, no matter how difficult, is just. When we undergo the Holocaust, a personal tragedy or a national tragedy, we still recognize and realize to have perfect faith in HaKaddosh Baruch Hu. That’s brought out by aveilus. Every Jew is a seasoned believer. And that’s how we can be menacheim aveil. We don’t feel the keen, sharp pain of the aveil; but within the context of Klal Yisrael, we know of pain, of suffering, of challenge, of tragedy, and we can be menacheim. It’s also good to personalize the nichum aveilim. I remember the tragedy of Leiby Kletzky, zeicher tzaddik livrachah, Hashem yinkom damo. I was asked to speak to 1,200 people in Flatbush on behalf of Chai Lifeline. What was I going to say? I remember saying that in my own way I understood a little bit of what the family was going through. I had seven-and-a-half-year-old brother who was killed on erev Pesach in Cincinnati, where we were visiting our grandparents. We were on the way to the pharmacy to get some eye drops for my father and stopped at the corner. A Jewish lady on the way to the hair salon didn’t see him and hit him. He was dragged under the car, and he died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. That night, my parents and grandparents conducted a Seder. They sang Dayeinu, they ate maror, they ate matzah, they reclined with heseibah, they sang Chad Gadya! Where did they get the strength to conduct the Seder hours after the death of their child, their grandchild? Truth be known, the burial hadn’t even taken place. R’ Eliezer Silver, the rav of Cincinnati, ruled that the kevurah should take place on the second day of Yom Tov. He was buried al tenai (with a stipulation) in Cincinnati and moved ultimately to Har Hamenuchos in Yerushalayim, where he’s buried next to our great-uncle, Rav Amram Blau. How did my parents cope for the rest of their lives with this tragedy? How does anybody cope? It is with this totality, within the totality of Klal Yisrael, that we understand HaMakom yenacheim eschem. Really it should say HaKaddosh Baruch Hu yenacheim eschem. HaMakom means The Place. It doesn’t just mean the omnipresent, HaKaddosh Baruch Hu. The place where the niftar is is a tremendous nechamah. I was able to deal – to a small degree – with the tragedy of Leiby Kletzky by personalizing it this way. You don;t always have to have a personal story. Sometimes you walk in to be menacheim aveil, and you don’t say a word. You don’t have to come up with great insights; it’s important to listen. Maran Hagaon Rav Elya Svei said that the main goal of a beis aveil is to tell over stories of the niftar or the nifteres; it creates an elevation for the neshamah. Don’t get sidetracked, don’t start reminiscing nostalgically about growing up in the same shul and different congregants who were there or about the yeshivahs that you went to. That’s not the purpose of a beis aveil. A beis aveil is all about hearing stories of the niftar, how his memory will be perpetuated through his family, through his wife, through his children, through his grandchildren, and how we can live up to his or her expectations. This is a great elevation for the neshamah of the niftar or the nifteres. Many people now have a custom to have a tape recorder or recording device present for the entire time of shivah, as hundreds of stories are told and retold that people never heard before. It’s so important for the family to keep the memory alive. Very often they talk about the levayah as being the kavod acharon, the last honor. It’s really not the kavod acharon because the children and the grandchildren, b’siyata d’Shmaya, will continue that legacy. Various core values come out at the time of shivah. This time is also an unbelievable vehicle for kiruv rechokim. Very often, people who aren’t close to HaKaddosh Baruch Hu become much closer during shivah. There are countless stories from Minneapolis, Minnesota, where I was the rav for nineteen years, of families that became completely Torah observant. They sent their children to yeshivah because of the aveilus and the fact that our shul’s members would travel to a distant neighborhood and create minyanim around the clock and spend time with the aveil. They were overwhelmed by the love, the concern, the chessed of the community. And they walked away saying, “We want to be like this community.” They would begin to daven in the shul and to keep Shabbos. And with time, several families became shomrei Torah u’mitzvos as a result of their experiences in the beis aveil. I remember my father’s shul in Bensonhurst. Most of the Yidden were shomer Torah u’mitzvos, but many were not. And the beis aveil was a perfect place for him to teach and counsel, to advise, to give comfort and solace, sharing divrei Torah relating to consolation and comfort. ultimately, he was able to connect these people to their sources, to their yichus, to their lineage, to their glorious background. One cannot play down the importance of nichum aveilim. In fact, the Rambam says that if there’s a choice between being menacheim aveil or being mevakeir choleh, it’s better to be menacheim aveil. The Rambam uses a very interesting, puzzling choice of words: “Because you’re doing it osam,” for them. Why for them? Maybe the person is sitting shivah by himself. When Hagaon Rav Nachamchik, the Rosh Yeshivah of the Mir Yeshivah, came to be menacheim aveil my brother and me after the petirah of our father sixteen years ago, he told us, “The Rambam is teaching us that the aveil is sitting with the neshamah of the niftar.” I would suggest that that’s why we say HaMakom yenacheim eschem even if only one person is sitting shivah; you’re comforting not just the niftar, but the neshamah as well. This teaches us that the niftar is with the family the entire time they are sitting shivah. The halachah is that you can be menacheim aveil children for a father or for a mother for an entire year. You can say HaMakom yenacheim not just for thirty days, but for an entire year. That means their father or mother is with them the entire year. That’s a tremendous comfort, to know that the father or mother who was niftar is right there, guiding and giving counsel. I often tell people who have lost their parents – particularly young children – that when you’re in camp and your mother is home, she knows you’re doing well, but she doesn’t see you all the time. Now your mother will be with you twenty-four hours a day, constantly watching over you, but also knowing what you say and think and do. That first year is an incredible year. So much can be accomplished for parents, for spouses and for family members during the first year. In fact, the Gemara refers to a son as bera kara d’avuah, the knee of the father. The question is asked, why the knee of the father? It seems to be something that is very insignificant. The heart, the mind, the eyes of the father would appear to fit better. Why the knee of the father? Rav Hutner explains in a letter written to comfort one of his students (and subsequently I found this in the Pri Tzaddik by Rav Tzaddok Hakohen) that the navi Zecharyah says, “I will place you as a mehaleich, mehalchim bein omdim ha’eileh,” as one who walks amongst those that stand. There are two types of creations: those that are mehalchim, walking and those that are omdim, standing. A malach is an omeid, one who stands still; a human being is a mehaleich, one who walks. A malach has a tafkid, a job. He completes his task, and he stays at that same level. A human being is a mehaleich. He is ambulatory; he progresses, he walks, he grows, he climbs. When a person is niftar, he’s transformed from being a mehaleich into being an omeid. He’s accomplished much, he’s very close to the Kisei Hakavod, the Throne of glory, but he can’t do anything else for himself. No more mitzvos can be performed, Torah can’t be learned, there’s no longer any shemiras halashon or chessed; he stays in the same spot, at that same level. He’s close to the Kisei Hakavod, but he can’t progress any farther. When a son says Kaddish, learns Torah, refrains from lashon hara, when a daughter performs mitzvos and chessed and takes care of her family and Klal Yisrael, they transform the father from being an omeid into a mehaleich. He’s no longer staying in the same spot; he’s becoming elevated. He continues to shteig, to grow. That’s the knee. The knee is the part of the body that gives the person the ability to be ambulatory, to walk, to progress. That first year, bera kara d’avuah, the son is the knee of his father, and for the rest of his life, he takes his father and puts him on his shoulders, and he walks with him once again. It’s so important to impress upon the aveilim how much they can accomplish for their parents and for their loved ones. Mori v’rabi Rav Gifter would often say a rich Yiddish aphorism: “Mer vos a mama in der velt, a sach mer in yene velt,” more than a mother cries and accomplishes and connects to Hashem for her child in this world, she can accomplish for her child in the World to Come. Very often it’s important to tell the aveilim – and I’ve seen this happen time and time again – that they’ll see wonderful success in the upcoming year: tremendous simchah, nachas, shidduchim, parnassah, gezunt. Because the parents are doing incredible things in the Next World. Nichum Aveilim is about letting the aveil be comforted. Sometimes this happens by your words, and very often it’s by their words. When I was seventeen years old learning in Yeshivah Kol Torah in Yerushalayim, there was a bachur in my shiur, a Sephardic bachur, whose father passed away from wounds he received in one of the wars in eretz Yisrael. A friend and I came into his family’s house on Rechov Yaffo, a little house with a very dark interior, and he was sitting shivah alone. We walked into the house, and we didn’t say a word and he didn’t say a word. We sat there for several minutes. There was a Mishnayos on the table, I opened the Mishnayos, I said l’iluy nishmas his father, learned the Mishnah and closed the Mishnayos. I said, “HaMakom yenacheim eschem,” and then we left without telling him a word. Because for him that was the way to offer comfort. Very often the first question people ask is, “How did it happen?” This is such foolishness! It was time, as Rebbetzin Pam said. I remember once traveling to eretz Yisrael for a bris my brother was making. on the plane there was a family that was accompanying their father for burial in eretz Yisrael. As it happened, this father lived in the very same building as my brother in Yerushalayim, and the levayah started off in front of his house. My brother and I were standing there, and a man was running around, “Mah karah, mah karah, mah karah,” what happened, what happened, what happened? “eich hu niftar,” how did he die? My brother turned to me and he said, “eich hu niftar? Higi’a ito,” his time came. And that’s first and foremost what a person has to think. My father was niftar from a blood clot to his lungs. Everyone said they should have given him Coumadin. That wasn’t the appropriate response; rather, this was the retzon Hashem. It’s necessary to accept and be matzddik the din and to encourage the aveilim, in whatever form or way that we can, to be matzddik the din. Let them talk about their father or mother or sibling or child or spouse; to the best of your ability, encourage them to talk, and maybe you can share stories as well. We never tell an aveil to sit down if you want to be menacheim aveil and the aveil is standing, you could even do it standing. When you tell an aveil to sit down, you’re telling him, so to speak, to remain in his aveilus. So according to halachah we don’t tell an aveil to sit down. What you could say is, “I’d like to be menacheim aveil you, and if you’re sitting, it’s easier. According to halachah, you don’t have to be sitting. But you have to be careful with the words you say in a beis aveil because any word you say can hurt, harm, or defeat the purpose of your visit, or it can inspire. And remember, it’s not just a social obligation. The Gemara says, “Bekoshi hitiru l’nacheim aveilim u’levakeir cholim b’Shabbos,” with great difficulty do we allow one to be menacheim aveil on Shabbos – to say, “Shabbos hi mil’nacheim u’nechamah kerovah lavo,” Shabbos is not a time to console, but the consolation will swiftly come. When being menacheim aveil, you want to accomplish something, take away some of their pain by sharing their pain and saying HaMakom yenacheim eschem. Many don’t know the primary reason for the custom of turning around during Kabbalas Shabbos for the words “bo’i b’Shalom” at the end of lechah Dodi. This is the last time that one can be menacheim aveil before accepting Shabbos. According to many Rishonim, the next words, “Mizmor shir l’yom haShabbos,” are the ultimate kabbalas Shabbos; that’s when the tzibbur, the congregation, formally accepts Shabbos. So in days of yore they would turn around and look for any aveilim who were coming to shul. They wouldn’t be there for kabbalas Shabbos; they’d come in for Mizmor shir. This was the last time they could say, “HaMakom yenacheim eschem b’soch she’ar aveilei Tziyon viYerushalayim.” This is a very powerful message, and it’s tremendous comfort for the aveil when they walk into a shul, and 200, 300, 400 people turn around. Before they say Mizmor shir there’s a bang on the bimah, nichum aveilim, and en masse everyone says, “HaMakom yenacheim eschem besoch she’ar aveilei Tziyon viYerushalayim.” Then they turn around and say, “Mizmor shir l’yom haShabbos.” This is showing the aveil that the tzibbur is part and parcel of their pain and suffering and that their tragedy is the tzibbur’s tragedy. When you have toung children, rachmana litzlan, who are affected by loss, we have to be so kind to them. We have to uplift them; we can’t scare them. Many have a minhag that younger children don’t even sit shivah; we don’t want to educate them in aveilus. Why should they grow up knowing the halachos of aveilus? We don’t want it to happen again. But if the children are there, we have to be so sensitive to them. Whether or not to bring your child to a levayah, to nichum aveilim, all depends on the child and how it’s presented. Very often I find that when ten, eleven, twelve-year-old children are sitting shivah and their friends come, it’s a tremendous comfort for them. But it’s also a time to be lenient; don’t be stringent in aveilus when it comes to children. When children are sitting shivah you have to make it easier for them. I know a young boy who is really a tzaddik. His mother passed away when he was ten years old, and he’s still saying Kaddish. He often asks me questions about halachah. And sometimes with a smile he says, “oh, the rav says it’s allowed because I’m a kattan?” And I smile and I say, “Yes.” It’s important to remind a child that he’s a child. He grows up very fast. Encourage them to say Kaddish, but make it easier for them. This particular child will never say Kaddish by himself. There were others in shul saying Kaddish, but his father has committed himself that if no one else is saying Kaddish, he says it with his child. There was careful consideration if the child would go to camp this summer because of the difficulty of saying Kaddish by himself. But at the end of the day, Kaddish is an incredible tefillah. “Yisgadeil v’yiskaddeish shemeih rabba,” may His great Name grow exalted and sanctified. That’s all part of the process of coming to grips and sanctifying Hashem’s name. The most important thing for aveilim is not to give up hope. The word “yi’ush,” hopelessness, is not in our lexicon; it’s not in our dictionary. Avraham Avinu took 318 soldiers to fight the war to free his nephew Lot. Why 318? Rav Tzaddok Hakohen Milublin answers that this is because 317 is yi’ush – yud, aleph, vav, shin – and 318 is l’ma’alah min hayi’ush, above and beyond despair. Klal Yisrael does not believe in giving up hope. our nation was forged and founded beyond yi’ush. Avraham Avinu was 100 years old when he had a child. Everyone had given up hope; but Avraham holid es Yitzchak, Avraham had a son Yitzchak! The Gemara in Maseches Sukkah (31) teaches us about a certain lady who wanted her wood back after it had been used for the sechach of the Reish Galusa, the leader of the Jewish community in Babylon. She said, “I’m a granddaughter of Avraham Avinu; I want my wood back.” She was invoking this concept of never giving up hope. When a person is sitting shivah over a loved one, at the end of the day he has to dig deep and not give up hope. He has to recognize that to Klal Yisrael there’s always hope. In fact, the Chida says that’s when the redemption is going to come, “liyeshuascha kivisi Hashem u’metzapim liyeshuah,” for Your salvation we hope to Hashem, and we are waiting for the redemption. Why will we merit, ultimately, that berachah in Shemoneh esreih when David Hamelech will come: “es tzemach David avdecha meheirah satzmiach, v’karno tarum biyeshu’asecha ki liyeshu’ascha kivinu kol hayom?” Because we’re always anticipating geulah. And an aveil has to think, I am anticipating techiyas hameisim. An incredible story happened in Camp Kol Torah many years ago. There was a group of children being taught about the Churban Habayis, and they were asked what Churban Habayis and Mashiach meant to them. Everyone had a different explanation as to why they were waiting for Mashiach. one twelve-year-old boy said Mashiach means techiyas hameisim. Those present couldn’t understand why he was fixated on techiyas hameisim – until the director of the camp explained that this boy had lost his father, and to him techiyas hameisim was real; he was going to see his father again. It’s necessary to dig deep and to find this Jewish trait of never giving up hope, of never being meya’eish. That’s how Klal Yisrael started and that’s how we continue and that’s how we survive. HaKaddosh Baruch Hu should give each and every individual the ability to cope with their own personal tragedy. But remember, you’re not in this alone, and everybody has the wherewithal, the natural resources, to deal with their own challenges, their nisayon. HaMakom yenacheim eschem besoch she’ar aveilei Tziyon viYerushalayim, may all the mourners of Klal Yisrael know no further tza’ar and be comforted amongst the mourners of Tziyon and Yerushalayim. Within the totality of Klal Yisrael, nationally, we know much suffering, and therefore we can be part of the comforting process. It’s necessary to grow through this time of aveilus. It’s necessary to see the hand of Hashem and to appreciate all the silver linings in the clouds, to see the hashgachah peratis in our lives; we will be zocheh to be able to cope because we have a personal relationship with HaKaddosh Baruch Hu. The aveilus will transform into a time of joy and celebration. our parents, our family members, will be so proud of us as we live our lives following in their ways and realize that before we know it they’ll be reunited with us with the coming of Mashiach tziddkeinu, bimheirah b’yameinu, amein.

The Gift of Shivah, with Rabbi Y.Y. Rubinstein

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Rabbi Y. Y. Rubinstein is a popular speaker throughout the world, regularly addressing crowds in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, France, Belgium, Gibraltar, South Africa and Israel. He is a regular broadcaster on national TV and radio in the UK and has written and presented shows for the BBC. Rabbi Rubinstein has written numerous books, including The little Book for BIG Worries: Dealing with Serious Illness, and is a regular contributor to several Jewish publications. He is a senior lecturer for the Gateways Organization in New York and teaches at various schools.
Key points

• Just being there for the aveil is the greatest thing you can do for him.
• The right words are healing; the wrong words can be so painful.
• Seeing someone who carried through a similar circumstance is a huge comfort to the aveil. If you had a comparable experience, go to be menacheim aveil; just your presence offers comfort. Also, allow others to learn from your experience.
• There’s good guilt and bad guilt. good guilt is when you’re able to use your experience in a positive way. Bad guilt is when it eats away at you. Reassure aveilim that we all make mistakes and that there is no need for guilt about their treatment or relationship with the niftar.
• Women often know they need help and support. Men often don’t acknowledge their need until it’s too late. Don’t make that mistake; accept help.
• In Shamayim, there’s no such thing as time, so when someone is niftar, they are really still together with their loved ones. This is a difficult concept but can be a real nechamah.
• The niftar is okay; it’s the ones left behind who are having difficulty.
• After shivah, make sure you’re there for the aveilim. Shivah is an instructive process to teach us how to proceed and treat the aveilim afterward.

Transcript

The Gift of Shivah In Koheles (CH. 7), it says, “Tov laleches el beis aveil…” it is better to go to a shivah house than it is to go to a simchah. And the passuk concludes by saying, “shezeh sof kol ha’adam,” everybody, at some point, is going to have their children sitting shivah for them, “v’hachai yitein el libo,” and you will take that seriously. If you go to a simchah there are no guarantees as to how you have engaged with what is going on at the simchah. (There are in-laws there, after all!) But if you go to a shivah house, that’s the end of every single one of us. And then, “vehachai,” you’ll pay attention to that, and you’ll take life seriously. So that’s why Koheles says it’s a better thing to do. But that’s a better thing from your point of view, because if you go you are going to learn something from that – that someday your children will sit for you – and hopefully it will be your children; every parent wants their children to be sitting shivah for them. The alternative, of course, is something none of us want to face. When you go to be menacheim aveil, you will pay attention to that reality, so therefore it’s a learning experience; it’s something that’s going to be good for you. But, thats really not the reason why we go to a shivah house. We go to a shivah house because it is something that’s good for the aveilim. We are there to do this huge mitzvah of being there. That’s very important. People miss the point; just being there is the greatest and most important thing you can do. Let me tell you a story. I know somebody – originally from Manchester in England, where I lived for twenty-two years before immigrating to the united States – who lost a son, a young man, under tragic circumstances. The circumstances were so tragic that it broke the hearts of everybody who knew them, and the shivah house was busy – very busy. During the entire week, the father of the boy who had passed away sat in his chair with his head down, looking at his shoes, and not once during the entire week did he look up. They got up from shivah on Friday morning, and when they were sitting around the table on Friday night with the family, the father commented to his children what a huge comfort it was how many people had come to the shivah. His children were astonished because none of them thought that he had registered or realized how many people were in the room with him; after all, he never looked up. But he had. And he didn’t speak – not once. Of course, we all know the halachah that if the aveil doesn’t speak to you, you’re not allowed to speak to him. They have to start the conversation. This is for a very obvious reason – they might not want to speak. And this father didn’t want to speak the entire week, so people thought he just hadn’t realized how many people were there. But he had, and he found it a huge nechamah that people were there. That’s all. Before you get to speaking, just being there supporting somebody is huge. There is a Ramban that talks about the various gifts that Klal Yisrael gave to the nations of the world. one of the gifts is Shabbos. He doesn’t mean to say that the nations have to light candles and make kiddush, etc. of course we know that would be forbidden; but the idea of not having to work 365 and ¼ days, that there should be a rest, was one of the gifts of the Torah, one of the gifts from Klal Yisrael to the whole world. (You might be interested to know that in Japan they have no day of rest. They do work 365 and a ¼ days a year.) So I think another gift, if we could give it, would be something like shivah. I don’t know of anything as therapeutic as sitting shivah. of course, nobody wants to sit shivah. But if you are going through it – and it is the end of every one of us – there is going to be a shivah there in order to provide the remedy, or the beginning of the tikkun, which is what the whole process is about; and there is nothing more wonderful that you could think of than that. When I was sitting shivah for my late wife, I had a friend who is a rav and a huge talmid chacham, and he didn’t manage to come be menacheim aveil. And that so often happens. Incidentally, never put off going to shivah until the next day because suddenly you find that the aveilim have gotten up, the week has run away and disappeared, and you have missed your chance. This rav said to me, “I’m so sorry I didn’t get to the shivah.” And then he said, “Nu, but what could I say to you? You know everything that I know.” But my friend – who is a friend – missed the point of the above story. It’s not necessarily a question of coming in and telling the aveil something, not a great insight that might bring you comfort. Just being there for somebody is a huge comfort in its own right. But of course, you are supposed to find words if the person wants to hear them, if they engage you in conversation. And it’s all about the words. The right words can be the most wonderful remedy to the pain that somebody is going through. Conversely, the wrong words can do incredible damage. So if a person is sitting shivah, I want to give a piece of advice. This advice was given to me when my late wife was first diagnosed with cancer, by a very good friend of mine, Rabbi Professor Dr. Dovid Gottleib from Yerushalayim. His rebbetzin phoned us up, and she said to us, “Keep an idiot book.” I said, “What?!” “Keep an idiot book,” she said. “Some people are going to say incredibly stupid and tactless things to you. Instead of being very upset and hurt, write them down.” There was one lady who came to my late wife when she was just diagnosed with cancer, and said, “You’ve got breast cancer, haven’t you?” and my wife said, “Yes.” She said, “You know, Mrs. Plonis has got the same diagnosis as you, and she went to see a tzaddik. The tzaddik gave her a berachah that she should live long enough to see all her children married off. Why are you marrying off your children so quickly?” Gevaldig! Isn’t that fantastic? She went straight to the top number in our top ten of really stupid comments. It was a stupid comment l’Sheim Shamayim. This was a wonderful, kind person. She didn’t mean to hurt, she didn’t mean to say something tactless – and people don’t. When we, or when you, are really sensitive, even something that is not stupid can hurt. But rather than be hurt, keep an idiot book. You don’t have to literally go to Staples and buy one, just keep a mental note, and instead of being hurt, you can find the comment frankly amusing; and then later, when everybody has gone away and you’re having that last cup of coffee at the end of the evening after ma’ariv and all the mess is done and you are about to lie down and go to sleep, you can all laugh about the tactless comment. It helps. Because people will say the wrong thing. We all know what Chazal says: “Time Heals.” That’s why there’s shivah, then sheloshim, and then the first year, and then there’s the yahrtzeit. And eventually, after fifty years, there is not even that, because time has healed. And time is the only real healer. You have to talk to those people who have lost somebody, you have to talk to someone who is going to help you calculate the right time for the next move, the right decision for your kids and for yourself, etc. But if time is the healer, and there is no way to speed up time, the first response, the emergency treatment, is shivah. Just being surrounded by people who love you and people who are concerned for your pain is an enormous thing. We know that Chazal say, “nosei b’ol im chaveiro,” feel your friend’s pain, help him carry the burden. I remember I went to see a very, very close old friend of mine, who is no longer here, R’ Yidel Reich. He had the same first name as me, Yehudah Yonah. He has many children here in the United States, all talmidei chachamim, a fine, fine family. I was visiting the sons during shivah for their mother, and the Daddy, the Tatty, was having a shluff; he was an old man. When they knew that I was there – and he had a special soft spot for me, I suppose because we shared the same name – they went to get the Daddy up from his rest because “the other Yehudah Yonah was here.” So he came in and he sat down and said to me, “How long were you married to your late wife?” and I said, “Twenty-six years.” Then he went, “Hmm, reverse the number for me.” He and his wife had been married for sixty-two years. The reason his children wanted me to speak to him and him to speak to me is because they knew there was a kesher and they also knew that I had gone through the same thing as him. There is an enormous benefit, if life has given you a difficulty that you have overcome, to visiting the shivah house of someone who has gone through the same difficulty; just seeing somebody who has been there and has somehow or other managed to emerge through the other side is a huge nechamah to the aveil. Nosei b’ol im chaveiro means you are able to be nosei b’ol, you can carry the burden, and you have carried it the same as somebody else. It’s a bigger mitzvah – it’s a huge responsibility – if somebody has gone through something you have gone through, to let them see, I was there, you can be where I am now. You don’t have to say it; just the fact that you sit in front of them and they know that you lost a wife and you survived, you lost a child and you survived, is a huge thing you can do. When you are visiting somebody who is sitting shivah, they are going through all sorts of pain. To state the obvious, if they’ve lost a mummy or a daddy, that’s obvious what the pain is. But there will be unwritten and unsaid pain there as well, and you should be aware of that. Almost always, when somebody passes away, there is that horrible word that the Jewish people, that Klal Yisrael, sadly does very well. And that is guilt. We are very good at guilt. We all know that the Gemara in Berachos (5), says that if something bad happens to you, yefashfeish b’ma’asav, you should examine your deeds. That’s true, but there is good guilt and there is bad guilt. good guilt comes from up there, and it invites you to examine mistakes that you have made and to use the mistakes to make sure you don’t make them again. Don’t forget that Chazal say that every aveirah that you do, when you really do teshuvah, is not just wiped clean, it becomes a mitzvah – because it was the springboard to allow you to change yourself. That’s good guilt. good guilt is when you’re able to take the experience and use it positively. I wrote a book recently called The little Book for Big Worries: Dealing with Serious Illness because this is part of being nosei b’ol im chaveiro; I want to use my experiences to help other people. Would I have volunteered to lose a wife to cancer so that I would be able to help other people? Certainly not. I would have volunteered not to have, so that I couldn’t help other people. But if you find yourself in that circumstance, then you can use that experience – even the mistakes that you made – to share with other people, to let them know they can recover from that as well. You can ask forgiveness from a meis, from one who has passed away. You can get forgiveness from a meis. I have to tell you, in the five years that my wife was not well, from the beginning of her diagnosis of breast cancer until the moment she passed away five years later, I was with her. Look, I don’t know what they are going to say to Y. Y. Rubinstein when I get upstairs and I’m standing in front of the beis din shel ma’alah, but one thing I know is that I’m not going to get 99 percent as a husband over those five years; I’m going to get 100 percent. So sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we get it wrong, and you can help somebody. good guilt is when you learn from your mistakes and you don’t repeat them, or you help other people to learn from your mistakes so they don’t make the same ones. Bad guilt is when it eats away at you. Bad guilt comes from down there, and all that does is tear you down. The people sitting shivah almost always will have regrets and be sorry that they didn’t visit enough or maybe they lost their temper once, etc. It’s important if they ask about that to point out the difference between good guilt and bad guilt. Also, don’t forget to reassure them that they are human beings. We all make mistakes. Hashem Yisbarach created the world and said “Tov me’od,” it’s very good. Say Chazal, tov me’od? It’s very good? If something is very good that means that something else wasn’t very good. What wasn’t very good? All the other worlds that Hashem created. Hashem created other worlds? 974 flops! Worlds that were not successful – until He created this one, and this was successful. Now, Hashem can’t make a mistake. And even if He did, why tell us about it? He told us that He made 974 intentional failures to let us know that mistakes – and making mistakes – is the yesod, is the basis, of our world. You are only a human being. You’re allowed to make mistakes. And the people who are niftar know you made mistakes, and they know that you’re sorry. You can go and ask mechilah. But if it’s the sort of guilt that is going to eat somebody up and just destroy them, that’s bad guilt, that’s guilt sent from that fellow down there, not from Hashem Yisbarach; He’s looking for good guilt. I have to tell you, in my particular case, when I was most recently sitting shivah, that it was an abnormal shivah. As I said, normal shivah is when children are sitting shivah for parents; that’s the way it is meant to be. An abnormal shivah is when you don’t quite anticipate it. And that’s when I lost my wife; I didn’t anticipate that. Because there might be somebody reading this who’s in my situation, or maybe one day, chas v’Shalom, who will be in my situation, I need to tell you something. If you, like me, are a man, that puts you at an enormous disadvantage. Recently, I was in Monsey. There is an organization there that has been set up to help young chassidim who are divorced. So I went along to speak to this group, and there were 100 young men there, all divorced. Now, there’s a women’s organization as well, which has been set up to help young women in the tri-state area who are divorced. At the moment it has 900 members! I was never very good at math, but I think I can work this one out. If 100 guys are divorced, that means there are 100 women who are also divorced. Why are there 100 members in the male branch and 900 in the female branch!? To be fair, the female branch isn’t only for chassidim, but there’s always going to be a disproportionate balance when it comes to anything like this, for a very simple reason. Women know they need help. Men? No! Me? I’m fine! I’m doing just fine, thank you! Have you ever seen the way a woman davens compared to a man? Maybe you think of your wife, or your mother, or your daughter. When a woman davens, it’s normally with her head down and she is shuckeling very slowly. There will be tears, but they’re quiet, and what she is doing is accepting the gezar din, the decree, whatever it is. Even if her situation is hard, she’s accepting, along with a humble petition that maybe in Shamayim they could change the decree. If you’ve ever seen the women’s side of the Kosel, that’s what you see. Move the camera to the left-hand side, and you see men davening at the Kosel. How do men daven? We’re fighting, we’re wrestling, each and every one a Ya’akov Avinu, wrestling with the angel and tearing the angel down. No, we’re going to tear up the decree in Shamayim. Women are accepting; men aren’t. Women know that they need help and look for support; men don’t, often until it’s too late. And I think that was certainly true with me. I’m trying to set up an organization for men who have lost wives, to help them, to learn from mistakes and support each other. The problem is getting men to accept that they need help because, well, men are men! And, the truth of the matter is that because we are men, we don’t accept that we do have problems and need help with problems, usually until we have no choice but to accept; often when it gets to that stage, gosh, it’s too late. This is one thing I learned from my experience. So if you, as I said before, have a specialized experience that could help someone else who is going through tough times, then you have a responsibility to bring your experience to the other person who is really, really struggling. You know, I want to share something I wrote about in my book. It’s based on Rav Dessler and also on Rav Shlomoh Wolbe. I discussed with various other rabbanim whether I should put this in the book. There was a bit of back-and-forth about it. I asked those people who didn’t want me to put it in the book if I had understood Rav Dessler correctly. Everybody seemed to agree eventually that Rav Dessler really does say this. What does he say? When a person is lying on his deathbed and about to be niftar, he is surrounded by family and friends. Then the person closes his eyes for the last moment, and then he opens them again. When he opens them again, in Shamayim, who is he surrounded by? The exact same people he left behind just a split second ago. Time only exists in this world. In Olam Haba we have already lived our lives. But this is a very deep idea. Rav Moshe Shapiro, by coincidence, gave a shiur about this not long ago, but he says it’s a dangerous idea – and it is a dangerous idea; however, for people who are suffering a loss, the thought that the wife they lost, the mother they lost, or the child, Rachmana litzlan, that they lost, is not gone, rather, they are there with them, is a huge nechamah. And there’s one other little thing. Again, I put this in my book, and I wasn’t sure whether to include this one either; I just spoke a few months ago to Rav Shlomoh Brevda, zeicher tzaddik levrachah, and I asked him if he thought this was true and if I should put it in, and he said I should. When my wife passed away, I was quite convinced that I knew what to do next. We had gotten up from shivah just before Shavuos. Surely it made sense to bring the entire family together, to reconstitute the family at the Shabbos table, as it was when Mummy was still there. However, many people, many close friends, including Lady Jakobovits, alehah haShalom; Dayan Ehrentreu’s wife, lehavdil, Rebbetzin Ehrentreu; and other good friends wanted to send me and my unmarried kids to Switzerland to get away for Shavuos. I thought it was a bad idea. You see, one of the most beautiful things that you can do is to join in a shivah because it has structure and you know what to do, as we discussed. The difficulty is after the shivah. There is a large supermarket in England called Tesco, and on a Sunday morning before Yom Tov my brother-in-law and I went shopping. I was walking, pushing the cart, and other frum Yidden who saw us coming – it was actually quite funny – were running down the various aisles to get away from us. When it’s a shivah you know what to do, you know what to say, there’s a form, there’s a structure. When it comes to after shivah, people are not terribly sure if they know what to do anymore. In fact there was one young couple walking toward us, so engaged in conversation that they didn’t realize it was me. They approached, looked up and saw me, and it was like a deer in the headlights. Suddenly they dashed over to the side to try to get away. I realized I was making people feel uncomfortable, so we accepted the offer of our friends, who paid for us – Klal Yisrael are ba’alei chessed – to go to a place called Flam’s in the mountains in Switzerland for Shavuos. We arrived at the hotel, a little kosher hotel, pretty tired, and went to sleep. When I went to sleep, my late wife came to me in a dream. This is what I asked Rav Brevda if I should put in. Now, this experience was a completely different experience from any other dream. There was my late wife. She was standing there smiling. I said to her, “How come you’re here?” and she just carried on smiling. Then I woke up. I was so upset and so distressed, I tried to go back to sleep – I wanted to speak to her. But I knew that she had come back to tell me, “It’s all okay.” All the tough times are finished, and now she is in a place where she’s happy. It was a big nechamah for me. I put that in the book to share with people so that people should know even through the tough times that afterward the niftar is okay. It’s we who are having a bit of a tough time until we get back together again. But there is something else. Don’t forget that the shivah has structure, and you know what to do, you know how to help the people sitting shivah. As I said right at the beginning, just by being there you are helping people. There is no fixed structure after shivah, but it doesn’t mean to say that you shouldn’t and you can’t –in fact you should – keep in touch. Keep going round and making sure that the people are still okay. Make sure that they know you care about them. Make sure that you are reaching out to let them know that anything they still need, you are there to provide. The shivah process is a guide for what happens after the shivah process. We only get through the tough times with the support of other people. And we only get through the tough times even as they become less tough, still with the support of other people.

Because the Aveil Needs You, with Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky served as the Director of NCSY in long Island for nine years before moving to Israel. He has taught in the Discovery Seminar, Aish Hatorah Fellowships and Yeshivah Ohr Somayach and is currently on staff in many yeshivos and seminaries in Israel. He has also lectured for almost twenty years in the Ohr lagolah Rabbinical Training Institute and is a popular lecturer internationally, where his combination of humor, novel insights and inspiration touch the lives of thousands.
Key points

• Nichum aveilim is part of the mitzvah of “v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha,” loving your fellow Jew, and takes precedence over other mitzvos in this category, such as bikur cholim and hachnasas kallah, visiting the sick and providing for the needs of a poor bride.
• There are different levels of the mitzvah, beginning from simply going to the aveil’s house, to saying the “HaMakom,” to actually offering words of comfort. When speaking, one must be sensitive to the aveil, particularly when the niftar died suddenly or in a tragic ways.
• Follow the lead of the aveil – whether to speak or to listen quietly, what to speak about, how to speak, etc.
• Don’t try to calm or soothe the mourner; rather, express empathy.
• When people refrain from coming to be menacheim aveil
because they are uncomfortable, it causes the family pain.
• If you’re not sure if what you want to say will be helpful, it’s better not to say it. Active listening is helpful. Speak softly and gently. Share stories about the niftar.
• When a family suffers a tragedy, pay attention not only to the parents, but also to the children, who are very much affected.
• The aveil should think what he can do to help himself or others and not wallow in his pain. Channeling one’s grief into productive action can be very helpful.

Transcript

When I was younger probably one of the worst experiences in my life was when I had to pay a shivah call. It was something that was so painful, so awkward, that I would avoid it at almost all costs. I never wanted to go pay a shivah call. I knew that if I went, I wouldn’t know what to say; I didn’t feel like my presence was necessarily need- ed, unless it was someone very close to me. What was I going to say? “I understand your loss?” I had never suffered a loss at that point. “I know what you’re going through?” I don’t know what you’re going through. It was something that was so uncomfortable that I would often not only avoid going, but then afterward, I’d feel bad and have to avoid the person for the rest of my life because I never went to pay a shivah call. And I realized I was not alone in this. I met other people who had lost friends, acquaintances and neighbors over the years because they never paid a shivah call. They just couldn’t bring themselves to do it. There were two incidents that changed my perspective. one inci- dent was when I lost my own father; it gave me insight into what it is to sit shivah – and the people who come and do what they’re supposed to do and the people who don’t do what they’re supposed to do, which is what we’re going to talk about. There was another incident that was pretty dramatic. I had a friend whose wife suddenly passed away after suffering an aneurysm. I had to buy a last-minute ticket to pay a shivah call to him. I felt this was something that would make a difference because this was a close friend. Earlier in that same week, a friend of mine got married in LA, and when I flew back from being menacheim aveil, I said to myself, how is it that I have time for tragedy, and I don’t have time for a joyous occasion? To pay a shivah call I drop everything and run out to any city, but a wedding or sheva berachos are not so important. So I joined my friend for his Shabbos sheva berachos. And that became one of my themes: we always have time for tragedy, but we don’t have time for simchah. I had the zechus to have a connection over the years with Reb Moshe Shapiro, and I went to pay a shivah call when his mother passed away. Now, Reb Moshe Shapiro has thousands of talmidim. I would not be so egotistical as to call myself one of his talmidim; I go to his shiurim, to his lectures, but I’m not one of his “students.” Thousands of talmidim, besides all of the gedolim and all of the people of stature, came to pay a shivah call, and then I came to pay a shivah call. There weren’t too many people there when I went, so I could say over my thoughts. I said, “You know, it’s funny how we always have time for tragedy, and we don’t have time for a simchah.” Reb Moshe Shapiro gave me a look, a look that I’ve received a number of times, and he said, “Zeh lo ha’inyan, David,” that’s not what’s going on here. He explained that the reason you go to a simchah is because you don’t want the host to be upset at you. I have to tell you how many times I have found this to be true! You know, in the scheme of weddings and bar mitzvahs and brissim, all the simchahs that baruch Hashem you go to in the course of a week, a month, a year, at how many of them do you really make a difference, is the person looking for you to pull you into the middle of the circle to dance? A very small percentage. We go because we know that if we don’t go, the ba’al simchah will say, “What, you didn’t come to my simchah?” And then Reb Moshe said something so powerful. He said, “But by a beis aveil, you come because the person needs you.” I’ve thought about this a lot since then. Reb Moshe Shapiro needs me to come and pay him a shivah call? If you’ve never gone through the process you don’t know what I’m talking about, baruch Hashem, and you shouldn’t know for many years. But if you’ve gone through the process, you know that you’re in a different state than you were before. Your world is a different place. I’ve gone to pay shivah calls to people who didn’t have a lot of people to come and be menacheim. And I knew that I was making a difference. Sometimes you come, and there’s a room full of people, and you’re lucky if you get a seat in the back; the aveil may or may not even see you, may or may not acknowledge you, but the aveil understands that you are there and are expressing a sense of solidarity. I had a friend, Yechezkel Goldberg, who was on his way to work when an Arab terrorist blew up the bus he was on. His youngest child was less than a year old. I went to pay a shivah call to his wife, the almanah – we were close to the whole family – and I was dreading this shivah call. I walked in, and I looked at her and she looked at me, and we both just started crying. I didn’t have to say a word. There is a sense of solidarity that you can bring when you go to pay a shivah call. I learned a lot when I was sitting shivah. First of all, it was absolutely amazing how everyone found out about it. I live in eretz Yisrael, and I came to America. I don’t know how so many people that knew me knew that I was sitting shivah and managed to come. At one point I was sitting with a group of close friends who knew my father, and we were talking about my father. A couple came in who also knew my father. And they just started talking like it was a Sunday afternoon, and we had gotten together for a cup of coffee and a bagel. What’s do- ing with this one, how’s this one, how are the kids? What’s happening here, what’s happening there? I remember the look on the faces of the people sitting there; they were just flabbergasted. How can you just talk about anything? Some people don’t get it. I’ve gone to houses of shivah where they put out coffee and cake, and everyone is just sitting around and schmoozing and telling jokes. I’m not saying that everyone is going to be able to sit shivah in a sense that has gravity to it, but when I’ve gone to those houses of shivah where people were just making conversation, I’ll turn to the mourners and I’ll say, “What happened with your father?” And they’ll give the speech that they more or less prepared: “He was sick, he had this, and this happened, and we had this treatment…” And I might say, “How was he in his last years?” And they start to talk. Then I say, “Where did he come from? What did he go through?” Before you know it, they’re talking about the niftar’s life. What commonly hap- pens is that the friends who perhaps were closer than I was, who were sitting in the room, didn’t know half the things I was talking about. Suddenly they start to find out all kinds of amazing things about this person’s father or mother or brother that they didn’t know until now – because you give them an opportunity to talk. If we are uncomfortable, we try to talk around the reason we are really there. There’s an expression called “the elephant in the room”; we try to avoid the elephant in the room. But the fact is that the person needs this opportunity to talk it through. I have to tell you the greatest chessed. My parents were close to the principal of the school I attended, Rabbi Fendel. And I’ll never forget that the whole year I was in aveilus for my father, he called me every erev Shabbos! The shivah week is just the beginning of a process the person has to be able to get through; you want to be there for them. In certain circles, it is the custom you don’t go visit the aveil the first three days because that’s the worst part. I started going during the first three days because people often say, “You know, we sit here by ourselves for three days, and nobody comes to see us!” When you have nothing but yourself and your pain, it’s much harder. Nosei b’ol im chaveiro means that if somebody else is carrying the burden with you, it makes it a little easier. When we go to a house of shivah, we have to know we’re there for one purpose. If there are a lot of people there or the mourner is sitting there with his rebbi or some- one close, and they’re talking, you don’t have to jump in and say, “So, how old was your father?” The people who do that are the ones who when the chassan and his father and his father-in-law and the grand- father and the Rosh Yeshivah are dancing together a chassunah have to jump into the circle too! It’s the same thing in the house of shivah. But your presence is noted. I can’t tell you how true this is, even though the whole place is a blur. I taught a young lady in seminary whose father passed away that year. She came back to finish up her year, and she told me, “I feel like I’m losing my mind. I feel like I’m going crazy.” I said, “No, that’s called being in aveilus.” An aveil has had his whole life turned upside down. It is a life-al- tering event. And we just have to be there to figuratively hold their hand, just to let them know, with a look, with concern, that we care. If you’re in a place where people don’t know how to do this, then you take an interest, ask them questions, be involved. Every person is a story, every person has a life, every person had challenges, places where they came from and places where they went. I cannot tell you how many inspirational stories I’ve experienced in a house of shivah just because I took the time to ask the questions. Suddenly you find out the most amazing things about people, where they came from and what they did. Nichum aveilim, Chazal tell us, is a very, very special mitzvah. It’s a mitzvah that you do for others, and frankly, you hope that nobody re- turns. We should take the opportunity to be able to go; don’t shy away go. And if you don’t have the words to say, then express the words with a look of support; express the words with your presence, telling the person that you really care. And if you’re in a house of shivah where you see it’s starting to drift, just remind everybody that there was a very special person who passed away; let’s take this opportunity to remember him.

The Do’s and Don’ts, with Mr Charlie Harary

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Mr. Charles “Charlie” Harary is the co-founder and partner of H3 & Company, an advisory and investment company based in New York, as well as a Clinical Professor of Management and entrepreneurship and Associate entrepreneur in Residence at the Syms School of Business. He has gained fame as a motivational speaker and radio-show host, speaking on topics of spirituality, business strategy and psychology. He is currently a senior lecturer for several well-known Jewish organizations, including the Orthodox Union, Aish Hatorah and NCSY.
Key points

• Nichum aveilim is about one thing only – the aveilim. It’s not about us in any way.
• It is comforting to share a story that shows how the niftar impacted your life beyond the physical world and thus touched the eternal. The essence of nechamah is that their time spent in this world was impactful.
• Don’t tell the aveilim anything that will downplay their pain. Don’t say, “Don’t worry – Hashem has a plan.” This brings on guilt.
• one of the greatest fears of a parent who has lost a child is that their child will be forgotten.
• The aveil might feel guilty about moving on. If you’re close enough, reassure the aveil that they can feel positive, while still keeping the deceased alive in their hearts.
• The gam zeh ya’avor (this too shall pass) principle: as time goes on, we might feel guilty for feeling less pain at our loss. But we can better honor our loved ones by appreciating life in a new way as a result of our loss.
• When we lose a loved one, the pain is because of the change in the relationship; it’s no longer a physical relationship. In reality, the niftar is still here – spiritually.
• Remember, although we might be grappling with difficult emotions, the niftar is happy because he has gone back to his essence, his soul.

Transcript

The Do’s and Don’ts I think that its’s really hard for someone to have a surefire list of things to say and not to say when paying a shivah call. But there’s one approach that I’ve been taught, and I think if we think about this, it really changes the way we walk into a shivah. You know in life, everything we do really comes down to two different concepts: either giving or taking. At every moment, we’re giving or taking. We’re sharing or we’re looking out for ourselves. We’re looking for a compliment, or we’re trying to get something, or we’re looking to help somebody else. At the end of the day, of course, as a Yid I believe that my job in life is to be a nosein. We’re supposed to emulate Hashem: mah Hu, af atah (Just as He is, so should you be), and HaKaddosh Baruch Hu is the ultimate nosein. So to the extent that I am more of a nosein, a giver, I am more connected to who I really am. And this happens a lot in life. Now, this gets complicated when we give in order to take: when we give someone a compliment so that they give us a compliment back; when we give somebody money so that they give us an honor. Whenever we’re in a situation where we’re giving in order to take, we start to blend what is the true giving versus what is the true taking. This happens a lot when it comes to conversations. Do you ever get the feeling when you’re talking to someone that you’re having an argument or disagreement, and you could care less what they have to say? It’s like you’re waiting for them to stop talking so that you can prove your point. There’s not a sense of trying to figure out the truth; it’s a sense of, I know I’m right, and can you just slow down so that I can actually prove to you that I’m right. It’s a taking conversation. This happens all the time with human interactions. We speak to people, and we really want something from them. We want to feel good about ourselves. We want to make ourselves feel like we’re right or that we’re doing the right thing. We want to feel a certain way. The one area where this comes across the strongest is the area of shivah. Whenever we walk into a room to pay a shivah call, there is this immediate need to feel comfortable because it’s such an uncomfortable circumstance. You walk into a room and see somebody who just lost a loved one, and they’re quiet. You just sit in the room, and it is so uncomfortable. You want to help, you want to do something. You want to be the person to say the right words – you want to give, but at the core, you want to feel a certain way. You want to feel more comfortable, you want to feel like you’re the giver. You want to feel like you’re the one to say the thing that’s going to make all the difference. So even though our first inclination is to give, really deep down, I think there’s a tinge of I want to be the one. And that small middah of taking in the regular world is fine, but in the area of nichum aveilim it can be detrimental – because nichum aveilim is about one thing, and one thing only: the aveilim. That’s it. It’s not about our comfort, it’s not about how we feel, it’s not about squirming in our chairs. It’s not about our own feeling toward the deceased; it’s not about how much we miss them. Nichum aveilim is about them. And our job, as uncomfortable as it may be, is to sit there and ask ourselves one question: what’s good for them? How many times have you walked into a shivah house, and the aveilim are telling a story about how their father passed away. You’ve been there for a while, and they’re finishing their story, and they’re exhausted. The next person comes in, the group of people sitting there shifts, and someone says, “So, how’d your father pass away?” And you can see the exhaustion in the eyes of the aveil as he begins again, “okay, well two weeks ago….” It’s not bad enough that they just lost their loved one! Now they have to perform for a whole week. When you sit down in front of the aveil, it’s not about what you want to know, it’s not about what you think, it’s not about whether you want to find out what happened. I see people sitting at shivah calls, and they start asking, as if they are a doctor, “And what happened? And was he wearing a coat? And was it cold out? And did he call beforehand?” Is this relevant, to start hashing out every detail? At the end of the day, everyone means well. Mi k’amcha Yisrael. People can drive four hours to pay a shivah call. At the surface we all want to help. under the surface we want to be the ones to make the difference. There’s still a tinge of self-interest. And in the area of nichum aveilim, there can’t be any self-interest. When we stand in front of an aveil, our only question is what is good for them? Maybe sitting in silence for four straight minutes, that deafening, exhausting silence, could be what they need right now. Maybe just crying with them without saying anything is appropriate, maybe letting them take a deep breath. Maybe letting them decide when they want to talk is perfect for them. So when it comes to the don’ts of nichum aveilim, in my humble opinion, the rule of thumb is to ask yourself before you speak, who am I speaking for? And the answer should be, I’m speaking for one purpose– for them. When that’s our mentality and that’s our focus, we walk in and we think only of them. We allow them to lead the conversation that they want. Sometimes – I see this all the time in shivah houses – they don’t want to be upset anymore, they don’t want to be depressed. Sometimes they’ve been crying for four hours, and you walk in and they want to tell a funny story. They start going off on a lighter tone, and you say, “oh, I’m so sorry.” And you bring it right down, while they were trying to lift it up a little bit. Mourning doesn’t have one straight plane. It’s not like it’s always going to be crying. There are ups and downs. It’s a rollercoaster of emotion. The game of nichum aveilim is to let them lead the dance, to let them lead the way, to be there for them, and to not, in any way, think that our emotions, our needs, our desires could in any way trump theirs. We need to be totally selfless, to act as much as we can b’tzelem elokim, in the image of g-d, as a complete giver. We need to create an environment where all our focus is on what I can do to help give nechamah, to give some bit of platform, if you will, to the aveil to achieve comfort. What are the things that one shoudl say at shivah? This is something that I think applies in every case, but it applies the most when you are at a shivah in which someone’s life was “cut short.” Now, we know that nothing is cut short. We know at our core that everything comes from the Ribbono Shel Olam, the Master of the World. Yet we live in a world of justice; we live in a world where we try to understand tzeddek, justice. And in the world in which we live, there’s an age that we look to as being “justice.” If someone dies at 120, the shivah house usually isn’t as heart-wrenching as when someone dies at a younger age. It’s not because HaKaddosh Baruch Hu is less b’tzeddek; it’s because in our world we see 120 as a ripe old age, whereas we see a younger age as less so. Whenever somebody has lost someone at a younger age, the family usually goes through fear that their loved one will be forgotten. There is a sense that when you have children and grandchildren, when you build things, when you were older, you’ve planted your seeds and your life has meaning, and your life will carry on past the physical body. But when it comes to someone who hasn’t had that opportunity yet, many times the family fears that the world won’t really know their loved one. They know their son, they know their spouse, they know their father, but the world doesn’t fully know them yet. And had he or she just had the chance, their impact on humanity would have been different. Now we know that HaKaddosh Baruch Hu has His plan, and the niftar’s impact is what it was meant to be. But many times what is most helpful is when you share a story that shows the aveilim that this person impacted your life in a way that was beyond the physical world. You can share a story in which they said something or did something or you saw something in them that taught you a lesson that stayed with you, that you’ll never forget. When you share moments in which the deceased inspired you, motivated you, connected you to something deeper, brought you closer to the Ribbono Shel Olam, brought you closer to understanding the concept of ahavas chessed, of loving kindness, that are not just physical but that touch the eternal, what you’re doing is you’re making the deceased more eternal. You’re allowing the family to feel like the life of their loved one, although it was taken from them after a short time, had a greater impact than even they themselves knew. This provides a unique nechamah because ultimately, we know we’re all going to die. We’re not scared of death, we are scared of a meaningless life. We’re scared that our life won’t have purpose. We’re scared that we won’t have the opportunity to share who we really are. And when somebody passes away at an older age, we almost have a sense that they’ve tried to use their physical years for more. But we know that physical time doesn’t impact spiritual power. People can have an impact in a year, and other people can unfortunately have no impact in 120 years. The more we’re able to show the aveilim that in the life that their loved one had there was this spiritual impact, the greater the nechamah. Spirituality isn’t bound by a body; the eternal isn’t physical. We don’t leave after death and just disappear. Yiddishkeit believes that we don’t go anywhere. The essence of who we are is our soul. It just changes form, it sheds its uniform. The question is not whether or not we are still around; the question is what we did while we were here. What was the impact that we had in the time that we were here? And the essence of nechamah, in my humble opinion, is not that they’re coming back – because they’re not. The essence of nechamah is that the time that was spent in this world was impactful, that they are not going to be forgotten, that they left their mark, and their mark is going to be eternal. It’s not going to take away the pain of the aveilim not being able to converse with their loved one physically, but it will allow them to know that their loved one’s life was purposeful and meaningful. I have friends who lost a child, and understandably, they were completely devastated. I watched during the shivah – even they didn’t know the impact this child had made. He was one of those individuals who was such a nistar, so hidden; he would deliberately hide what he did. He would deliberately put on an exterior that made him look like he wasn’t as focused as he really was on being such a giver; the things he would do were legendary. Even the parents had no idea, the siblings had no idea. The larger family for sure had no idea. During shivah, these stories started coming out. This didn’t take away from the pain that they now didn’t have their son, but it added a level of nechamah because of what this child had accomplished at his age. That was, in my opinion, the most that those being menacheim could do for them. Here is one major don;t. Do not decide to explain to the aveil that the eibershter has a plan, and they shouldn’t worry because it’s all in Hashem’s hands. We know that HaKaddosh Baruch Hu has a plan. They know that HaKaddosh Baruch Hu has a plan. The last thing they need to hear is you downplaying the pain that they’re going through and connecting it to a lack of faith in Hashem. Let me explain. The essence of nichum aveilim is to be a nosein. When somebody loses someone that they love and we feel that pain for them, we also don’t want to be in pain. When you’re a little bit removed, it’s easier to grapple with. of course, somebody who was a friend of one who passed away and saw them every once in a while has an easier time dealing with the death than someone who lived with them on a daily basis. We know at our core that HaKaddosh Baruch Hu has a plan, and even something that seems on the surface to be so devastating is Hashem operating in His sweet justice. The further you are from the situation, the easier it is for you see it because there’s less pain. What happens many times at shivah homes is that someone comes in, and they miss the person who was niftar. or they come because they care about the aveil – they didn’t know the father, or they didn’t know the child, but they know the person sitting shivah. And sometimes it’s even that they care about the circumstance, meaning the thought of losing a child is so powerful to any parent that just that moves them. And they immediately start talking about the Ribbono Shel Olam. “It’s all from Hashem. I know you can’t see it, but Hakodosh Baruch Hu runs the world.” often that downplays the emotions of the aveil. It almost pooh-poohs their sadness. Imagine that something happens to you, and someone says, “What’s the big deal?” Your respond, “okay, I know it’s not a big deal, but right now I’m in the middle of something. Could I just get through the fact that I had a car accident, and then tomorrow morning I’ll go to shul, and I’ll figure out the fact that Hashem runs the world?” I’m sitting here by my flat tire. I don’t need you to pull up and say, “oh by the way, it’s all from Hashem,” and drive off. It’s not helpful to downplay my emotions. I need time to express myself. I’m going to get to it, but while I’m going through my pain, just give me some space. Perhaps the reason you don’t want me to have space is because you don’t want me to express my pain in front of you. Maybe it’s because of your pain. Maybe it’s because you don’t want to be uncomfortable. Shivah is designed to allow the aveilim to breathe. our rabbis know what they’re doing. Chazal are so brilliant. All the halachos of shivah are built around allowing someone just to focus on the deceased. That’s it. They will get to HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, and if they don’t, there will be plenty of time after shivah to deal with it. Do not walk in and pull philosophy on them. Don’t be the Rambam. Let them have a moment when they don’t have to be lofty, when they can just be human, when they can even question Hashem; there’s nothing wrong, in a healthy relationship, with staring up at your father and asking, “Why?” It’s normal for someone to look at their loving Father in Heaven and say, “I don’t understand.” I think that if we don’t allow them to at least breathe and we go right to discussing HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, it takes their pain and smothers them with guilt. If you’re close enough to start mentioning HaKaddosh Baruch Hu to them, you’ll see them after shivah. And if you’re not, certainly don’t bring it up at shivah. At the core, being a Jew is not having an answer. Being a Jew is having the stamina to grapple. When we cut them off too quickly, sometimes it has negative consequences because it doesn’t allow them to fully express their own humanness; ultimately this hinders them from going back to HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, which is where deep down we all want to be. I want to touch again the category of losing a child or a spouse at a young age. The greatest fear a parent has when they lose a child is that the child will be forgotten. They invest in the child, they believe the child will make a difference in this world, will do good for the world, will add, will contribute – even if it’s at the base level of just having children. Parents frequently tell me that their greatest fear is that we’re going to forget their child, that now the child’s friends are coming and they’re sitting around and talking about him, but you know what? They’re all going to get married, and they’re all going to have their lives, and they are going to forget about this child. A nechamah for parents and for spouses, especially younger spouses, is when we’re able to express to them that their child or spouse will never be forgotten and that the impact that they’ll have on us will not be something we’re going to forget. Tell them how you’re going to work or do or build or contribute to something that will bear their name, that will carry their legacy and carry their torch. In this way their impact on the world, while it won’t be in the usual course of events – of growing older and having a family – will be growing and growing and growing spiritually. Number Two. This is a littel more complicated, but many people that have experienced loss feel guilty moving on. They feel if I am happy, then I’m doing my deceased a disservice. They’re not here, so why am I happy? If I wake up in the morning and I’m happy, it’s almost as if I’ve forgotten them. The first time that they experienced their loss it was linked with pain. And so they make a succinct connection between pain and memory. If you’re close enough with the aveilim, try to impress upon them that their joy can still be part of their memory. Sadness doesn’t equal remembering. You can remember somebody just as easily when you’re happy, when you’re excited, when you’re impassioned. After an appropriate amount of time – even at a shivah – you can allow the aveilim to start to create memories that will lead to emotions that are positive. This might be by remembering a funny story or a powerful story; this is real nechamah. They need permission to feel good and still keep their loved one alive in their hearts. using words and using stories that are positive about the deceased many times allows them to start creating positive emotions associated with the deceased. They remember how funny they were. They remember the funny things they did. They remember the humor or the strength and willpower they had. The more upbeat, fun, humorous memories, appropriately, that you can give the family, the more you’re giving them a portfolio, if you will, of memories that they can remember them by, memories connected with something positive. Many times, if you lose somebody that you love, the initial emotion you feel when you experienced the loss was that of pain. It’s someone that you care about deeply. It’s someone that you can’t imagine your life without. It’s someone that you want more than anything in the world to be with forever. In our souls we know that people won’t be around forever. But we never want the time of parting to come. We all know that we’re just here temporarily and that the true us is not our bodies. We have bodies, we are not bodies. At the core of Yiddishkeit is the belief that each and every one of us is created b’tzelem elokim, in the image of g-d. We’re created with a cheilek elokah mima’al, a piece of Hashem from above, literally. The power that’s inside of us, the who we are, not what we have, is a piece of Hashem; it comes from that Source. That’s who we are; we’re spiritual. We have bodies. We have roles. We have titles. We have students. We have children. We have bank accounts. We have cars. We have homes. We have all that stuff, but who we are is not from the physical world. It’s a different substance completely. And we go through our lives and lose sense of that because we can’t sense it. We’re all sensory beings. We talk, we listen, we feel, we touch, and so we begin to start to equate who we are with what we can sense. We go even further; we equate who we are with what we do. After what’s your name, what’s the next question we ask? Well, if you’re Jewish, it’s, “Who do you know?” But otherwise, what is it? We ask, “What do you do?” Why is that even relevant? Because we’re trying to capture the essence of somebody, and we need things to hold on to. But here’s the truth. We’re not what we do. We’re not even our name. That’s physical stuff that gets put around us to allow us to operate in this unique world called Earth. What we are is a soul. We’re a piece of a Hashem. We’re brought into this world for between one second and 120 years. We’re then charged with a mission that outshines and overshadows anything physical we can accomplish here, and we’re given power by our Father who gives us the source of life every single second. We’re operating almost in two worlds: world one, the physical, the sensory world; and world two, which is a larger vision. The Ribbono Shel Olam says, “You’re my soldier, you’re my commando. go down to this location and accomplish this mission.” It’s hard for us to see this because we live a regular life, but that’s the truth. When somebody dies, they don’t go anywhere. Their body goes somewhere, but the essence of who they are doesn’t go anywhere. They are still in the world of ruchni, the spiritual world. We just can’t talk to them the same way. We can’t sense them the same way. We can’t operate on the same set of operating mechanisms that we’ve operated on when we first met them. When they were born to us or we were born to them or we married them or met them, we met them on a physical plane. We don’t remember, we can’t sense when we actually met them for the first time, which was in the spiritual world, a world that can’t be stopped or changed because of anything that happens to one’s body. The core truth is that your loved one is still here. The problem that many of us have is that the first time we lost them the experience that we felt was pain because of the change in our relationship. I used to be able to talk to them; now I can’t. Even if you never spoke to them, even if they lived in a different country and you spoke to them twice a year, you knew you could speak to them; now you can’t. And the sense that they’re not here anymore for us to relate to is painful. We now appreciate them like we never appreciated them before. And that experience hurts. Our minds are amazing machines. They operate under a science called neuroplasticity. That means that every thought you have creates a neurological connection, and the more you think that thought, the closer the connection. The reason why when I look at a round substance I say “ball” isn’t because I’m smarter or less smart than somebody in China who uses a totally different word for that same round object. It’s because when I was little I was taught that that’s a ball. And my mind linked up that object and “ball,” so now I don’t even think about it; it’s connected. If I would have grown up in a different country I wouldn’t even know what the word ball is. I would link something entirely different with that round object. This happens all the time. Have you ever tasted something, and then you have a desire to taste something else? You’re drinking a cup of coffee, and you’ll have this feeling like, why do I want a cookie now? Where did this come from? or you’re sitting at a Shabbos table and you have challah, and the next feeling you’re going to have is, I need cholent. Where did this come from? How do we get from Kiddush to salivating? HaKaddosh Baruch Hu is such an amazing designer; He connects things together so quickly that our brains link two different experiences. As you do it again and again and again, it creates almost a rope, and things become tied together. When somebody experiences a loss, what happens neurologically is that they link loss – that their loved one is not here physically – with pain, with anguish. There is a famous story that Shlomoh Hamelech sent out one of his advisors to find the ring that would make poor people happy and rich people scared. After a long time his advisor came back with a ring upon which was engraved three Hebrew letters: gimmel, zayin, yud, which stood for gam zeh ya’avor (this too shall pass). This idea would make a poor person happy and a rich person scared. Shik’chah, forgetfulness, is another gift HaKaddosh Baruch Hu gives us. Time does have a way, not of causing us to forget, but of allowing us to deal with pain. Gam zeh ya’avor. What happens to many people is that as time goes on, they feel guilty for not being in pain. They remember their loved ones, and because that first memory was pain, they feel as if by moving on they are disrespecting or dishonoring their loved one. How can I enjoy this day? This person is not even around. How can we have fun? Do you know that so and so died? How can you be laughing at a shivah house, excuse me? How can I ever walk into a room again if I once walked into the room with my loved one, and he’s not here? The first time we experienced the niftar not being here we were in pain, and we feel like if we don’t come back to that pain year after year, time after time, we’re not doing our job. They’re not here and we’re moving past them? We’re living without them? That’s not right. So the way we connect back to them is that feeling we had when we first lost them, when we didn’t move on, when it was all about them, when we sat at a funeral or at a shivah house. The way we respected them, the way we honored them the first time, was being in pain. So we think we should honor them from now on by being in pain. But, why can’t the way we honor them by being b’simchah, by being happy? Why can’t the way we honor them when walking into a room be by never allowing another day to pass without being in full and complete appreciation for what we have? Why can’t their memory be about making every moment of every day filled with overwhelming ahavah? Why can’t we honor them by going to bed every night and kissing every one of our kids? Why can’t we honor them by walking into shul and praying like today is our last tefillah? Why can’t we honor them by having a cup of coffee and talking to them? They may not answer back, but HaKaddosh Baruch Hu doesn’t answer back; He listens. In the world of spirituality we believe at our core that He hears. If we didn’t believe that He hears, then why do we say Tehillim for someone who is sick in eretz Yisrael? The gadlus, the overwhelming awesomeness of being a Yid, is that we don’t get ourselves stuck in the physical world. We’re just bodies, but we live on a totally different plane, and we operate on that plane. And if you will allow yourself to start to link up positive emotions with your deceased, if you will allow yourself to take the legacy of your deceased and bring it out, if you will allow yourself to maybe even enjoy life more because of them, to never let a moment go by without sucking out the joy of every day, if you allow yourself to have your loved one be the reason, the inspiration, for why every second of your life will be filled with every positive emotion the eibershter gives us, is that not remembering them? Is that not bringing their legacy up to the next level? Is that not honoring them in a much bigger way? In the Next World, do you think they are happier or less happy that their legacy is enabling you to be b’simchah tamid, happy always? Walking into a room with a positive mentality is giving them chizzuk right now as they sit next to the Kisei Hakavod, Hashem’s Throne of glory, where they understand, even though we don’t, why they were taken from us at a young age. The more we connect positive with their memory, the more their memory lives on, the more their legacy enriches, builds, creates, the more they’re able to stick with us at every second of our lives; this allows us to move on to be more productive, to be greater, to be more connected to the Ribbono Shel Olam. And – if I can be so bold to say this – we’ll be more able to build the bricks of the third Beis Hamikdash and get to a place and time when we’ll see them once again. It’s all about how we view our departed loved ones. When we start to see them like the soul that they are and not the body that they’re not, we start to realize that they’re happy. We may not be, but they are. They get to be themselves again; they get to be souls. We may miss them like crazy, and we may want them to be with us for many more years, but they’re back to where they want to be. They’re standing next to the Ribbono Shel Olam. They’re connected to their true essence, shedding the outside trappings that stop them from being them. We need to see that and feel that and quarantine the pain as missing them as opposed to honoring them. If we allow ourselves to create a little rift between pain equals missing them, which is totally fine, and pain equals remembering and honoring them, we’ll allow the “gam zeh ya’avor principle” to pull away the negativity. In this way we’ll allow ourselves to connect only to their true essence and to live our lives with simchah, with emunah, with courage and with greatness and have them be the reason for that, which I think could be one of the greatest things we can do for them as their lasting legacy.

Sensitivity Above All, with R’ Aharon Margalit (Hebrew with subtitles)

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
R’ Aharon Margalit is the author of As long As I live, an autobiographical account originally written in Hebrew and titled ethaleich. He has faced a series of extreme life challenges, including the loss of his power of speech, contracting polio and remaining institutionalized for five years thereafter, deadly malignant tumors and the loss of loved ones. Today, R’ Aharon is a world-renowned speaker, whose inspirational story and call to take positive action no matter the situation have changed the lives of thousands of listeners.
Key points
  • Remember, you’re not going for yourself. You’re going to give chizzuk to the aveil and the neshamah of the The reason we say “HaMakom yenacheim eschem” in the plural is because we are there to comfort the aveil and the niftar.
  • Don’t go to a shivah house too late. People need to rest and recoup their Allow the aveil time to eat. In general, do all you can to make it easier for them during this difficult time.
  • Don’t stay too For most people, no more than ten minutes is an appropriate length stay. Move aside so that other people who have arrived can come forward.
  • Try to elicit information about the niftar, about the family, about the ancestors, if
  • Joking at a shivah house is give chizzuk in a mentchlichdike way.
  • Don’t say things like, “At least the niftar didn’t suffer,” or “It’s good you had time to say ” Whatever the case may be, this is a painful situation.
  • If you can, be mechazzeik the aveil by giving over the idea that there is a Hashem is watching, and He has a chesh- bon. The niftar did make a difference, a change in people’s lives, in the total picture, and Hashem knows this.
Transcript

Sensitivity Above All: Pointers from Personal experience The mitzvah of nichum aveilim is a very lofty act of loving-kindness. It is an act of chessed and a fulfillment of the mitzvah of “v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha,” love your fellow as yourself. The Rambam rules that the mitzvah of nichum aveilim is even more prominent than that of bikur cholim, visiting the sick. This is quite astounding, as bikur cholim includes attending to the needs of the ill person, such as airing out the room, procuring medicines and calling a doctor when necessary, which may very well even be lifesaving. Some latter authorities even rule that nichum aveilim is also more important than hachnasas kallah, providing funds for a poor bride to get married, as is indicated by the passuk, “Tov laleches l’beis aveil mileches l’beis mishteh,” it is better to go to the house of a mourner, than to go to a house of celebration. The importance of this mitzvah lies in its being a twofold act of kindness – for the aveilim, as well as for the neshamah of the niftar. The phrase said by Ashkenazim when being menacheim aveil is “HaMakom yenacheim eschem” (Hashem should comfort you) and by Sephardim is “Min haShamayim tenuchamu” (From Heaven you should be comforted); both are worded in the plural even when addressing a single aveil. The Imrei Emes of Gur explains that this shows that the mitzvah is to comfort the aveilim and the neshamah of the niftar. There are several levels of fulfilling this mitzvah. The first is simply going to be menacheim aveil, which brings some comfort to the aveil, who finds himself feeling alone. The aveil feels somewhat embarrassed, even chastised, having suffered a loss that makes him feel as if the world is crumbling beneath his feet. The very fact that people come to visit him offers a measure of nechamah and encouragement. The second and higher level is when one recites the words “HaMakom yenacheim.” The aveil hears in this a prayer asking Hashem to bring him comfort. This is a source of strength and encouragement. A third, even greater level, is when one succeeds in comforting the aveil with personal words of encouragement and nechamah, words that soothe and strengthen the aveil. Hagaon Harav Shmuel Wosner, in his work Shevet Halevi, cites the Zohar on Parshas Korach that prior to making a shivah call one should prepare himself and think over what he wishes to say. This is necessary lest one’s lack of preparation lead him to speak in a way that might upset or insult the aveilim. This could cause one to transgress prohibitions in the Torah; indeed, any meeting between individuals requires sensitivity and a degree of tact so as not to offend the other person. How much more so in this case, when the aveil is particularly vulnerable and sensitive. No one enjoys being menacheim aveil. The situation at a shivah house is often difficult and awkward. The pain is fresh, the wounds are open and nerves are frayed. The visitor might find himself wondering if he should he address the pain, possibly touching a raw nerve, or avoid doing so. Should he converse with the aveil, and, if so, on what topic? Perhaps he should just say the customary phrase and leave. When a person faces an aveil who is highly sensitive, which usually is the case with aveilim, one must be extremely careful. The aveil’s emotional sensors are incredibly perceptive. They can pick up the slightest insult, no matter how minor or unintentional, and it is all too easy for an aveil to feel hurt. If this is so with any aveil, one who has lost a father, mother, brother or sister due to natural causes at an older age, it is even more so when the aveil has lost a relative under tragic circumstances, a relative who was relatively young or who died very suddenly. In such cases the pain is horrible, the suffering and mental anguish is much more intense. This demands that those being menacheim aveil be all the more sensitive and tactful. The Torah, which guides our life, teaches us how to conduct ourselves in a beis aveil. Halachah tells us that one who visits a beis aveil is not supposed to open the conversation with the aveil; rather, he must wait until the aveil speaks first. When the aveil speaks first, this tells us how he would like the conversation to develop. Sometimes the aveil does not want to talk at all. He might not be interested in talking about the niftar, and he might not be interested in discussing his pain or his feelings. At other times, the aveil is interested in discussing these matters. Perhaps he wants to hear a story about the niftar or some anecdotes about the person’s behavior or middos, of which he was unaware. When the aveil does begin speaking, one should go along in the direction he has started; don’t try to steer the conversation in other directions. Sometimes, relatives who have not seen each other for a while, or neighbors and friends meet in the beis aveil, and a friendly conversation begins spontaneously. The aveil often doesn’t have the patience for these light conversations, which he sees as unnecessary, even frivolous. He might just want some peace and quiet. Sometimes neighbors will discuss neighborhood issues, local or national politics, news and the like. The aveil is likewise not interested in hearing these conversations. The aveil might be tactful and refrain from commenting to his visitors, but we, as visitors, need to be sensitive in this regard. Be aware that it is not always appropraite to attempt to soothe the mourner’s feelings. At a beis aveil, it is important to project empathy. The aveil is not yet in a receptive state of mind to hear words of nechamah. Chazal say, “ein mafisin adam b’shas ka’aso,” we do not appease a person during the time of his anger, his pain. At this time, the aveil wants empathy for his situation. Words of comfort might be effective later – but even then, only from those whom the aveil wishes to hear such words. Sometimes, empathy is effectively expressed simply through eye contact, by looking at the aveil and actively listening to him. Sometimes this is shown by speaking softly, by leaning toward him. It is enough to sit there for ten or fifteen minutes; if a large crowd has already gathered, it might be appropriate to get up sooner than that, to avoid overcrowding the room and to take leave of the aveil by reciting “HaMakom yenacheim.” However, the most important thing is not to say foolish things. The mourner is no fool. He does not buy the silly things that people tend to say. Not only do these not offer him nechamah, but they often exacerbate his pain. He thinks to himself, “Why did these people have to come at all? Do they think that I am a fool, just because I have suffered a loss?” Perhaps this is the most appropriate place to use Chazal’s axiom, “V’lo matzasi l’guf tov ela shesikah,” the best find for any person is silence. It is all too easy to say something hurtful, causing pain to the aveilim. As with any prohibition from the Torah, one must rule stringently when in doubt. If we are not absolutely sure that we have the appropriate words to say, it is better to be silent. The words of our Sages in praise of the merits of silence are all the more pertinent in a beis aveil. Before we get to what to say at a beis aveil, I would like to touch on a point that I encounter often. Some people avoid going to be menacheim aveil, especially when the death was what we would term tragic. They tend to rationalize, “I do not know what to say”; “I don’t have the strength”; “I can’t bear to see the family’s pain.” Please know that this can offend the aveilim very much. I remember when my family was in aveilus following the tragic death of my brother. I was eighteen when my brother Ya’akov, a”h, who was in the army, was killed in action. It was a terrible tragedy. one of our family’s spiritual leaders, who was rather inexperienced at the time – I say this to be dan l’kaf zechus – did not come to be menacheim aveil. At the time, my father kept asking, “Has he not come? Did he call? What is going on with him?” In the end, after the week of shivah, acquaintances told my father that this person had not come because the pain was too intense. My father could not accept this at all. “He could not see me in my state of anguish? He could not come to be with me? How am I supposed to feel? The fact that a close friend could not bring himself to be menacheim aveil just adds to my pain. Where is his nosei b’ol im chaveiro? Where is his empathy?” I believe that my father never forgave this individual. I am not sure that this person asked his forgiveness, but I believe that my father never forgave him. It was that painful. This was difficult for us as children. I know this person and still meet him occasionally, but this event left a lasting impression. I must mention a different unforgettable occurrence from that painful time that, in contrast, was highly commendable. I remember that among those who came and spoke to us, there was one person who stood out with a remarkable deed. My brother was killed in action on Monday night, 9 Adar II, 5730. He was killed in the Suez Canal area, and by the time we were informed, it was already Tuesday morning. The officers in charge of notifying us came from Be’er Sheva to the small farm community of Tifrach, where we lived. I was already at work in Be’er Sheva when they arrived to tell us the news, and they had left a message at my office that I should go home to Tifrach. The trip back home was horrifying. I had no idea who had been killed; I had three brothers in the military at the time. If you received a message from the notifying officers to go home, you knew that there was bad news, but you did not know how bad, since the same procedure was followed whether a relative had been seriously injured or killed in the line of duty. The bus ride home was terrible. The dash to the bus stop near my office, the ride home, the long walk from the bus stop at the settlement to our home were all made in such a state of trepidation. I arrived home and found my mother in the kitchen surrounded by women, and I heard a voice crying in the bedroom; it was my father, a tall, big man, who was crying. I entered the room, but I did not have the courage to approach him. I just stood there looking at him from a distance. Suddenly, someone came into the room like a whirlwind. It was my father’s close friend, Reb Yerachmiel Epstein, a”h. He came into the house without asking any questions, went straight into the bedroom and grabbed my father, turning him until they faced each other. And these two giants of men embraced and cried on each other’s shoulders. They did not speak at all. They just stood there and cried together. After a few minutes, they regained their composure, and he asked my father if he could bring him a drink, just a bit of water, “Drink for my sake,” he said to my father. For me, this was a vivid illustration of what it means to share a friend’s pain. There were many other fine people in Tifrach. My father was friendly with all of them. But only one of them had the courage to come into the house, enter the bedroom and give my father a bear hug. It was amazing. What should one say? First, I wish to repeat that the most important thing is what not to say. If one is not absolutely sure that he has the right words, intelligent words, soothing words, words of nechamah – it is best not to speak at all. In that case, one should sit and listen actively to what others say, let the aveil talk about what he wishes to discuss and say the standard words of nechamah. He should respond in a subdued tone and speak gently and with utmost sensitivity. one who knows anecdotes about the niftar should relate them when appropriate. These are often of interest to the family, especially when they center on the past – not on the last period of the person’s life. Some may even write down the stories that were otherwise unknown to the family and even eventually use these notes to write a biography of the niftar. As one who has unfortunately experienced aveilus several times in the course of my life, I can say that in this way I heard some very powerful and moving stories, of which I myself had not been aware. However, this is all on the condition that the mourner steers the conversation in this direction. Sometimes the aveil will say clearly, “You knew this person; surely you have some memories of him to share.” In such cases, it is appropriate to share some personal anecdotes from the not-so-recent past. I would like to add something, and this too draws on the period when we were in aveilus for my brother Ya’akov. As I mentioned, I was eighteen-and-a-half years old at the time. Ya’akov and I were very close. We grew up together in a house of seven boys, of which Ya’akov was the second and I was the fourth. of all of my brothers, I felt closest to Ya’akov, who was especially sensitive. I had quite an unusual childhood. I did not speak much, and when I did, I stuttered heavily. For many years, I was institutionalized, and later I needed metal braces with high shoes and crutches to get around. Children will be children, and at times, they would make fun of me and laugh at me, either to my face or behind my back. Ya’akov never did anything like that. He would often ask me, “Aharon, how are you coping? Is it not too difficult for you?” It was as if we had twin souls. When he was killed, it was the end of the world for me. Most people who came to be menacheim aveil were concerned with my parents, concentrating on giving them strength. our friends were very worried that something might happen to them because of their tragic loss. Indeed, my father suffered three heart attacks during the year that followed. My father was truly devastated by his loss. His life could be described as consisting of two periods – prior to Ya’akov’s death and after Ya’akov’s death. He never recovered from this terrible tragedy. However, nobody paid much attention to the siblings. We were six brothers, all of whom were in pain at one level or another, but no one thought that we might need some help. To this day, I still miss Ya’akov. I pinch myself sometimes, even though forty-four years have passed since his death, since sometimes I dream that I actually see him walking into the house – tall, young and broad-shouldered. These dreams are so vivid that the only question in my mind is if he would stay forever young or he would look as old as he would have been today. I strongly recommend that anyone who visits a beis aveil where there are children among the aveilim should pay attention to them as well. And not just to the young children, but to the older ones, who are also in need of comfort. We lost our own son, some seven and a half years ago, just half a year after his marriage. He was in South America on business, and some drunken locals involved in a brawl on a main street mistook him for one of their own, beating and stabbing him and leaving him bleeding profusely in the dark street in the middle of the night. His wife – who did not even speak the language – called out for help until a woman in a nearby building heard her cries and summoned an ambulance. Still, precious minutes passed until it arrived and took him to the hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery. However, the doctors failed to notice that he had internal bleeding. After the surgery, they saw that his situation was still deteriorating and that he was becoming pale and week. They rushed him back into the operating room, but it was too late – he did not leave that room alive. It was an enormous tragedy. It is impossible to describe the shock. What a cruel death, murdered in front of his young wife. It took another few days until we were able to fly his body home; the police viewed it as an exhibit in the case, since they had apprehended the criminals. The funeral took place on Motza’ei Shabbos parshas Bereishis. Many, many people came to be menacheim aveil. Thousands of people. I do not remember anything at all. Nothing. However, there was one person who said something that gave me so much strength, which was so powerful, that I cannot forget it to this day. Even before the funeral, on that Shabbos, we went to shul as usual. All of our children were with us that Shabbos. We still were not considered aveilim, and in any case, public displays of aveilus are prohibited on Shabbos. One very good friend of mine – Rav Nachman Hershkowitz, a longtime chavrusa (study partner), a real tzaddik – showed me a Zohar on that week’s parshah stating that any Jew killed by a gentile – regardless of the reason – is automatically elevated to the seventh of ten heavenly palaces in Shamayim. A different friend had seen the Zohar and shown it to Reb Nachman, and he in turn, with great sensitivity, placed it in front of me between the aliyos during the Torah reading on Shabbos morning. I felt some measure of satisfaction and nechamah that my dear Chaim Yankele had been spared the standard torment after death and the suffering of Gehinnom, instead going directly to the seventh heaven. This gave me a good feeling, that he had completed his purpose in this world, and, as cruel as his death was – I can only try to imagine what he must have gone through, the thoughts that went through his head during those crucial hours in which his life hung in the balance, the long minutes before the ambulance arrived, the hours of surgery and in between the surgeries, the fear, being in a strange country, far from home – but he went immediately to the seventh heaven. This was something that encouraged me and filled me with chizzuk. Another incident moved me deeply that Shabbos. We arrived home from shul and sat down to the Shabbos meal. Aveilus is forbidden on Shabbos, but – and this was a big but – we were aware that within a few hours Shabbos would end, and we would be going to bury our child. In the middle of the se’udah, we heard a knock at the door. Standing there was one of Rehovot’s rabbis, Harav Nassan Weinfeld. He entered and said, “I just felt that I wanted to be with you now.” We did not have any previous relationship of note with him; he was one of several rabbanim in the city, and he was actually one of the younger ones at the time – I do not believe that he was even forty years old then. He came and did not say anything in particular. He simply sat with us for about an hour, noting that he had already finished his se’udah earlier, but that he would eat something with us if we wanted. This was very moving. He left his family and walked quite a distance in order to sit with us. So one can express empathy and be nosei b’ol in many ways. When it comes to comforting the mourner, think a bit and follow your own heart, but most importantly, do so with utmost sensitivity to the mourner. Pain remains pain, bereavement remains bereavement; but it is imperative that one not sink into this frame of mind. One cannot stay there, for if he falls into despair, it is very difficult to arise afterward. There is a time for hesped (eulogizing) and a time for bechiyah (crying), but one must always think, “What can I do here and now to help myself and others?” The Torah exhorts us “u’vacharta bachayim” – choose life. This means to choose life as it should be: a life that is full, an active life, a life of hope, of thought, of aspirations. A person must be able to master his emotions and thoughts, not only his actions. If he succeeds in keeping his focus, it does not matter what he has been through or what the situation is; he does not have to fall into self-pity. Instead, he can think, “What can I do now?” A person’s background is irrelevant, it does not matter where he grew up, that his teacher mistreated him, or that he is angry with his mother, brothers, sisters, etc. He can always consider what he can do here and now that will be productive, to help others and himself. Crying over the past is worthless. A person can also daven to Hashem for guidance on what he can do, that He should grant a person the insight to know the right course of action. In this manner, he usually finds the right thing to do; as our Sages say, “B’derech she’adam rotzeh leilech, molichin oso,” a person is led along the way that he desires to go. A person who makes the effort to help himself receives an important measure of siyata d’Shmaya, of help from Above, not to sink into despair and to succeed in taking productive steps. Before we conclude, I would like to share another thought, which also has its roots in the time after my brother Ya’akov’s death. My father was incredibly broken; it was extremely difficult to get him out of his anguish and pain. This in turn devastated us, his children, and we tried to find something we could do to help. Approximately two years later, I got married and then had two sons. At the chalakah celebration for my second son, who was murdered years later, I established a free-loan fund in memory of my late brother. I prepared all of the paperwork in advance, arranged for its registration as a tzeddakah and printed the receipt books. I did everything with the intention that my father be occupied with activity, so that this would help him get over his loss. You have no idea how helpful this was. As long as he could still function, which was up to three years before his death, he was a very organized individual and would sit each evening to deal with the fund and the paperwork. The fund was run superbly, and it kept him occupied and interested and in the center of affairs in our little settlement. Later, when the yeshivah and kollel students arrived in Tifrach, they all benefitted from the loans extended by the fund, which grew and still functions to this day. It was founded in memory of my brother, but the main thing is that it took my father away from his pain and bereavement and channeled these into productive action. If we see people who devastated by loss, we should try to think of ideas that can channel their grief into productive action. May we merit the day when death is eradicated forever, and we see techiyas hameisim, with Mashiach’s arrival, bimheirah b’yameinu, speedily and in our days, amein.

On the Loss of a Child, with Rabbi Yehuda Amsel

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Rabbi Yehuda Amsel was a founding scholar of the Denver Community Kollel and subsequently served as the Outreach Co-Director there, leading a variety of community programs in the east Denver area. In September of 2012, he relocated to Oak Park, MI, where he serves as the Director of Community Relations for Yeshivas Darchei Torah of Southfield, MI. He is an alumnus of Beth Medrash Govoha in lakewood, NJ; Brisk Yeshivah in Jerusalem; and Yeshivah of Telshe Alumni in Riverdale, NY.
Key points

• Children are a gift; they do not belong to us.
• Every kind of loss is different, whether it is sudden, after a prolonged illness, etc.
• When young children die, it’s beyond our understanding and certainly not because we are being punished. Rather, Hashem looks for special guardians with whom He can entrust His most special neshamos.
• The neshamos of young children who have never sinned are like korbanos to Hashem.
• We can’t understand what happened because there is a bigger picture starting from the time of Adam Harishon, which is beyond us. one shouldn’t stress himself trying to understand; rather, accept that it’s beyond you.
• Hashem infuses a person with kochos to accept the situation he is given.
• The pain does subside with time.
• One’s faith and trust in Hashem can allow a person to move forward.

Transcript

The loss of a child: a personal perspective The first thing a person has to realize is that children are not their own. What do I mean? There is a famous medrash brought down in Mishlei on the words, “Ishah yiras Hashem, hi tis’halal,” about Beruriah the wife of Rebbi Meir. Rebbi Meir was in the beis hakenesses for shalosh se’udos, the third Shabbos meal, when their two children died. Beruriah, who was home with them, covered them over, and when her husband came home, she asked him, “What’s the halachah when a shomer, a watchman, comes to pick up his pikadon, his item of deposit?” Rebbi Meir answered, “What’s the question? You have to give the pikadon back to the shomer.” She replied, “Well, that’s what I did; the Shomer came to pick up His two pikdonos, his two articles that He left with us, and I gave them back.” And then she showed him that their two children had died. I think the number one thing a person has to realize is that when he feels that something belonging to him was taken away, that certainly adds to the pain, to the hole, to the sorrow, to the heart that’s broken. Yes, it definitely would be nice if Hashem would warn us and say, “By the way, the thing you’ve been watching for Me, the child you’ve been watching for Me – I’m coming to pick him up.” But we don’t understand the ways of HaKaddosh Baruch Hu. He comes to take them when He decides it’s time. When a person can internalize that what was taken away was something that never really belonged to him, I think it makes a difference in being able to process and get through the ordeal. Again, this doesn’t minimize the pain because the pain comes from being so attached to the child, who is then suddenly taken away. But when he realizes that this child was never really his, but rather, he was doing a favor, so to speak, for HaKaddosh Baruch Hu in caring for the child, it makes it easier – I feel – to deal with and hopefully move along. We lost our almost two-and-a-half-year-old healthy daughter, Elisheva Miriam. In very short, it was a Monday night. She had supper, she ate – actually with more appetite than usual. During the night she sounded very congested. We were living in Denver at the time; our daughter had had a breathing condition called RSV, which many children have there because of the high altitude, but it usually lasts only for the first year. Elisheva Miriam was already two-and-a-half, so that was ruled out; but we had a nebulizer because of her original condition, so we decided to use that during the night. My wife also steamed up the bathroom to try to moisturize the air a little bit, and she sat with Elisheva Miriam in the bathroom for quite some time. on Tuesday morning my wife took her to the doctor, and she died in the doctor’s office, which is what you would call a very sudden petirah, a very sudden death. Some people asked, “How did you manage the sudden separation? I can’t even fathom what you went through!” Which is true, very true. But then when I personally heard about others who lost children after a long, drawn-out sickness, I couldn’t imagine how in the world they watched a child suffer for so long and then after all that, lost the child. So every situation, every loss, every circumstance is different and can be looked at differently. I want to share one of the things that really comforted us – I heard this from a few people, including my Rosh Yeshivah Rav [Avrohom] Ausband; the way he shared this really made an impact on us. He also lost a child, right before she became bas mitzvah; it was six months after he lost his daughter that we lost ours. He flew out to Denver to be menacheim aveil and really pumped us with a lot of chizzuk. A relative of his had lost a child in eretz Yisrael, and this couple, or at least the father, was being very, very hard on himself, feeling guilt and taking blame for what had happened. His approach was very harsh. one of the gedolim came in and said to him, “Do you think that your ma’asim and aveiros, your deeds and sins, are so impactful that because of them Hashem would take away your child? That’s haughtiness, that’s ga’avah. Chas v’Shalom, g-d forbid, to think for one minute that it has to do with you or something you did or should not have done.” When children die, specifically those under bar or bas mitzvah, and certainly those who haven’t reached the age of chinuch, as in our situation, it’s out of the realm of our understanding. You may have heard the famous concept that neshamos have gilgulim, reincarnations: a neshamah comes down, and then if it doesn’t finish what it needs to do, it has the opportunity to come down again to finish its job if it so merits. These neshamos sometimes need to come down for a year, for two or three years, and HaKaddosh Baruch Hu looks for parents and shomrim, guardians, whom He can trust to give them this child for two, three, four, five years – however long the neshamah needs to be brought down again – and He will then be able to take it away, and these parents will be able to cope and move on and understand that they were chosen for this purpose. This should actually fill the parents with pride. Now, again, this doesn’t take away any pain. The pain is indescribable, it hurts, and it’s difficult, but when a person starts thinking and understanding that it’s not what he or she did, but that they were chosen, selected by HaKaddosh Baruch Hu to safeguard these neshamos, it sort of gives them a sense of pride. “Wow, what did we do right? How were we zocheh to be the ones that HaKaddosh Baruch Hu chose to be the parents of this child who needed to come down only for these few years?” I believe its the Chaftez Chaim who says this: There’s a mishnah in Chagigah that talks about certain things that a person is not supposed to involve himself with – mah lifnim, mah le’achar – what was and what will be. The Chafetz Chaim says that children who die before bar or bas mitzvah go into one of those categories, and it’s useless to delve into what happened; it’s not something we think about because there is no rationale. It’s not understandable. It’s in HaKaddosh Baruch Hu’s realm, and that’s it. In Shemoneh esreih we say HaKaddosh Baruch Hu is Keil elyon. elyon means l’ma’alah meihasagaseinu. We have to recognize and realize that there are things that HaKaddosh Baruch Hu does that are above our understanding. And when a person is able to recognize that the loss of a child at a young age is l’ma’alah meihasagaseinu, is above our understanding, it allows the person to function a little bit more, recognizing that he is not dealing with something that has to make sense. When you have to try to make sense out of something, and it doesn’t make sense, it frustrates you and doesn’t let you move on. It ties you down. When a person can accept that this is elyon, this is HaKaddosh Baruch Hu’s way of doing things and we have absolutely no understanding, we don’t have to burden ourselves with trying to comprehend what happened. There is a Vilna Gaon in the introduction of Shulchan Aruch (cheilek Ohr Hachayim), on the words of “ya’aleh v’yavo,” which we say every Rosh Chodesh and Yom Tov. The Vilna Gaon is discussing the words we say in davening, “v’ishei Yisrael u’sefilasam.” So what are the fires of Yisrael today that we’re asking Hashem to accept? Which fires, which korbanos are we referring to? If you look in Shulchan Aruch (siman 120), there is an interesting Taz that includes three different ways to understand what this is referring to. one of the explanations is that it is referring to the neshamos of tzaddikim. And exactly what that means, again, is beyond our understanding. We don’t understand what it means that the neshamos of tzaddikim are on a mizbei’ach, an altar. But there are some sort of korbanos that take place today up in Shamayim, and we are asking HaKaddosh Baruch Hu to be mekabel, to accept, those. The Vilna Gaon explains that the word “v’yeiratzeh” in the tefillah of ya’aleh v’yavo is saying that in addition to the neshamos of tzaddikim, the neshamos of tinokos shelo chatu, the souls of children that didn’t sin, are also being brought as korbanos on the mizbei’ach on High. When we say v’yeiratzeh, that these korbanos should be accepted and should be a ratzon, an appeasement, to HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, we’re referring to the neshamos of these tinokos shelo chatu. So again, those of us who had such children have to realize that these neshamos are now fulfilling the v’yeiratzeh that all of Klal Yisrael says every Rosh Chodesh and every Yom Tov. We have to realize we are dealing with something special, and it’s important for parents like ourselves to take pride in the fact that we had that zechus and to turn the situation around and recognize that we were actually zocheh to have something that other parents are not zocheh to have. There’s a famous mashal, a parable, that’s used to explain different things: A fellow walks onto a plane, and he sees a cockpit. He is mesmerized by all the dials and all the buttons and all the gears. He asks the pilot while he’s waiting to get to his seat, “Can you explain to me what that dial over there is?” The pilot responds, “I can’t explain to you what that dial is because you first have to understand the layout of the entire cockpit. If I explain to you this, this, this and this, then I can explain to you what that dial is.” or a similar mashal is about a fellow who walks into a shul and has grievances on the gabbai for the aliyos and honors he gave to this person and this person and not to certain other people whom he thought should have gotten an aliyah. He goes over to the gabbai after davening and says, “I don’t understand. You didn’t see that guest? Surely, you had to give that guy an aliyah. And what about this fellow?” The gabbai says, “Anschuldig mir, excuse me, when was the last time you were in shul?” And the first fellow answers, “Actually, I was away for four or five weeks.” So the gabbai says, “Well, that person got an aliyah two weeks ago, and that person got three weeks ago. You can’t walk in after not being around for such a long time and then have complaints.” We have to realize that the calculation of neshamos coming down and going up started from Adam Harishon with Chavah, almost 6,000 years ago. one might ask, “HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, why did this neshamah have to come down now and be taken away at such an early age?” But you can’t ask that question without seeing the entire world of the neshamos, and that’s impossible. Even if we were able to comprehend, without seeing the entire scope of everything, we can’t possibly understand. That brings us back to realizing and recognizing that when we can process that this is all elyon, it’s above and not within our capability of understanding, it should make it easier to deal with. I remember on the way to the levayah, my father-in-law, Rabbi Stefansky from Toronto, a mechanech for many, many years, told us something so powerful. He said, “HaKaddosh Baruch Hu doesn’t need any accountants to help Him figure out why He does or doesn’t do something. He knows why He did it, and He knows it is the best thing for everyone. Don’t stress yourself with trying to make sense out of something with which HaKaddosh Baruch Hu doesn’t need your help and you’re not going to be able to figure out anyway.” Just knowing from the onset that this was not something we would be able to make sense out of, along with the sense of pride in recognizing that we were chosen to have such a special child who only needed a few years in this world, really helped me. And I think it is also important to mention that a person has kochos and strengths that they don’t realize they have. It’s all obviously given with siyata d’Shmaya, with help from Above. I remember vividly, the first morning of shivah; I could not walk out my bedroom. I remember I got up, and I was sitting on my bed crying. I told my wife, “People are coming for a minyan, but it’s not nogei’a, it’s not happening!” She said, “If you can’t, you can’t.” I ended up getting out there. But how did I get from that stage to being able to slowly get back into things? The same eibershter that gives the gives the potch, the slap — and maybe we shouldn’t call it a potch because we’re talking now about things we don’t understand – He infuses a person with strength to be able to move on, to be able to process and to be able to accept. It is also very important to realize that the pain will slowly begin to subside. There’s always a hole, there are always memories, there are always triggers, but the pain and the “How am I going to move on?” with time begin to slowly, slowly subside. And that’s the gift of shik’chah, forgetting. one never forgets who they had and what they lost, but that initial emotional pain that is seemingly impossible to deal with, slowly, slowly, slowly begins to ease. Then one can start to move on and move forward. My main job in Denver when this took place was saying shiurim on behalf of the kollel to different groups: secular, frum, not so frum – people from different backgrounds. I remember when I got back into my schedule of saying shiurim, one of the groups I met with on Monday nights was made up of a crowd of not-yet-frum people. And I remember one of them said something like, “Rabbi, your faith is just unbelievable. We wouldn’t be able to hold onto our faith like you if something like this happened to us.” And I responded sort of naturally, baruch Hashem, because of my upbringing and with siyata d’Shmaya: “That’s the only thing that’s helping me move forward. If I didn’t have what to hold onto, if I didn’t have the recognition that this is completely coming from the one Above Who knows what is best for everyone, I would be absolutely going insane – because then I would have to figure out how to make sense of it, and I wouldn’t have where to turn. It’s only because of my faith and recognizing that HaKaddosh Baruch Hu is the source of all this that I can actually move forward now.” I continued by saying, “Monday night she was alive, and Tuesday morning she was dead. Can anyone here in this room explain to me what happened? What was taken away; how does one die? To me it’s very simple. There is what we call a neshamah, there’s a nishmas elokim chayim, the soul, and when HaKaddosh Baruch Hu takes it out, the person dies. Because what else happened between eating supper Monday night to dying in a doctor’s office? Nothing happened except that there is something that gives life, controlled by Hashem, and when that is taken away, the person dies.” So I said, “on the contrary, it’s just because of the faith, because of having the privilege of being able to rely and trust that Hashem is the source of everything, that I am functioning now; if it was anything else, I don’t know how I could cope.”

Finding Comfort Through the Three “C”s, with Dr David Pelcovitz

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Dr. David Pelcovitz is a psychologist who has focused on clinical practice and research efforts in areas related to trauma, child abuse and parenting. He is currently the Straus Professor of Psychology and education at the Azrieli Graduate School.
Key points

There are three “C”s involved in loss and bereavement:

Coping:
• There is no one right way to cope. Some cope by distracting themselves. others have a need to talk about the pain and loss.
• Everyone has to find their own toolbox of how to cope. Become mindful of what works for you.
• It’s rare for family members to grieve the same way. Be respectful of the other members’ manners of coping.
• Tears are an amazing source of comfort.

Creating Meaning:
• Nechamah doesn’t mean comfort, it means a shift in perspective.
• When someone suffers a loss, he must do a self-examination to find meaning in the loss; what is his source of nechamah going to be?
• Some are comforted by the idea that Hashem tests only the strongest among us.
• others find the growth-inducing properties of challenge and loss to be comforting.
• Darkness leads to a greater appreciation of light; this is the key to resilience.

Connection:
• The words neshaamah (desolation) and neshamah (soul) have the same letters. A little support, like the perpendicular line of the kamatz under the shin in neshamah, brings a person from a place of desolation to a place of spiritual connection.
• Death takes a person away from connection. The laws of aveilus, mourning, allow us to gradually reconnect to the world.
• People need help making the right connections.
• Message to the community: After the initial outpouring of support, don’t forget about bereaved people.
• Connection can literally save lives.

Transcript

Finding Comfort through the three “C”s: Coping, Connection and Creating Meaning In this article, I am going to be discussing the three “C”s related to loss and bereavement. The first “C” is the “C” of Coping. In the last decade in particular, the psychology research has clearly shown that there is no one right way to cope. Very often, people will come to me and say, “I’m very worried about my husband. He doesn’t seem to be dealing with this loss. He lost his father, he lost his mother, and he doesn’t seem to be crying, he doesn’t seem to be talking about it.” or there will be variations on this theme in many different ways. often, men feel that their wives, daughters or sisters are crying too much, and vice versa, with the women being concerned that the men aren’t talking enough. But again, there are tremendous exceptions to this. I just want to share with you a few basic thoughts about coping, but what it boils down to is contained in a machlokes, a disagreement, in the Gemara, three times that I know of, between Rav Ami and Rav Asi on the verse in Mishlei of, “Da’agah b’leiv ish yasichenah” – if you have a worry in your heart, dampen it down. “Chad amar yasichenah mida’ato,” one way of seeing it is if you have a worry in your heart, push it down, don’t think about it too much, distract yourself. The other way is, if you have a worry in your heart, “yasichenah l’acheirim,” find somebody to whom you can talk about it, and talk to that person. Interestingly, our Rabbis don’t tell us that one way is better than the other. They don’t say that the opinion that says yasichenah l’acheirim is a better way to go than the distracter. The research shows us exactly this. Let us say a child, for example, has to have a difficult medical procedure. You are getting ready to give him this painful shot, this painful injection. Researchers have found that kids’ ways of coping go into two categories. one is distracters: they don’t want to know about it, they don’t want to think about it. They just want the game system to play with to get their mind off it. The other category is the kids who want to talk about it and want to know about it and do the research on it. They say, “Can’t I get a new doctor?” If you insist on still giving them the painful injection, they’ll want to do it themselves or help the doctor do it. Interestingly, if you don’t go according to their style, they fall apart. If you shove the game system into the hand of the attender, the one who needs to talk, the one following the “yasichenah l’acheirim” model, then you’re in trouble because basically that’s not his style. And if you shove the internet article about alternative procedures into the hands of the distracter, you are in trouble as well. Let me tell you a story that for me is my best way of understanding the importance of this concept and the take-home message on the “C” of Coping. I was in Israel during the height of the second Intifada, and I was giving a lecture at the Jerusalem Trauma Center where there was a group of about thirty to forty therapists who specialize in trauma. Interestingly, they know much more about trauma than I ever will. They needed an outsider because, “ein chavush matir es atzmo mibeis ha’asurim” – a prisoner cannot free himself from jail. You can be the biggest expert in the world in dealing with loss and dealing with grief and helping others through the stresses in their lives, but when it happens to you, you can’t free yourself from your own prison. So I was speaking there. In the middle of my talk, word came that there was a bombing in the Hebrew university cafeteria, and nine people were killed; seven of them happened to be Americans. So immediately – everybody in Israel knows everybody else – all these therapists were called out to deal with the aftermath of that horrible tragedy, and the only ones left in the trauma center were three therapists: the director, the assistant director and myself. And then another call came in. There was a camp in the middle of the country, and one of their counselors had been killed in this horrible bombing. The director of the center asked me if I could go with his assistant director and spend the day with the kids, tell them about the tragedy and help them deal with the aftermath of this loss of their beloved counselor. The assistant director and I got into her car, and we drove to the middle of the country. The director of the camp was waiting for us. He didn’t let us run the show; I should have known better. In Israel they are certainly not going to let an American tell them what to do! He immediately put me and my colleague in the corner, and he told the kids the horrible news. Then he told them, “Look, there are five coping rooms. One room is the room where you write letters to the parents of your beloved counselor about what a wonderful woman she was. Another room is an art room; express yourself artistically. The third room is the music room. The fourth room is the tefillah room, where you can pray. And a fifth room is the talking room. The kids were told they could go from room to room throughout the day – but not a single kid switched rooms. They divided themselves, of their own volition, equally between four of the five rooms. The one room that wasn’t picked, interestingly, was the tefillah room, probably because they were in a state of aninus, of such intense mourning; it was too soon to daven. The funeral had not even taken place yet. But a quarter of the kids spent the day talking to me and my colleague, a quarter of the kids wrote, a quarter of the kids did art, and a quarter of the kids did music. I learned an incredible lesson from this incident. A week later, as I remember it, I was back in the United States, and I was asked to give a talk to a group of people commemorating the first anniversary of 9/11. I told this story; to me it was an amazing, amazing story, and I learned a lot from it. There is “yasichenah” and there is “yasichenah l’acheirim.” A woman in the audience told me the following amazing story. She said that her father was a Vizhnitzer Chassid who was a bunkmate of Elie Wiesel in the concentration camp. In fact, her father was one of those boys in that famous picture of Elie Wiesel peering out with some of his fellow adolescents. Professor Wiesel had given a talk in Manhattan the week before, and her father said, “give him regards; he might remember me.” She waited on line after the lecture and gave regards from her father. Immediately, his eyes filled with tears and he said, “Your father isn’t sure if I remember him?! Didn’t he tell you how he saved my life?” And he told the following story: “It was a day that was horrible even by concentration-camp standards. The inmates were beyond endurance in terms of being beaten and starved, undergoing unbelievable suffering, as we have all heard. A group of Russian prisoners of war got hold of some rat poison. They were waiting on line, each taking a dose of rat poison and lying down to die. All of the adolescents in that section of the camp looked at each other, including Elie Wiesel, and decided that, ‘you know what, they are going to kill us anyway; let’s take matters into our own hands.’ They went on line behind the Russians. Dr. Wiesel said he fully intended on making those the last moments of his life. He was going to take the poison. ‘But,’ he said, ‘your father, who retained his faith even there, went to the side of the line and broke into the ancient Vizhnitzer niggun, “Ani ma’amin be’emunah sheleimah b’vias haMashiach,” I believe in ultimate redemption. Your father’s song broke our suicidal spell. one by one we left the line, and one by one we surrounded your father and joined him in singing the ani ma’amin.’ He finished by saying, ‘go home and tell your father, sheli shelach, anything that I have accomplished is in part because of his niggun.’” So that is the idea of the “C” of Copaing. Don’t let anybody tell you the right way to cope. People have to find their own toolbox of coping mechanisms. It is never just one thing. There are times that it will be talking and times that it will be crying and times that it will be learning, and there are times that it is going to be very different. Spouses often have different styles, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, often have different styles. The key is to remember that, as Rav Hirsch said, it is not “Keili, Keili, lamah azavtani,” Hashem, why have You abandoned me? Rather, the vowelization is “l’mah azavtani,” for what have You left me? We have to change from the why to the what. What am I going to do with this and how am I going to cope with it? And that is ultimately one of the most important lessons I have learned about bereavement. Interestingly, when in therapy, I am working with children who have gone through very tough times, be it bereavement, loss, or some kind of traumatic event, an accident that occurred to somebody they are close to, etc. We actually help them very concretely build up a toolbox of coping mechanisms. They talk about some upsetting event that has happened in their lives, or they watch a little film clip of something upsetting being depicted, and we then have them go to a table where we have thirteen different coping mechanisms. There are perfumes, different kinds of sports magazines, music players – you name it, we have it – different ways of either the “samech” of hesech hada’as, the distraction kind of coping mechanism, or the “sin” of yasichenah l’acheirim, of talking things out. Then they gather literally a toolbox of coping mechanisms; they usually settle on three or four that work best for them over the period of time that we work with them, and they become very mindful about what works for them when. There are two more points I want to make about coping before I end this section. one has to do with the fact that coping is often something that is a source of stress between husbands and wives. I alluded to that before, and I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that each member of a couple respect the right of the alternate coping mechanism because it is rare that couples grieve together or families grieve together the same way. The process of mourning may also be at a totally different pace for different people; a child’s pace of mourning is totally different than an adult’s pace of mourning. And in general, people will reach different points at different times. But I want to share with you a vignette and a thought. I have a colleague, his name is Dr. Bessel van der Kolk. He is one of the leading experts in trauma throughout the world. He once showed me the picture of a man’s brain; it was an FMRI, which is a brain scan you can take of somebody as they are experiencing certain emotions. This was an individual who was caught in the stairwell of the World Trade Center on 9/11. He was having a flashback of the worst moment of his life, when he was convinced that he was about to die, literally. One of the world’s tallest buildings was crumbling around him, and he was trying to run for safety. He showed me this picture of what it looks like when an individual is experiencing the worst moment of his life. Do you know what your brain looks like at that moment? Literally, the language centers of the brain are shut down; Broca’s area, which is the name of the language centers of the brain, is shut down. You are rendered speechless, but not just speechless, it is demimus. In Hebrew, the word demimus is a word reserved for total speechlessness, totally being without words. When Aharon Hakohen loses his sons tragically and suddenly, the words the Torah uses are “vayidom Aharon.” Not sheket, the typical term for quiet, as the Abarbanel says. Vayidom is because demimus is for total shutdown of language. Then, what Dr. van der Kolk showed me, which is the main point I want to make here on this component of coping, is that as he worked with this 9/11 survivor, and as he gave him words for his pain, literally lighting up the language centers of the brain, that is when healing came. As he engaged him in talking about exactly what happened and the meaning of what happened, that is when healing came. Now, this is not always with words. As I said before, sometimes it is with meaning, through learning or doing acts of chessed, or through somehow finding some other unique meaning. That is a very, very important point; this is the power of lighting up the language centers of the brain. Rabbi Charlop, in the early 1900s in Jerusalem, had a Haggadah called Mei Marom. And in it he says that slavery – going back to our days in Egypt – takes away our ko’ach hadibbur, our power of speech. When we as Jews gather around the table on Seder night, what is it called? Maggid. We are naming the monster. We are opening up our mouths and hearts, giving meaning to our history of losses and of suffering. That is the next point of coping I want to make. It is true that distraction is valid in its time. Talking is valid in its time. But ultimately, finding meaning through lighting up the language centers of the brain is something that everybody who goes through a loss has to find their own unique way of doing. Now, a word on tears: Imagine a four-year-old boy is lost in the supermarket. He cannot find his mother anywhere. He is walking around from aisle to aisle in a state of panic. If you had a picture of his nervous system at that point, you would see that he is now in fight or flight, a state of high physiologic arousal, but he is not crying. What happens the second he sees his mother? Now he’s safe. Totally illogically, he starts to cry. If you had a picture of his nervous system at that point, it is shifting over from fight or flight into a place of finding comfort. Ironically, tears are often an amazing, amazing source of comfort. The Mishnah says, “Al tenacheim chavercha besha’ah shemeiso mutal l’fanav,” don’t try to console somebody when his loss is very fresh, and literally, it’s before the burial. The Tiferes Yisrael says in his commentary something that makes no sense to the Western ear. He says adaraba, on the contrary, when he sees that you are not trying to comfort him, he will cry more. What does that mean? It doesn’t seem to make any sense. So let me illustrate this with a story and with a thought. The thought is that we now know that tears are often therapeutic. There are stress hormones released in tears. The story I want to share is an amazing story from Rabbi Lau, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, currently Chief Rabbi in Tel Aviv. The following is about when he was a little boy and got out of the concentration camps: When these Jews were in the concentration camps, they were beyond tears. A group of surviving children, including Rabbi Lau, were taken into an orphanage in France, and a very loving substitute mother was the housemother in the orphanage. The word came that there was going to be a special kind of an assembly at which a group of French Jews was going to give these children some kind of gifts. The children heard about this, and they were incredibly angry. “What do you mean, you are going to give us gifts? We don’t want gifts from you! What we wanted was for you to save us from our suffering back then!” It was irrational maybe, to blame these French Jews, but they were incredibly enraged and said, “We’re going to boycott this ceremony; we are not going to go!” The housemother, whom they loved very much, said, “Please go; it is going to embarrass me if you don’t. You don’t have to accept the gifts, but just go!” So they went, but they said they were not going to accept any gifts. They heard what must have been boring speech after boring speech from the French dignitaries. Finally, for the last speech, an elderly survivor got up. And he looked at the children and said, “Kinder, taiareh Yiddishe kinder,” and he broke down crying; he could not go on. He just started crying. Suddenly, one of the child survivors started crying, then the next child started crying. Pretty soon there was a crescendo of loud, ceaseless sobbing coming from these children. The French didn’t know what to do. They couldn’t stop it and had no idea how to handle it. They were in a state of shock. But one of the oldest surviving children got up, and he quoted by heart the passage of atzamos yeveishos and then said: “until now, we were beyond tears. We were like dried-up old bones; we couldn’t cry. You came here to this gathering to give us gifts, and you just gave us the biggest gift you possibly could have given. This survivor gave us the gift of our tears. Thank you for changing us and delivering us from the atzamos yeveishos to a place where we are able to cry, the greatest gift of all.” We have just finished the “C” of Coping, and now, in a somewhat briefer way, I am going to talk about the “C” of Connection, which is extremely important. My favorite psychological study on connection is a great metaphor for what many people going through the grief process can immediately relate to, when they realize the power of not feeling alone during a funeral, shivah and beyond. The “C” of connection is about, in part what we learn from a study in which people are taken and put at the bottom of a hill. When they are at the bottom of a hill and are asked by the researchers to estimate the steepness of the hill, if they are alone, they tend to estimate the hill as being very steep. If they have somebody at their side, the hill looks less steep. The closer one is to the person at his side, the less steep the hill looks and the less tired he gets walking up the hill. That is the key of the “C” of connection. I heard a beautiful thought from Rabbi Ephraim Shapiro, who gave a talk to a group of adult survivors of cancer at Chai Lifeline. He talks about a word that we see many times in Nach. The Hebrew word for desolation is neshaamah – nun, shin, mem, heih – and under the shin is the vowel called a pasach, an “ah” sound. Interestingly, the very same letters, if pronounced neshamah, mean soul. The same word can go from desolation to soul. What is the key to going from desolation to soul? Think of neshaamah, desolation, which has the pasach, the “ah” sound. To convert it into a soul, the neshamah, you replace the pasach with a kamatz, the “uh” sound, so now you have a little line running perpendicular to, supporting, the pasach. A little bit of support is what brings us from desolation to support, from desolation to neshamah, a place of feeling spiritual and reconnected. Death takes us away often from connection. That is why the brilliant wisdom of Judaism in terms of how to deal with the different levels of mourning is amazingly, amazingly powerful psychologically, as we gradually reconnect to the community in deeper ways through the various stages of grief and grieving. We go from, ultimately, a gradual withdrawal, to the end of the year, when we achieve a gradual reconnection to the world. Two points I want to make about the psychology of connection: Number one is that you have to be assertive about knowing how to ask for the right kind of connection. Very often, people give the wrong connections at the wrong time, and we have to learn how to ask for what we need. Six months after 9/11, there was a needs-assessment group that OHELput together in their offices with a number of Jewish families who lost family members in the World Trade Center and the plane crashes that led to the collapse of the World Trade Center. OHEL was coordinating, through Project Liberty, the mental-health services. And they asked members of the Jewish community who had direct loss, “How can we be most helpful to you in organizing services?” The number-one request of these bereaved individuals who suddenly lost fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, husbands, wives, was pretty much the same: “Help us negotiate the right kind of connections.” At the beginning they were often drowning in the chicken soup of love and support; that was overwhelming. They didn’t quite know how to handle it. But then, as often happens, starting six months later, seven months later, eight months later, they noticed that people were avoiding them. One woman mentioned that she would be walking down the street in her neighborhood, and she would clearly see people who were old friends of hers from before, who crossed the street to avoid her. Not because they were bad people, but because they were uncomfortable and didn’t know how to relate to her now that the initial shock was gone. An extremely important part of converting from desolation to soulfulness, from neshaamah to neshamah, is the ability to learn how to ask assertively for different kinds of help. Sometimes, you just need somebody to be at your side. Sometimes, you need somebody who is going to be there to talk to you. Sometimes, you are going to need somebody to give you concrete kind of help. But the most important point I want to make about connection has to do with the role of the community in knowing how to titrate out, how to measure out, the right kind of support. I will tell you a story from my practice. I was seeing a boy who had lost his father a number of years before I saw him. I wasn’t seeing him because of bereavement; he was doing fine. By the way, if g-d forbid a child loses a parent, the best predictor of how well that child will do is how well the surviving parent is doing in being there for the child in a consistent, loving kind of way. Not easy to do that initially, but over the long haul that’s the key predictor. This boy was going to a very orthodox yeshivah, and the family was very actively observant. He was coming to me for a totally different reason, and I don’t even know why I asked him this, but I said, “Tell me what your Shabbos is like in your house.” He said, “Let me tell you what happens. Friday night I’m in my room, I have my headphones on, and I’m watching television.” I said, “What about your mother?” He said, “oh, she’s in her room crying.” And I said, “And what about your other siblings?” “They’re all in their rooms. I don’t know what they’re doing. They’re probably listening with their headphones to different music or whatever.” I said, “But your family is observant. They don’t do that kind of stuff on Shabbos. And what about shul, what about kiddush?” He said, “Shul?” and laughed. “I can’t sit next to my father anymore. I don’t know where to sit. I – I – I have no place to be in shul; I don’t go to shul anymore on Shabbos.” I said, “And what about making kiddush for the family? You’re the oldest son.” He laughed at me again and said, “No, my mother cries because it’s just a reminder to her of the loss.” I said, “What about meals? Aren’t you invited for meals?” He said, “No.” I got his permission to contact his mother; I called his mother. She felt terrible, but she said, “Yeah, it’s all true, it’s all true. But frankly, at the beginning, after the loss of my husband, I was inundated with invitations, and I kept saying no because I wasn’t ready for it. Then, when I was ready, about six months later, the invitations had dried up.” So I got permission to make two phone calls, to my patient’s rabbi and to the principal of his school. They live in a wonderful community; that’s all it took. His rabbi immediately arranged for him to have somebody to sit next to and for the invitations to come. They were constantly invited to meals after that every Shabbos, and the head of his school made sure that all of the students in the school invited this boy. It took care of the problem completely. We have to keep in mind that after the initial natural outpouring, one has to know how to recruit the right kind of support. It changes over time. And community leaders need to learn how to be quarterbacks to keep checking in. one last quick vignette. Two years after Hurricane Katrina, there was a grant that Mount Sinai Hospital got to work with clergy people, for which I was invited to be the psychologist. one of the rabbis in that area told me the following story, and with this I will end the “C” of Connection. He said that Friday night in his synagogue, a twenty one-year-old boy whom he hadn’t seen since Katrina came to shul. He gave him a big hug and said, “We’re so happy to have you!” and everybody in shul gave him a warm hello. That Sunday morning he got a call from this congregant, whom he thought had left; the congregant shared the following: “You know something? I had felt totally disconnected from everybody. My parents left the neighborhood. I sort of dropped out from going to shul anymore. I felt totally alone in the world, and I decided to kill myself. But I figured I’d say goodbye to some of the people I knew in the old shul I went to growing up. And when you and everybody else asked me, ‘How are you doing?’ and gave me a hug, it renewed my sense of connection in the community.” Then he continued, “Rabbi, I want you to know that your question, ‘How are you doing?’ and the accompanying hug saved a life!” The third and final “C” I want to talk about is the “C” of creating meaning. It’s interesting. Rav Schwab, I think quoting Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, says that the Hebrew word for comfort, nechamah, doesn’t really mean comfort. If you look in the Torah, the first time the word nechamah appears is at the very end of parshas Bereishis. g-d is looking down on the world and it says, “Ki nichamti ki asisim,” sort of a reconsideration about having created man. Throughout the Torah, the word nechamah is really a shift in perspective, Rabbi Schwab says. “Pen yenacheim ha’am v’shavu Mitzrayimah” – Lest the nation reconsider and return to Mitzrayim. Again, the word means a shift in perspective. What does that mean? It means that over time, as people find meaning in their loss – and it takes a while, sometimes it happens quicker and sometimes it happens slower – it’s often one of the most powerful sources of coming to terms with the loss. It varies; nobody can tell you how to handle it. The Talmud tells us that, “Im ira davar ra,” if something bad happens to someone, what should his response be? “y’fashfeish b’ma’asav” – he should examine his ways. After you do the first line of response, of seeing if there is something deficient in your observance of learning Torah and you don’t find anything, the answer is that you do a self-examination. You look for what meaning it has to you. our commentaries say – or they don’t say, maybe that’s really the more important issue here – what the answer is. They say you have to do your own internal self-examination. That’s what the word pishpush means; y’fashfeish is that you literally do this cheshbon hanefesh, this internal kind of self-examination, to determine what your source of nechamah is going to be, what your source of shift in perspective is going to be. Let me tell you a quick thought that I experienced at a Chai Lifeline retreat where we were discussing a medrash on the passage, “Hashem tzaddik yivchon” – Hashem tests righteous people. The medrash gives two analogies. one analogy is that when righteous people are tested, it’s like what a barrel maker does. Ultimately, only the soundest barrels are used; only the soundest barrels can withstand tests. According to this way of thinking, in fact, when somebody is going through very tough times in life – a tough loss, tough illness in a family member – it’s like being a barrel; if you’re being tested this way, it’s because g-d thinks you can withstand it, and g-d thinks you’re a righteous person. The problem is that many people are offended by that imagery. In a Chai Lifeline retreat we have parents whose children are seriously sick or g-d forbid have lost a child, and they say, “My child should suffer because I’m such a righteous person? I’d rather be a bad person.” The other analogy used in that medrash is not to a barrel, but to flax. In the process of making flax, the more you hit the flax, the more strengthened the flax becomes. The very nature of the production of flax is strengthening through suffering. According to that way of thinking, the meaning of going through loss is that it strengthens you. In Tehillim it says, “Ki nafalti, kamti. Ki eishev bachoshech, Hashem ohr li” – Because I fell, I got up. Because I sat in the darkness, Hashem is a light unto me. The following is a magnificent, magnificent medrash on these words; they are what I think are some of the most beautiful words in the Hebrew language and are very well known: “Ilu nafalti, lo kamti,” if I never fell down, I never would have gotten up. “Ilu yashavti bachoshech, lo hayah ohr li,” if I never sat in the darkness, I would never have appreciated the light. That second version, many, many more people find comforting. In all the psychological research, finding the growth-inducing properties of going through tough times is associated with comfort. Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik used to talk about two approaches to suffering in life, yi’ud versus goral. Goral means that you are like a log floating on the river at the mercy of the current. You’re passive. Bad things happen to you maybe because you’re unlucky. Yi’ud means that you’re a person of destiny. It’s happening to you because this is your destiny; you’re going to grow through this. In a fascinating recent publication, a man by the name of Dr. Salovey, who is the current new president of Yale university, wrote a paper about three studies looking at what’s essentially yi’ud versus goral, saying that if you have this post-traumatic growth approach – I grow by going through tough times – you do much better. Do you know who this Salovey is? His name is short for Soloveitchik. Cousins! Not necessarily an observant cousin, but they think the same way. They come from the same dynasty. Amazing; I was blown away when I saw it! one day I want to send an e-mail or letter to Dr. Salovey to see if I could share with him some of the thinking of his illustrious cousin Rav Yoshe Ber Soleveitchik. But the bottom line here is that there are two streams of thinking. In Jewish thinking, we’re encouraged to see loss and suffering as flax, as the darkness leading to the greater appreciation of light. In psychological research, all the new studies are showing the same thing. It’s the key ingredient to resilience. And, in terms of the bottom line of discovering meaning, everybody has to find their own way, at their own pace. Sometimes it may take years before a person can really find their own post-traumatic growth in response to a loss. We can’t undo a loss. It’s there; a death is something that’s permanent. But we can find perspective. I’ll just end this final “C” with one of my favorite parables, a wellknown parable from the Dubno Maggid. There was a king who had a crown. In the center of the crown there was a diamond, and it was known throughout the kingdom that this diamond was the biggest and best in the world. It was bigger than the Hope diamond. one day, the king woke up and found a flaw that had developed right down the center of the diamond. He was spooked by it and saw it as a terrible omen. He put a call throughout the kingdom saying, “If anybody can fix this flaw in the diamond, I will make him wealthy beyond his wildest dreams!” People came from all over the world, and they couldn’t fix the flaw in the diamond. A flaw in a diamond is something that can’t really be fixed. Finally, an elderly Jew came with an engraving tool and engraved magnificent leaves around the flaw, which now became the trunk of the tree, to make the diamond even more beautiful than it was before. That’s the key. The key is flax. Flax is about understanding that through our losses we grow, we become deeper people. Now, I must add that at the Chai Lifeline retreat there were some people who were more comforted by the barrel analogy. There was one couple in which the wife was only comforted by the barrel analogy. The husband was infuriated by the barrel analogy, and he was only comforted by the flax analogy. You know what? They were both right!

The Grief Process, with Dr Norman Blumenthal

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Dr. Norman Blumenthal, OHel’s Director of Trauma, Bereavement and Rapid Response Team, is a renowned trauma specialist and speaker who practices as a licensed clinical psychologist in Cedarhurst, NY. Dr. Blumenthal is the former Director of Bereavement and Crisis Intervention Services for Chai lifeline and is a past Vice President and current board member of NEFESH(The International Network of Orthodox Mental Health Professionals). Dr. Blumenthal also serves as the Coordinator of Group Psychotherapy Training for Interns and Residents at the North Shore long Island Jewish Health System and as a consultant to TOVA, a mentoring program for disenfranchised teens.
Key points

• Grief begins at the funeral and during the shivah.
• It is so important to allow the mourner to feel the pain. This is the beginning of the process of achieving comfort. Do not tell them to “be strong.” And try to share in the pain to some degree.
• Bereavement is a process in which you go from “loving a person in the presence to loving the person in the absence.” Shivah is a time when the mourners begin the transition in their relationship with their loved one who has passed away.
• Asking the aveil to share a story about the deceased is an appropriate way to aid this transition, as you are evoking memories that will be part of his new relationship with his loved one.
• The amount you offer comfort to the bereaved should be commensurate with the relationship that existed previously.
• Some common adolescent reactions to tragedy and loss:
• Challenging Divine justice
• Over-empathizing with those who have suffered a loss
• Even years after a person has suffered a loss, it is appreciated when you show that you remember their loved one.
• Death of a close family member will have an impact on an adolescent, but doesn’t make him different or “weird.”
• When parents are sitting shivah for an adolescent, his peers can offer unique comfort because they are showing that this young adult had friends, and they can share their distinctive perspective about what this person was like and what they accomplished.
• Include the parents of a friend who has passed away in your milestone events but do not pressure them to attend. They are likely mourning their child’s “loss of a future.”

Transcript

The Grief Process: What you can do to help the mourner achieve comfort I’ve been asked to speak about the Do’s and don’ts of nichum aveilim. I think I’d like to present it to you from a progression in terms of what happens during that first week following the death of a loved one and the process of nichum aveilim. The actual death itself is really not a period of grief. It is far more trauma and shock than grief, obviously much more so when the death is a sudden one, but even when it is anticipated and is a result of an illness. People describe that moment when the person leaves this world: sometimes when the monitor goes flat, people say they feel shock and horror. Even in terms of comforting the bereaved, it’s important to know that the actual bereavement, the actual comfort, really begins with the levayah, with the funeral and the burial. Following the levayah and the burial comes the period of shivah when the community at large provides comfort to the mourners. I think using broad strokes, one can look at the process of the shivah as serving essentially two very important functions. Perhaps understanding those functions will make it more clear what the right approach to nichum aveilim is and what could be an ill-conceived approach. The period of shivah and the nichum aveilim – particularly the period of shivah – serves to allow the bereaved to access their pain, to access their sense of loss and what’s now missing in their lives. Obviously, what’s meaningful in life are relationships. our world is a web of relationships, and when one of those relationships, one of those people with whom we have those relationships, is not here anymore, it’s as if something very integral to us is missing. Many people describe it as if they’ve lost a limb; they’ve lost something that is that immediate and intimate to themselves. It is therefore necessary and desirable for the person to have their pain, to have their grief. Paradoxically, the more the person experiences their grief and the more they access their pain, the quicker comes the nechamah, the comfort. Now, in some respects this is counterintuitive to many of us, when we consider our primary function as being to relieve people of pain. It is therefore somewhat jarring that actually our function, when we come to comfort the bereaved, is to allow them to access their pain. Sometimes I like to cite an amazing Seforno that says this very specifically. In parshas Vayeishev, when it talks about Ya’akov missing Yosef, the Torah says, “Vayema’ein l’hisnacheim,” and Ya’akov refused to be comforted. We all learn the famous and very profound Rashi that he couldn’t be comforted because Yosef was still alive. But the Seforno says there that Ya’akov needed to be in pain, and he resisted the comfort because he had to experience his pain over what he believed to have been the loss of his son. The pain is essential, and therefore the shivah, and even the subsequent period of aveilus, is to allow that pain to come out. It is really beyond the scope of this essay to explain psychologically what function that serves, but it is essential, and therefore the visitors need to allow the person to have his pain. Some of the examples I am going to give may be more germane to more tragic, horrific losses, but many have described to us how they appreciated people who simply sat there quietly, very much like “vayidom Aharon,” Aharon’s silence upon the loss of his two sons. By the way, some of the commentators say that Aharon’s silence was just that – deep abiding silence when there’s really nothing to say. or, even more dramatic, there are some people who described how friends or family members came, sat and cried with them, got up, said the HaMakom and left. They said how much more comforting that was than any attempts by other visitors to try to remove or eliminate the pain they were going through. So the function of the visitors is to allow the pain to emerge, to try as much as possible, to the extent that we can, to share in the pain. At the conclusion of a shivah visit, Ashkenazim recite, “HaMakom yenacheim eschem b’soch she’ar aveilei Tziyon viYerushalayim.” We bring up Tziyon and Yerushalayim. And the question is why? Somebody is sitting shivah for a sibling, for a parent, for a spouse, for a child, why are we bringing up Tziyon and Yerushalayim? The answer that many people offer is that what we have to do as visitors is to access a universal loss, a universal pain, which is the loss of the Beis Hamikdash. We reference the loss of the Beis Hamikdash in order that we can, in some remote way at least, share in the pain that the bereaved is going through. And that’s a very essential function. Sometimes comments people make – well-intended though they may be – and efforts to try to mitigate the pain or to try to explain away the enormity of the loss actually exacerbate the pain of the bereaved, whereas giving them the outlet helps. Just to give an example from the field of psychology: There was a study done about two years ago on tears. Those conducting the study compared the tears of people who cry over a loss or a tragedy with the tears of people who cry when they cut onions; they found that these are two very different types of tears. The tears from crying over a loss have stress hormones in them, and the crying literally relieves the body of those stress hormones. Many of us can relate to the fact that after a good cry we actually feel better. By comparison, the tears from irritants such as onions or dust do not have those stress hormones in them. So we need to let the bereaved cry, let them experience the full anguish. That’s how Hashem made us, and by allowing the mourners to experience that pain, we are in actuality allowing them to achieve comfort. This is one major function of shivah. Therefore, in terms of the do’s and don’ts, don’t rush to give them explanations, don’t rush to try to tell them to feel better. There’s a word in the English language I’d like to get rid of. The word is “strong.” Don’t tell them to be strong. usually when people say to be strong they mean to be stoic. I think strength is facing the enormity of your loss and experiencing the full pain. Allow people to have their pain. The other function of shivah is also important to understand, and again, from a progressive perspective. There is a very famous bereavement specialist, Thomas Attig by name, who said something very profound. He described bereavement as a process where you go from – and I’ll quote – “Loving the person in the presence to loving the person in the absence.” The transition in bereavement is going from a relationship that is face to face, that is corporeal, that is physical, to a relationship that is in the heart, that is based on memory, based on the legacy of the deceased. The relationship doesn’t end. We have relationships with people for our entire lives, and even with those who have left this world we continue to have relationships for decades and decades. But the relationship has changed now; the relationship is a more ephemeral one, a more spiritual one; it is relegated to memory and relegated to the state of feelings. The shivah period is the beginning of that transition, when the relationship shifts from a face-to-face relationship to an internalized relationship. one of the ways in which we do that is by remembering the person, by recalling what the person stood for, by taking the lessons of this person. In fact, there’s a very beautiful Radak in Sefer Yeshayah. The navi says, “V’al yomar hasaris hein ani eitz yaveish” – the person who does not have children shouldn’t say, “I’m a dried-out tree.” And the navi goes on to say that if this person keeps the mitzvos and keeps Shabbos, Hashem will give him a yad vasheim, a place and a name. The mefarshim, the commentators, wonder what this means. The Radak – and it is worth looking at it directly – says that he’ll be remembered; his lessons, his divrei Torah will be remembered. In this way he’ll live on. That’s very much what we all do. Even in more fortunate circumstances, when a person actually has descendants, we keep his memory alive, and we turn the relationship into one of memory and recalling. Now the bearing this has in terms of the community is that it is very important to encourage and to participate in the recollection, in talking about the deceased and what the deceased stood for. one of things I do routinely when I pay a shivah visit, whether it was a young person who passed away, or in situations that are more normal, when an elderly parent, grandparent or great-grandparent passed away, is that I will turn to the bereaved, to the family and say, “Tell me a story.” Tell me a story about your father, tell me a story about your mother. And the reason I specifically ask for a story is because if you think about it, a story is a few words that really capture a lifetime. A story is an incident, a single incident that has broader implications, that extends beyond the story but really captures who the person is. Therefore, as the people who are providing comfort, we are allowing that process, which is such an integral part of the nechamah, to take place. In fact, even beyond the shivah – and this particularly applies when it’s a young person who dies, especially a child – it’s so very important to remind the family and the loved ones that the person is not forgotten. I can give you countless examples, with simple occurrences. I remember one family describing being at their best friends’ home for Chanukah. Every year they’d go to these same friends for Chanukah. It was three, four years after their child had passed away, and while the friend was making latkes, she turned to the guest and said, “I remember how much Josh loved my latkes.” Just the very fact that three years later she was still thinking about Josh and remembering how much he loved her latkes was such a tremendous comfort – even though it brought tears to the parent’s eyes. But remember, the tears are the removal of those stress hormones. Focusing particularly on the shivah, it’s very important that we allow the bereaved to make that shift from a face-to-face relationship to a more ephemeral, spiritual relationship. We do that by allowing them to tell the stories, to talk about the person, where they came from, what they did, to share memorabilia, to show pictures, because this is what their relationship will be with the departed from now on. Obviously, adolescents are at an age when they have a full comprehension of death, in contrast to much younger children, and therefore they can understand what death means; so really, in many respects, they can relate and provide comfort much like an adult can. The only difference is that ideally they have much less experience, and therefore they may need some direction and guidance from the adults, from teachers and parents, of not only the halachos, the laws, but also the proper conduct when providing comfort. There are certain unique aspects of adolescence, and I’d say even in terms of children, that are important to remember. Actually, one which I’m going to now address for an adolescent is also probably relevant to adults. Sometimes when we are servicing a child who is grieving, lo aleinu, I’ll visit the child, and I’ll say, “You know, I’m going to your school. Is there a message you want to give over to your classmates? Is there something you’d like me to emphasize?” one of the common messages is: don’t feign friendship, don’t feign closeness; don’t fake friendship that doesn’t exist. We feel bad for the person, and sometimes we want to now show a certain connection or warmth to the bereaved that didn’t exist previously. It’s an interesting thing; we tend to look at people who are grieving as if they are somehow obtuse or not smart or not thinking straight. But the reality is, and there is a lot of research to support this, that people who are suffering in general have an acute awareness of what’s genuine and what’s not. They may be oblivious to certain facts that are irrelevant to the challenge they are facing now, but when it comes to what’s relevant to their grieving and their loss, they are extremely astute; they smell out anything that’s not genuine. So one of the messages I often give when I visit a high school is that the amount you offer comfort to the bereaved should be commensurate with the relationship that existed previously. If the person is indeed a very close friend, then you might be able to visit more frequently, you might be able to sit right up front next to the person, and you might spend more time with the person. If he’s a so-so friend, you will spend a little less time with him. Maybe you’ll visit a little less frequently. If he’s not a close friend at all, then you can just come, sit more toward the back, say the HaMakom and leave. And that’s going to be appreciated more than now suddenly making believe or acting as if you’re closer than you really are. Many talk about being in situations where the visit almost became a burden because they had people sitting in front of them with whom they had no real connection and no real pre-bereavement friendship, and they had to somehow keep the conversation going. Adolescents can talk about the bereavement. Adolescents can conduct themselves in a manner that is appropriate for the shivah or for comforting. Younger children usually can’t. With younger children, the visit very often consists of playing or maybe casual conversation; I’ve spoken to many poskim, many halachic authorities, and that’s certainly acceptable and even helpful. But the adolescent can talk about the deceased, and the adolescent visitors can also participate in that process. There are two potential pitfalls with adolescents that one needs to be aware of and that are very much endemic to their age and their stage developmentally. The adolescent, first of all, classically rebels to some extent. With typical adolescents it’s a modicum of rebellion, which in a way is developmentally normal, even to some extent desirable. Some adolescents rebel more profoundly, in most cases outgrow it, but it is part of the developmental challenge of adolescence in terms of asserting their individuality. If you want to be unconventional, if you want to challenge adult convention in a religious community, there is probably no better opportunity than tragedy because tragedy poses that eternally unanswerable question, “Tzaddik v’ra lo, rasha v’tov lo,” why bad things happen to good people. The adolescent who is invested in derailing the adult world and particularly the establishment may capitalize on that. This has happened to us when we visit high schools after tragedies; sometimes a cluster of kids or certain individuals will, in a very aggressive and acerbic fashion, challenge the Divine justice of such tragedies, which again, as we know, are beyond our comprehension. That is a little more typical for adolescent boys. The benefit though, in case this type of question is posed, is that the adolescent is also capable developmentally of understanding that there is such a reality as unanswerable questions. Most pre-adolescent children will have a hard time with a teiku, that which cannot be answered or adequately addressed, whereas the adolescent, because of the ability to think in abstract terms, the ability to understand that, if anything, Hashem by definition has to be mysterious and inexplicable, will be able to tolerate the idea that these questions cannot be adequately addressed. Another potential pitfall with the adolescent, which we see much more with girls than we do with boys, is the new capacity to empathize. In the field of psychology we often differentiate between what we call sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is an awareness of another person’s suffering, and empathy is actually the nosei b’ol. It is the capacity to put oneself in another person’s place. The ability to be able to, as much as humanly possible, leave yourself and see a situation or view the world from someone else’s perspective only develops now; it has nothing to do with intelligence, but rather, with the part of the brain that’s required for that. In other words, I often say jokingly, yes, adolescents do have brains, which is in and of itself sometimes a revelation, and the part of the brain that is necessary for empathy only develops in adolescence. Sometimes when there is a new capacity it gets overplayed, and what we’ll see, especially with these more heart-wrenching tragedies, is that adolescents, particularly young adolescent girls, will so empathize and so connect with the families that they have almost an extreme reaction. This will particularly occur in a group setting where there is that contagion that occurs when one feeds off of the other. We’ve had situations where we’ve been asked down to an all-girls middle school or early grades in high school to deal with a tragedy. We help them address the pain, we normalize the grief for them, and a week or two later we get a call from the principal saying, “Well, thank you very much. They’ve been grieving for two weeks now, we’re not getting any studies done, and we need you to sort of turn it off.” There could be that excessive response or that hysteria that may need to be reined in with adolescents, and particularly, with adolescent girls. A lot of the other lessons, though, are just as important to adolescents as they are to adults. For example, it is important for adolescents’ very special friends to remind them not just during the first week or the first thirty days, but a year later, two years later, five years later, that they are still thinking about their parent, that they are still thinking about their sibling. This is a tremendous comfort and something that we try to impress upon teenagers when visiting them in a school setting or helping them with a friend who has suffered a loss. I’d like to address myself to adolescents who are unfortunately in the position of having to offer comfort to a peer who lost a loved one or to offer comfort to parents who have lost a friend of theirs whom they are grieving for as well. Please don’t underestimate how important you can be. Sometimes as children we – when I was a child I felt that way also – fail to appreciate the impact we can have. And yet there is a distinct and very important role that you can play in all of these circumstances that even the adults cannot play. If we are talking about a friend who lost a parent or a sibling, certainly many adults visit and many adults do provide some very important comfort, but I don’t have to tell you how important you are as a friend, and how special it is when you extend yourself and when you make the effort to help your friend grieve for their parent or their sibling. A very important point to remember is that the extent to which you extend yourself to your peer who is grieving will have bearing on what your relationship was before the tragedy. Kids, like adults, do not appreciate someone who is making believe they have a closer or more intimate friendship than actually exists. If you are indeed a very close friend, if you are a very special friend, you’re going to visit more often, you are more likely to attend the funeral. You might even attend the burial if it’s a very, very special friendship and if it’s the custom in your community. Even in terms of subsequent visits, you’re going to be much more likely to be that source of comfort after the shivah, to be the one who will extend himself and say, “You know, if you need someone to talk to…” or if there’s a school event that your friend, because he’s in mourning, cannot attend, you might take off and spend time with that friend. These are very special roles that only you can play. If you are not such a close friend, you are not going to extend yourself as much. The person who is grieving really has x-ray vision, almost a sixth sense. And they will know what’s real and what’s not real. Even though very often attempting to make believe that you are closer comes from the heart and comes from a genuine wish to relieve that classmate or peer of their suffering, if you are not that close a friend it will not be particularly helpful to stay long, to sit in front of the person while they are sitting shivah, to start hovering around that person and making believe you’re a close friend. The extent to which you extend yourself to your classmate or peer should be related with how close a friend you always were. And even though – I know this is very hard to hear – talking about the person they lost may evoke sadness, may evoke tears, that is the function of shivah and that will even be the function later on. It is extremely comforting to anyone who is grieving to know that the person they love was not forgotten, and if you are that very close special friend, it is even in many respects more important that later on, months later, years later, you remind the person that you are still thinking about their mother, their father, their brother, sister, whoever; this is so even if this makes them sad and even if they have a hard time with that. Now, you might find that some of your friends do not want to talk about their loss, do not want to belabor it. And one of the conflicts, particularly for a teenager or a child who is in the throes of grief, is that they don’t want to be different, they don’t want to be weird, they don’t want to be looked upon as this nebach, this pitiful person. Sometimes they bristle at anybody treating them differently. If those are the messages you are getting from your friend, then don’t treat him differently; treat him normally. There is a very important differentiation you have to keep in mind, and that will help you understand a friend who is grieving: there’s a difference between being affected and being damaged. There’s no question that someone who loses a parent at a young age is a different kind of person. There is even psychological research to show this. There are very unique and distinct characteristics in someone who loses a parent at a young age. But being affected doesn’t mean they are damaged, and I don’t think you should necessarily assume that your friend who has lost a parent or a sibling and has sat shivah or is in the period of grieving is going to be somehow compromised, that he is going to be depressed or different or weird. For the most part they are very normal. It has an impact on them, but not necessarily in a negative or deleterious fashion. There’s another very important role that you can play. And again, I hope you never have to, but in case you have a classmate or a friend who dies and you are visiting the family, I know that it is very difficult. First of all, please keep in mind that even though funerals are often particularly heart-wrenching and often characterized by an enormity of emotion, the shivah house, the house of mourning, is usually rather contained. It is usually a place where there isn’t that enormous intensity of emotion, and therefore it is not as scary, maybe, as a funeral. When you visit the parents, again, don’t be scared of them. They are grieving, and they are affected and they are going to look very sad, but they so appreciate when classmates and friends come to visit. There are two reasons for this: First of all, it reminds them how cherished and loved their son or daughter was; just your presence and your grieving is a tremendous comfort to them because it highlights for them how important their child was to other people. I don’t have to tell you that when you’re an adolescent, the peer relationship and peer culture is so very important that just a mere visit and demonstrating to them how important their son or daughter was to you is already in and of itself a tremendous source of comfort, a tremendous source of nechamah. But there is another important point as well. The parents knew their child intimately. But they knew their child at home. They knew their son or daughter as a young child. They may know about the child’s tendencies and how they conducted themselves within a family setting. They are not necessarily familiar with what their son or daughter was like in a school setting, in a camp setting, what their son or daughter was like as a friend. And you know that. When you come to pay a shivah visit, when you talk about your friend or your classmate, you’re filling in those gaps, you’re filling in that part of their life, a very important part of their life with which their parents may not be familiar. Part and parcel of the nechamah and of the shivah is for the parents to familiarize themselves with their child in a full sense. Therefore, when you come and talk about what this friend was like in school, what this friend was like as a ball player, what this friend was like at camp, what this friend was like even as a kibbitzer, you’re filling in those missing pieces for the parents and helping them in what’s a very integral process of grieving. This is particularly so during the shivah period, when the child is now transitioning to becoming someone who is a memory, someone with whom the relationship is one of the heart rather than face-to-face. Please keep in mind as well that whether it’s your friend or it’s parents who are grieving for a child, although halachically there is a time limit to when you provide comfort, the actual grieving itself does continue beyond the period of the shivah and the sheloshim. Anything that you can do in terms of just reminding the family how important either your friend was or your friend’s parent or sibling was is an extremely important part of providing the nechamah. This might mean including the parents, if it’s a classmate who has passed away, in what goes on in your life. There’s another very important point that you have to keep in mind. one of the most heart-wrenching aspects of the loss of a young person is watching the friends and the contemporaries reach different milestones and progress through life, while their son, daughter, or sometimes if it’s a young parent, their spouse, is not. As you reach different milestones, you might have an inclination to include the family and let them be part of it, whether it’s a graduation or your wedding. Many do attend and many participate. Some can’t because it’s just too painful. Don’t pressure them because this might be one of the hardest parts of losing a young person. We often refer to it as mourning the future. This is the pain of watching how life goes on and how all or most of the contemporaries of one’s child or spouse are progressing in life and the departed loved one is not.

Don’t Treat Them Differently, with Rabbi Yaakov Klar

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Rabbi Yaakov Klar, LMSW, currently resides in Monsey, NY and is an Associate Director of Project CHAI (Chizuk, Healing and Intervention), Chai lifeline’s Crisis Intervention, Trauma and Bereavement Department. After twenty years in the world of chinuch, he began grief counseling for Project CHAI and today is at the forefront of offering direction at the onset of trauma, which is crucial in allowing those affected to recover. He is also one of the founders of Knafayim – Wings of Hope, which offers comfort and resources to those who have experienced pregnancy loss.
Key points

• Couples who have suffered a stillbirth or miscarriage don’t want to be treated differently. “Treat me normally; I am normal.”
• It’s worse to avoid one who has suffered such a loss even if you have an infant with you, which could be a trigger for her.
• Don’t mention the loss until she starts talking about it. This way you’ll know where she stands.
• At family get-togethers or simchahs, don’t hide your newborns. She knows about them anyway, and this will bring more pain. Take your cues from her in terms of how she would like to interact with you and your baby.
• Don’t give a time limit for mourning and for getting back to regular functioning.
• Even if you personally experienced a similar loss, don’t equate it with someone else’s experience. Each person deals with her situation in a unique way.
• Being a good listener is the best thing you can do to help a friend or relative in this situation.
• It’s important for men to realize that they have a different way of dealing with loss in general, and particularly this kind of loss, in which there was no physical attachment for them.
• It might be hard for the woman to discuss her feelings with her parents or in-laws. She might want her space and not wish to stay over at their homes.
• One rule: There is no rule. Every couple copes differently.
• Don’t minimize the pain of miscarriage by saying, “It was only a miscarriage…”

Transcript

Don’t treat them differently I would like to focus on the painful topic of stillbirths and miscarriages. How should relatives and friends relate to this circumstance and how should they deal with those who have experienced this kind of loss? Unfortunately, there are times when a couple enters the hospital, everything seems fine, they expect a normal birth, but, unfortunately, it ends with a stillbirth. There are many things that are very important for the public to know; families, friends, coworkers, parents need to know how they should deal with this loss, what they should say, and what they shouldn’t say. The number one thing to know is that these couples – and this is probably true in all tragedies that people are going through – don’t want to be treated as special; they want to be treated normally: “Treat me normally; I am normal.” They will hopefully take whatever help they need, but while out on the street, in public, when going back to work or shopping, they would like people to treat them as usual. Many times we feel very uncomfortable when we see a friend who has suffered a loss, and we don’t know what to say. Either we try to cross the street or quickly enter a store, not knowing how much the friend actually sees or realizes. However, when we try to avoid them and go somewhere else, they often pick it up; they know we’re doing it only because we don’t know what to say and are just running away from them. The truth is, when you see someone on the street who went through a stillbirth or similar loss, the best thing is to focus, go over and say hello. You can say, “I’m sorry about your loss” and then start talking to her as usual. If she wants to continue talking about the topic, you’ll follow her lead; otherwise, you can just have a regular schmooze with her. This is usually what will make her feel comfortable, and then if she wants to talk about her loss, she will. Sometimes, she will feel that she doesn’t want to talk about this in public or to the public; she prefers to talk to private people who will help her through her loss. In that case, you have to give her the feeling and comfort level that you are her friend as always and talk about everything else, without focusing on her pain; you can still talk about babies or you can talk about things you’re going through or simply what you’re busy with. If you are pushing a carriage and there is an infant in it, this no doubt makes it more difficult for someone who has suffered such a loss, but it makes it even more difficult when you try to put it to the side or actually avoid her. It is better to go talk to her even though your baby could be a trigger. There are going to be babies within her view and mothers pushing carriages, and hopefully, with Hashem’s help, she will have certain tools and ways to deal with it, and she will get through this. If the person who has suffered a loss is a coworker, when she returns to her job, the best thing is, again, to treat her normally. When she comes in, greet her, say hello, and don’t give her or anyone else that look, as if to say, “oh, she’s back.” Don’t whisper or talk behind her back. Whether it’s in an office or school or store, welcome her back and help her feel comfortable. Realize that before coming back to her job, she surely put much thought into how she would cope, fearing people’s comments and imagining what they would say and what she would respond. Therefore, it is so important to act as if nothing unusual happened, and slowly, slowly, when she feels comfortable, she will come over to you and convey whatever she feels like sharing. Don’t feel that if you don’t say something you’re doing something wrong. People usually think, I have to say something. Something happened; how could I just ignore it? Yes, you’ll say something when she will be ready. Actually, that is the halachah when you go to be menacheim aveil someone: you have to wait for the aveil to start talking because only then will you know and understand where he is holding. This is the same idea: if she would like to share something with you, she will; otherwise, just wait, and if she is comfortable, she will start talking. There is another point that is very important for you to know. For many months, she was waiting for a beautiful baby to come into this world. unfortunately, Hashem had another plan and the baby is not here. Joining family get-togethers, at which there are baruch Hashem many children, can, in a certain way, be very difficult for her, especially when there are newborns, a reminder that this is what she was supposed to bring home, and unfortunately it didn’t happen. Some people in this situation are going to like to hold newborns, some people are going to like to look at them, while for some people it is just too hard, and at the beginning they are going to try to avoid it. Just be natural. Whether she wants to hold your baby or doesn’t want to, don’t try to keep the children away or avoid her so that she should not see the newborn. That’s not the way to act because she knows you have a baby, and she is really happy for you; at the same time, she is going to have to deal with her pain the way she needs to. From your end, try to be as normal as possible. Whenever she is ready, she will try to carry on and get back to the “new normal.” Remember, whatever she is up to, give her the time and space she needs, and take it from there. I would like to encourage everyone not to give someone who has suffered such a loss a time limit for her pain. This is something that people don’t realize. If it’s a week, if it’s two, if it’s six, if it’s eight, just give her the time she needs. It’s very difficult for her when people set these kinds of limits; after a short time, people say, “Come on, you have to go on, life goes on, and you need to forget about it; it was only a stillbirth, it was only a baby. This is really a killer for her. She feels that nobody understands her and thus feels angry and upset. other people unfortunately forget about this loss very quickly because it was something that was not yet there. They didn’t experience the baby, and they didn’t experience what she is going through. Yes, they knew she was expecting, but they didn’t actually see or feel the baby, and that is why somehow the public does not feel that this is a true loss. Chazal tell us what a powerful thing this couple did by bringing a neshamah to this world; this neshamah will be now be able to go to Olam Haba. A TIME has a special video addressing this circumstance, and they also offer support groups. These programs are called “Was It for Nothing?” and “When Hello Means To Say goodbye.” These are beautiful programs to give those who have suffered this kind of loss the tools and strength to go on. What the people around them should know is to give them the time that they need. Are you going to judge how long and how much your relative or friend is allowed to be upset? There are times when the loss happens a little earlier, and when the due date comes up, it can be very hard for the woman. She sees friends who were due around the same time as her, but she lost her baby, while they have delivered healthy babies. This can be a trigger for her. What we have to understand in this regard, and in general, is that we really don’t understand her pain. I want to add one more little piece of advice here: even if you went through a similar circumstance, realize that every person deals with loss differently. Your friend or relative has her way and you have your way; please respect the approach that she is taking. Support her by being a good listener. The power of silence is the beauty of helping a friend. Now I would like to address how men relate to a stillbirth, which is different from other tragedies. This baby is something to which they had no shaychus, no connection; it’s nothing that they saw or directly lost. Rather, it’s something they were expecting and excited about, which unfortunately is not going to happen. It’s very important, therefore, for a man to know that he doesn’t understand, that his pain is a different kind of grieving and mourning than the woman who actually carried the child for nine months, and unfortunately, now lost that baby. Knowing that you were not so connected to the baby, knowing that you don’t understand her, is the biggest tool to be able to help her through her loss. You are going to have your time and your place – perhaps while davening or going to shul – when you are able to cry and express emotions and feelings. But understand that she has her time and her way of expressing her emotions and feelings. The main point is to give her the message that the way she needs to manage her emotions is the way she should do it. Don’t try to guide her or push her to a different way of coping. It’s very important to respect the way she deals with it, to respect the way she mourns and grieves and to understand that you are in a different situation. Not only that, but you should explain this to her. Talk to her about the fact that you and she have a different way of handling the loss. In general, men and women deal with any loss or trauma differently. In this case, it’s much, much more so; she might feel that you really don’t understand her because you were not so connected. Your pain is really about the future. To a degree, only she was connected to the baby, and that’s why for her it’s much harder. That’s not to say it’s easy for you, but your way of dealing with it is going to be very different. The main thing is to respect one another’s needs and to make sure to tell her how you feel about her, that you’re going to be there for her, even though you’re not showing the emotions and feelings the way that she would probably like you to. You can explain that this is the way Hashem created man, and therefore this is your way of coping. I would also like to address the parents of the couple experiencing the loss, the grandparents of this baby that went up to Shamayim. As parents you want to protect your children and make sure they are okay. But certain feelings can be very hard for the couple, specifically your daughter or daughter-in-law, to share with you, and you might feel upset that she is not talking to you. Respect the fact that it’s hard for her to talk to you about her feelings and emotions. You want to see your children returning to normal, and you want to see them as a couple getting back to normal and being happy and continuing with regular life. But just as others need to give them the time they need to move on, so do you. There is no timetable for this; it shouldn’t be, “okay, we are going to give you a week, and after a week, come on, you have to get back to yourself.” Try to be there for them. give them this message by telling them that they should do what is good for them in dealing with their pain. But treat them normally; don’t treat them differently when they’re with their siblings. At the same time, try to make sure they have whatever they need. Privately, they might like you to give them the message that you’re there for them, but sometimes, even this is hard for them; they might just want to go home to their own home. This is not because they are not comfortable, but rather, because they feel that being home is going to help them. There is one rule here, and that is that there is no rule. Every couple will deal with this situation differently. In general, be there for them, but on the other hand, respect their privacy and respect the way they want to handle this situation. I would like to make specific mention of dealing with miscarriage. Those who have experienced a miscarriage find it very painful that others try to minimize the pain and trauma, saying, “It was only a miscarriage.” A miscarriage is something that has to be worked through, and it’s something that is physically and emotionally painful. getting through it is a process; it takes time. It’s going to take the prospective mother time to get back to herself, to deal with it and go on. give her the time she needs, and do not push away her feelings by trying to minimize her loss. It is painful when a woman feels that there is no one out there for her to talk to because whoever she talks to tells her to forget about it and move on. Rather, she needs to hear, “We are here for you, and we are going to try to treat you the way you want to be treated.” usually, she would like to be treated normally. But when she brings up certain things, just be there to listen. People might say, “I want to do something; tell me what I can do.” The answer to that is to be there with a listening ear; this will give her strength to carry on and help her navigate her painful situation. In the zechus of being sensitive to those who have suffered these losses, Hashem should bless us that we should never, ever know about this, and we should only merit to make simchos and experience simchah. We should be zocheh to hear the shofar of Mashiach, bimheirah b’yameinu, amein.

Combating Terror With Kindness, with Mr Shmuel Greenbaum

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
After Mr. Shmuel Greenbaum’s wife was killed by a suicide bomber in a Jerusalem restaurant, he responded to his tragedy not with hatred and anger, but by teaching the world kindness. His two websites send kindness e-mails to thousands of subscribers and are reprinted in hundreds of publications, which reach millions of readers. Mr. Greenbaum has taken his message to the road, fascinating listeners around the world.
Key points

• Finding a way to carry on the legacy or goals of the person who has passed on can be comforting.
• Performing regular acts of kindness can help in overcoming any challenge, particularly loss, by encouraging a person to focus on the positive.
• Losing a loved one can make a person feel helpless, since they are lacking what their loved one can no longer provide for them. Engaging in acts of kindness can make a person who is feeling helpless and dependent feel needed, that he or she can make a difference too.
• Reading about and sharing acts of kindness reassures a person that there are good people in the world, despite all the evil we are faced with.
• Another crucial way to overcome challenge is by strengthening emunah, particularly through hakaras hatov to Hashem; we can engender this by recognizing the good in our lives. Reading about the good in others’ lives helps a person to focus on the good in his life.
• During shivah it is crucial to let the mourners talk as much as they need to. This is a first step in their coping with their new reality.
• Share stories about what the niftar has accomplished. It is comforting for the mourners to hear about how their loved one made an impact in this world.
• By focusing on the positive, we can experience tremendous growth through challenge.

Transcript

Combating Terror With Kindness My wife, Shoshana, was killed in a terrorist bombing at the Sbarro pizza shop in Jerusalem. I had left Israel on a Sunday, and she was killed on a Thursday; she was supposed to come back from her graduate studies program the next Monday morning. I was on the phone all day on the day of the bombing, and finally I was told that my wife had been killed. She was identified, and I was to come to Israel immediately. I was afraid to go back because the situation there was not good. I used to read about at least ten incidents of terror in The Jerusalem Post every day when I was in Israel; family members tell me there were twenty-five incidents every day. So it was a very tense situation when I was there, and I was actually afraid to go back. I called my Rabbi, Rabbi Binyamin Ruttner and I asked him if he could come back to Israel with me for the funeral and for the beginning of the shivah, and if I could sit shivah in his house. He agreed. on the trip he told me, “Shmuel, there are going to be cameras. The media is going to be waiting for you in Israel, and they are going to want to know what you have to say, so think about it.” If you knew that all the major networks were waiting for you and want to hear what you are going to say, what would you tell them? You have an opportunity to change the world! But keep in mind that if you tell them the wrong thing it will never go anywhere, and they will never broadcast it. So I thought about what I wanted to tell them: I wanted to tell them about truth, since that was what I felt this battle was about – it was the battle for the truth. My wife’s whole existence was about truth. So that was how it started. I saw that at least for a very brief period of time there was a lot of interest in what I was doing and what I was saying, and I wanted to take advantage of that. Then I came back to America and I sat shivah at my Rabbi’s house, and there were hundreds and hundreds of people who came to be menacheim aveil. They all told me stories about my wife, about the impact that she had on the children she taught. I never realized the importance of what she was doing. Here she was teaching little girls, and what I realized during shivah was that she had been changing their lives. She was showing them kindness and building their emunah and picking them up and making them into better people. It was very special. The reason she married me was because we had similar goals in life. Our main goal was to make the world a better place. She did it in her way, teaching girls in school, and I did it in my way, working with kids in my spare time as a big brother, a mentor and a tutor. After she was killed I had this desire to make the world a better place and to carry on what the two of us had been doing. The question was, how? I had a lot of ideas, and the people where I lived were very supportive. We had a meeting and discussed different ideas. one woman said, “You know when you are waiting in line, and you let someone go in front of you? That’s what I think is important.” I asked everybody at the meeting what they thought about this idea, and they agreed that it was appropriate. I said, “How about if we all email each other stories about kindness that we have done or that we have witnessed, and then we send it out to all of our friends and relatives?” Everybody thought it was a great idea, so we started doing it, and now we have 5,000 people every day that tell stories of kindness. They submit stories from all over the world. The point of this idea was actually to reach out to Jews who were very far away from Judaism, who had no connection at all. Sometimes I wonder, since we have so many people in Israel that are involved in this, sending in the stories and reading the stories, if it is touching those who are far from Judaism at all. Then I look at some of the stories and I see how someone is saying something about Shabbat, but it’s about using an ATM machine on Shabbat, and I realize that we are making an impact in that way. I’m now working on a book about people who overcome challenges in their lives, and losing a loved one is certainly one of the greatest challenges that you can experience. But there is a certain commonality in these challenges, whether losing a loved one or losing a limb or having a stroke or taking care of an elderly relative who is going through a difficult time. There is a certain commonality in the challenges we face in life, and there are certain things you can do to help yourself overcome these challenges. One thing that is very important is acts of kindness. Doing acts of kindness can help you in many different ways. One way is that it can simply change your thoughts. You can be constantly thinking about unpleasant memories, about your sadness. or you can think about positive things. You can think about how you are able to help someone else. I know some people say, “Listen, I’m an old person, and I’m very sick. How can I help somebody else?” A woman sent the following story, which is one of my favorites: “I have a terrible illness, and there is really not much I can do. I have very little strength and very little money. But there is always something that I can do to help somebody else. When I go to a supermarket, I see somebody at the cash register and I give them a smile and say a nice word to that person; that is something I can do.” What is really important to really change these negative feelings that you may have, the nonproductive feelings, the sadness, is to do something regularly, and that is why the emails we send are so helpful. Another thing that is very important to realize is that sometimes when we have lost a loved one, it is a person we were dependent upon in many ways. Maybe it is the person who did all the finances, maybe it is the person who took care of the house and took care of the kids, and we feel helpless. It is very important for us to feel that we are not helpless, that there is something we can do to help others. Maybe we cannot help ourselves and maybe we can’t do what that person used to do for us, but at least we can do something. We are not helpless. So that’s another important reason to do acts of kindness. Also, when we are dealing with challenge, we can use a reminder that there are good people in the world. I will give you an example. Around the time that my wife was killed, the situation in Israel was very tense. There were all kinds of tragedies happening. You would be listening to the radio, and then you would hear, “beep, beep, beep,” which is the sound indicating that the news would be broadcast. Everybody would stop whatever they were doing and listen because they knew something bad had probably happened, that somebody had gotten hurt and maybe even worse. The question was not if somebody was hurt; the question was how close a friend or family member it was. During this time, a woman sent me an email saying, “I just heard on the radio about this terrible thing that happened, and I felt so horrible and hopeless. And then I got your email, and I said, “Look at that – there are good people in this world; I want to be one of them too.” The email gave her hope, and that is so important. Another thing that is crucial in overcoming the loss of a loved one is belief in g-d, strengthening your emunah. It is interesting, but there is actually a very simple way of doing that. I heard this from the Rosh Yeshivah of the Yeshivah Gedolah of Passaic, Rav Meir Stern. He says this from the Sefer Hachinuch, and he quotes this all the time to the boys in the yeshivah. A person cannot believe in g-d unless he has hakaras hatov. Particularly, a person needs to have hakaras hatov to his or her parents. If you don’t have hakaras hatov to your parents, you cannot believe in Hashem. The question is, how can you create hakaras hatov? If you can possibly help a person to have hakaras hatov, then possibly you can get them to believe in g-d, or strengthen their belief in g-d, their emunah. One way of doing that is by reminding a person of the good in his life. The way I do that is through my emails. When I show people the good in other people’s lives, it reminds them of the good in their own lives. On another note, I want to talk to you about what you can do when paying a shivah call to really help the mourners. In halachah, when you first come in to be menacheim aveil, you are not supposed to say anything to the person who is sitting shivah. The person is just supposed to talk and talk, and only when they address you are you supposed to talk with them. From a psychological point of view, this is crucial; a person who is sitting shivah needs to be able to express themselves. They need to be able to talk as much as they need to talk, and they don’t need somebody to help them. Let them say whatever they need to say, and accept them for what they’re saying. Don’t argue with them, and don’t question them. This is a very important part of the healing process. In dealing with any challenge, not only the loss of a loved one, the need to talk is crucial. Why is that? Because what has happened is that the person’s life has turned upside down. What used to be no longer exists. Sometimes they have to rethink what their goals in life are and how they are going to cope. The way they used to cope may not be the way they will be able to cope in the future because the person they loved so much was able to contribute to their life in a certain way, and now they cannot get that anymore. What I also found to be so encouraging was hearing all these amazing things about my wife. If you can tell beautiful stories about the departed, it makes it so much easier for the person sitting shivah, and they can just add on to what you said. My wife was an only child. For my in-laws, it was so valuable to hear from all the people who played an important role in Shoshana’s life and particularly from the children she taught. She had this major impact on children, and it was so important for them to hear that, to hear all the tremendous things that she accomplished in her life. on the trip to Israel I asked my rabbi, “Rabbi Ruttner, did Shoshana accomplish her mission in life? Everybody has a mission in life; did she accomplish hers?” He said, “Yes, Shmuel, she did. She accomplished her mission in life.” And I said, “Well, how do you know?” He said, “Well, she died. That means she accomplished her mission.” Everybody has a mission in life; sometimes the people sitting shivah might not be aware of what the person accomplished, so if you can come and tell a beautiful story that you heard about the person, it can really make all the difference. I received an email from someone who said that many years ago she knew a woman who died at a very young age. She had many young children, and the children didn’t really understand what was going on, and they really didn’t know a lot about their mother. So this friend put together a scrapbook and got all the people this woman had touched to contribute to the scrapbook. Years later, they could look at this and appreciate who their mother was. There is another story that we ran recently about a mother of a young child who died young. A videographer donated his time to record all the hespeidim about the woman. It is so important to save these memories because the beautiful memories really help us get through the hard times. one thing not to say: so often people go to somebody sitting shivah and ask, “How did they die?” What kind of question is that? You want the person to think about the positive. Why are you bringing out the negative – to give them nightmares? Research studies show that most people do recover from the loss of a loved one. There is a professor of Clinical Psychology at Columbia university who videoed people who had recently lost a spouse. He asked them to describe the incident and asked them to describe their spouse. There were people who talked about the pain, and there were people who smiled during the interview and talked about the good points. The people who smiled during the interview were the ones who recovered very quickly. That is one point. The other point is that in talking with this researcher while I was working on my book, I heard that people tend to grow from challenging life experiences. That really fascinated me. In Judaism we learn that it is the challenging life experiences that are what life is about because our lives are about growing. These experiences can be very difficult and very painful, but they are what enable us to grow. I’ll tell you a story. When I was going to Israel for the sheloshim, I had to find a document. I was looking all over the house for this document, and I couldn’t find it. Then, after I had pretty much given up, I looked in my bedroom, and on one of the shelves I found a beautiful green box. There were flowers painted on the box, as well as a passuk from Tehillim, “even ma’asu habonim haysah l’rosh pinah” – the stone that the builders despised will be the cornerstone. I looked at the box and then opened it up, and inside the box were all different types of documents. They were mostly stories and poems that Shoshana had written. Each one was about a different challenge she had had in her life and how she overcame it. I kept on looking through the box, and at the bottom of the box was the document that I was looking for. It was the last challenge that she experienced in her life. It was our kesubah, our marriage contract. I wondered, what was this box all about? I asked her closest friend about it, and she said, “Shmuel, when people have difficulties in their lives, it is like a rock in their paths. What do most people do in these circumstances? Well, they can walk around the rock or they can go over it or they can push the rock out of the way. or, they could do what Shoshana did. She said that that rock is the foundation.” The difficulties in life that we experience, the sorrow that we feel, are the foundation, and that is what builds the Beis Hamikdash. That is what the passuk means, and that is our personal growth. All the difficulties that we experience in life make us better people. I can tell you personally that over the years these difficult circumstances have certainly made me grow. Recently, I have been reading a lot of books on emunah, and it changed the way I look at life and the way that I daven. I hope that everyone can look at any challenge like this, and turn it around to make themselves better people. If you can, please sign up for the emails, Partners in Kindness. You can also get our book, based on the emails, which is available in many libraries. It is entitled A Daily Dose of Kindness.

The Moments That Live On Through You, with Rabbi Duvi Bensoussan

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Rabbi Duvi Bensoussan is the rabbi of the Sephardic Congregation Magen Avraham in Brooklyn, NY, as well as a maggid shiur (lecturer) at Yeshivat Magen Avraham Bet Medrash.
Key points
• True living means to be productive. Think back to the challenges your loved ones overcame, the life lessons they gave over. These will never die.

• Give over the memories of your loved ones for your children to emulate.

• By carrying on the legacy of our ancestors we allow them to continue to live.

• The mishnayot and Torah we learn because of our forbearers, the teachings we carry on, keep our loved ones alive in us.

Transcript

The Moments that live on through you Once a man came to teh Chefetz Chaim and he came crying. He said, “Rebbi, everything that I tried in life went bad. Rebbi, I’m begging you, give me a berachah, a blessing, that I’ll have what to live on. Please Rebbi, a berachah that I’ll have what to live on!” The Chafetz Chaim began to cry, and the Chafetz Chaim looked at the man and said, “I’m waiting for the day that a person should come knocking down my door, and he should cry in front of me and say, ‘Rebbi, give me a berachah that I’ll have what to die on!’” What do we have to show for the life that we’re living? Maybe that is what teh Seforno was tellng us when Ya’akov Avinu was correcting Pharaoh at that legendary encounter, the first time that Ya’akov Avinu met Pharaoh. Ya’akov Avinu comes down to Mitzrayim and comes in front of Pharaoh. And Pharaoh sees in front of him a man who looks so old. Pharaoh asks Ya’akov Avinu, “Kamah yemei shenei chayecha?” – How many are your years? How old are you? Instead of simply telling him the number of his age, Ya’akov Avinu begins to tell him, “I had some difficult years, I had some good years. And all in all, my years did not reach the years of my father and my grandfather.” Says the Seforno, “Ya’akov Avinu, Pharaoh asked you how old you are; why such a long and drawn-out answer? Simply say the number of your age.” No, says Seforno. Ya’akov Avinu was coming to teach Pharaoh a lesson about life. He was coming to correct Pharaoh. He was coming to tell Pharaoh that when you see an old man, it doesn’t mean that he lived long; it simply means that he existed for a long period of time. What does it mean to live? Living is not existing. To be alive is to be productive. Chayim! Chayim means not living, not just simply breathing; chayim means alive. It means to be vibrant, it means to be productive. Think back to their life, think back to their challenges and how they overcame them. Think back to those unbelievable tests that your loved one went through in life and how they shined through. It’s those experiences, it’s those memories, it’s those life lessons that will never die. Their life and what they stood for will continue to live on in you. “Tzaddikim be mitatam nikra’im chayim.” The righteous, the tzaddikim, continue to live on even after their deaths. Tzaddikim – not just the righteous, but the righteous moments of life, the moments you really lived, those vibrant moments of greatness that every Jew has in life, those moments live on through you. Ay, those memories! I remember, years ago, I grew up very close to my grandfather. Wow, what a storyteller he was. He told me about the old country. He told me how difficult it was to live as a Jew in those years. He told me about all the trials and tribulations that the Jews lived through and how they persevered. The strength that they showed was beyond imagination. I remember my grandfather telling me so many unbelievable stories, and with each one came a life lesson that one could never forget. I remember growing up and telling myself, one day I’ve got to go over to my grandfather’s house with a tape recorder and record what he is saying. I’m going to get each and every one of these stories. I can’t let these stories die because these stories really make up his life, what he stood for. I’m going to tell it to my kids, and I’m going to have my kids tell it to their kids, to know that they had a wonderful grandfather, that they had a wonderful family member. They had somebody at home from their own backyard that they can emulate and remember and look up to, and they can continue to carry on his legacy and what that he stood for. I can’t tell you how young and foolish I was, procrastinating, thinking next time I’m going to bring the tape recorder, and next time I’m going to bring the tape recorder, and because of that, some of those stories still stay with me, but now, over the years, they’re somewhat vague. I try to give over to my kids a little bit of the memories that I have, but I don’t do justice to the way he gave it over and to the life that he lived. And again, years later, you’d think I would have learned from my own mistakes. I came to learn in eretz Yisrael, and I became very close with my grandmother, alehah haShalom, a true tzaddeiket. She was from the women of Morocco, from the old generation – the women that they used to tell stories about, who would sit over the pot and cook while singing and reciting Tehillim, asking the Borei Olam to make sure that the food should come out good enough to be oneg Shabbat, for Shabbat Koddesh! Those were different people, those were different generations. But how could we let them go? Every Friday night I used to walk from Yeshivat Itri, which is in Talpiot, on one side of Jerusalem, all the way to the area of Sanhedriyah Murchevet, which is on the opposite side of Jerusalem, over an hour-and-a-half ’s walk, just to relish and to sit those Friday nights and hear another story, another life experience, another moment from the old country. I remember then, already older, I said to myself, “No, no, this time I’m not going to make the same mistake. I’m not going to let that generation pass away without grabbing a piece of them, to keep them alive, to keep their memories alive!” Each and every time I said to myself, “At the end of this zeman, right after yeshivah is over, I’m going to go back. This time I’ll record her on CD. I’m going to have everything down pat.” She was a treasure of memories, of stories, of gedolim and tzaddikim of yesteryear – and the greatness of even the simple Jew. But it was only Friday nights that I sat with her, unable to record her obviously at that time, and sure enough, again, she passed on and took with her a treasure, a wealth – a wealth that until today I mourn. I wish I could have kept it alive to give it to my kids, so that the next generation should know about their family, who they come from, and what they’re made of, and the potential and greatness inside of them, just like the people they came from. Those memories! They live on, these wonderful, great people that we continue to mourn. You know, they started something, and whether it was a parent or another a family member, there is always some moment that we can take home and keep alive. We could ensure that it live on, and we could continue that legacy. A lot of times they started the work, they taught us the teachings. Now it’s time for us to live it; now it’s time for us to continue it. I have to share with you this story. This is from the heart, but I want you to hear this well. This took place in the 1950s, in Yerushalayim. At that time the persecution of the Holocaust was beginning somewhat to be something of the past — although something like that one can never forgot, and no, we should never forget. So it was that the Jews of Yerushalayim began somewhat to live again. There was one problem, though: the famine. There was such a hunger at that time in Israel that there was nothing to eat. How so? I just want to describe to you what a Shabbat table in Jerusalem in the 1950s looked like. Wine – they had barely a few drops. Challot didn’t exist – the bread was just a few crumbs. on their tables there was simply vegetables and a little soup. Meat, chicken, oneg Shabbat? No, there just wasn’t. There was such a hunger, such a scarcity of food. So the people couldn’t believe it when one day a man came into shul in Yerushalayim and announced, “I’m making a siyum tomorrow night, and I’m telling you, there’s going to be so much food. I want you to come and celebrate with me. I’ve finished a masechet – come to my siyum! And I do tell you, going to be a lot of food!” When the people heard this, they heard siyum, wonderful; but they heard food, they said, we’re coming! When the word got out that there was food at the coming siyum, people came from all over Jerusalem in droves, mothers carrying their children, just to give them a meal. That was the situation; that’s how bad it was. The rabbi making the siyum came in and looked around. He invited everybody into his home, and then he turned around and said, “Come, take a look!” They looked at the table, and they saw on the table every possible food that they once remembered existed – food that they hadn’t seen in years. There were entrees and salads. There were cups of wine filled to the brim, chicken was being brought out, and then after that, meat. They just could not believe their eyes! A lavish meal! People looked at the mesayeim, the rabbi who was making the siyum, and they said, “Tell us, from where did you get this food? How did you afford this food?” He said to the people, “I spent my entire life saving up my pennies just for this siyum.” The people looked at him and said, “It looks like a sheva berachot! To us this looks better than the weddings that we make for our daughters. What masechet did you finish?” He looked at them and said, “I finished Masechet Mo’ed Kattan.” “Mo’ed Kattan? The whole eighteen, nineteen pages, and this is the siyum that you’re making?! on one of the smallest Gemarot, smallest masechtot in Shas? This is a lavish siyum, fit for a king, something greater than a wedding!” The people looked at him and said, “Could you imagine if you finished Ketubot, what you would have made! This is for Mo’ed Kattan?!” He said, “Yes. Wait, let me make the siyum, and I’m going to tell you the story behind this siyum.” He finished the Gemara, made the siyum, and they began to bring out the food. The people were blown away! Then he began to speak. And before he said a word, he looked around the room in silence, and suddenly the people saw that he started to pull up his sleeve. He showed that on his arm there were the numbers – those numbers that we all know, of a concentration-camp survivor. He turned to the people and said, “I was in one of the worst concentration camps. And at that time there was a man there that everybody called ‘the meshugene of the camp.’ The meshugene, he was the crazy guy of the camp. Now, people thought that due to the torture, and the horrific, horrible things they went through, this guy had lost his mind. You see, this fellow talked to himself day and night. Wherever he went, he talked to himself. out in the fields and during the hard labor, he talked to the shovels, he talked to the rocks, he talked to himself. Wherever he went, day and night, constantly and consistently, he didn’t stop talking to himself.” He continued, “We all thought he was crazy, had lost his mind, went off the deep end. until one night. You know, in the barracks, in the concentration camp, they had bunk beds, a lower and an upper bed. I slept in the lower bed, and this guy, the meshugene, the crazy guy in the camp who wouldn’t stop talking, he slept on the upper bed. And believe me, it wasn’t easy, because all night, like all day, he wouldn’t stop talking to himself. Sometimes he kept me up all night. But one night he leaned down from his bed, and he actually looked me right in the eye. And he said to me, ‘You think I’m crazy? I know everybody in the camp thinks I’m crazy. But I’m not. Do you know what it is that I am saying to myself, day and night, everywhere I go in this terrible place? I am reviewing the entire Shas to myself. Gemara, Rashi, Tosafot, from the very beginning, going through Shas, and I’m almost finished. I’m about to make a siyum in the heart of Gehinnom. I’m about to finish Shas. I have one more masechet left. All I have to finish is Masechet Mo’ed Kattan. I don’t think I’m going to make it. I’m asking you, you’re going to live. If I don’t make it out of here, promise me that you’re going to finish the siyum hashas that I was almost about to make, even in a concentration camp. Because these Nazis, they can take my body, but they’re not going to take my life. They can torture me, but my neshamah, my Torah, is going to live on; that they could never stop. My Torah, my Shas, is going to live on through you. Please, I have one masechet left. Could you finish the Shas that I almost finished here in the concentration camp?’” The rabbi finished, “I looked at him, and my jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe it. I promised him I definitely would. And that night, the man passed away, with his lips slowly coming to a halt, saying his last words, and almost the entire Shas went with him. But then I remembered my promise, and I did live to get out the concentration camp. We were liberated sometime after that, and I was lucky enough to come here to eretz Yisrael. I promised myself as I promised him, I’m going to finish the Shas that he started. I’m going to finish that last masechet. I’m going to give him the siyum of the entire Shas by finishing Mo’ed Kattan. He’s going to live on through the masechet that I just finished.” Then he looked at the people and said, “Now you understand why this siyum is not just a siyum; it’s a siyum hashas, but it’s a siyum of a life that had so much to show for it. This was a Jew who lived an incredible, productive and vibrant way.” We can continue to live their lies and carry on. How important are the mishnayot; it allows them to continue to live. How important it is when we make classes in memory of those who are deceased. Again, the Torah enables them and their teachings and what they stood for, to live on. But more than anything, focus on their lives, their teachings and their lessons. Ya’akov Avinu lo meit, our father Ya’akov did not die. You know why? Because look what he gave over to his children, to his family and how they lived his lessons and continue them until today. We’re continuing to live the legacy, the greatness of the Avot. They’re alive in us. And so too, the greatness of every Jew – you can continue to have it live on in you.

Mishnah: It’s The Linchpin, with Rabbi Jonathan Rietti

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Rabbi Jonathan Rietti received his rabbinical diploma from Gateshead Talmudical College in England, after which he helped establish a kollel in Gibraltar. Having received a master’s degree in education, he practiced for eighteen years as an educational consultant to parents of gifted children and those with ADD. Rabbi Rietti currently lectures across the United States for the Gateways Seminar Program.
Key points

• All of taryag mitzvos are contained within the basic storyline of the written Torah, the Torah shebichtav.
• The massive treasures in the Torah shebichtav are hidden in the oral Torah, the Torah shebe’al peh. This is the heartbeat of the Torah.
• Mishnah comes from the same root as teeth, which are used for chewing. This is done repeatedly and is the way one shows he enjoys his food. In the same way, Mishnah is the repetition of the entire Torah shebe’al peh. The more one reviews it, the more he is showing he enjoys it and the more he has access to the vast treasures within the Torah.
• Rebbi Yehuda Hanasi wrote the mishnayos in a cryptic way so that you’re forced to ask questions. We depend on a mesorah of live people. It’s not enough just to learn from sefarim. Rebbi Yehuda Hanasi wrote down mishnayos because he saw with Divine inspiration that otherwise it would be forgotten.
• Mishnah and neshamah have the same four Hebrew letters
– mem, shin, nun and heih. The neshamah is what fuels our minds, which is who we are and is the linchpin between us and Hashem. Mishnah is also the linchpin that links us and Hashem; it’s the link between Torah shebichtav and Torah shebe’al peh, allowing us to connect, so to speak, to the mindset of Hashem.
• The linchpin between Chumash and Halachah, which tells us how to do the will of Hashem, is Mishnah. Mishnah actually changes us and changes the way we think and see things.
• Rebbi Yehuda Hanasi organized the seemingly arbitrary inclusion of taryag mitzvos within the text of Torah shebe’al peh in an extraordinary way: six sections (sedarim) made up of sixty-three tractates (masechtos), divided into chapters (perakim) and then divided further into paragraphs, each paragraph being one Mishnah.
• Today, learning mishnayos is a whole new obligation because it has been elucidated to such a degree.
• The main thing when learning mishnayos is to learn it systematically and to do constant chazzarah – review.
• Every Gemara is assuming you know all of mishnayos because there is so much cross-referencing. At least learn the mishnayos on the masechta of the Gemara that you are going to learn before doing so. The more mishnayos a person knows, the better he’ll understand the Gemara.
• Mishnah is learned more than any other subject l’iluy nishmas a departed loved one. It not only helps us get clarity about Torah shebichtav, but it actually feeds the neshamah.
• The purpose of all that we learn is in order to know how to do the mitzvos, to know how to do the will of Hashem.
• Rav Yosef Karo merited to author the Shulchan Aruch because he constantly learned mishnayos.
• Torah shebe’al peh is the proof of our special relationship with Hashem.
• In the merit of learning mishnayos, will come the ingathering of the exiles and then the coming of Mashiach, both of which will precede techiyas hameisim.

Transcript

Mishnah: Its the linchpin I am very grateful to Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah and Rabbi Haikins for inviting me to share with you on the very important subject of learning mishnayos, particularly l’iluy nishmas a departed one, for the sake of elevating the soul of a loved one. I’m going to start at the beginning. Hakaddosh Baruch Hu gave us the Torah at Har Sinai. There are trillions of unlimited layers of the Torah, but in its skeletal definition, the Torah contains a storyline and contains in the storyline – with no apparent order – taryag mitzvos, 613 instructions. The storyline begins with the creation of the world and the creation of Adam, man. Then we have ten generations from Adam until No’ach, the great Flood wipes out mankind, it begins again with No’ach. In Chapter 12, Avraham Avinu enters onto the map of the Torah, and from this moment onward, Hashem has no interest in any other part of mankind. If the Pelishtim or Mitzrim are mentioned, it’s only in the context of Avraham Avinu, Sarah Imeinu, Yitzchak and Ya’akov, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah, and the Shevatim, the 12 Tribes. The Shevatim go down to Mitzrayim. They’re really looking for their brother Yosef, they’re reunited, the enslavement in Mitzrayim, ten plagues and then receiving the Torah. Then, forty years in the desert. End of Chumash, 2,488 years. Contained within this storyline are taryag mitzvos. Now, if you were a child in the desert learning Torah from your father or rebbi, when you would have the minimal skill set to understand the words – roots, prefixes and suffixes, etc. – so you can make sense of the text, will you be able to understand what’s going on here, or will you have questions? oh, you’re going to have questions. Why? Because the text was dictated by HaKaddosh Baruch Hu to Moshe Rabbeinu, so anyone who understands how to read and can make sense of the words will immediately realize the Torah is breaking its own rules. lashon zachar, words in the masculine form, are supposed to be nekeivah, in the feminine form, and vice versa; yachid, singular words, are supposed to be rabbim, plural, and vice versa. Why is it that way? In order to force the child to think. It took 1,300 years of transmitting the missing information contained in the pessukim, in the verses, until Rabbeinu Hakaddosh, Rebbi Yehudah Hanasi, the then-president of the Jewish people, committed the missing information, the Torah shebe’al peh, the oral law, to writing. That text, we all know, is the Mishnah. And that’s what we’re going to talk about. But let’s understand: what does it mean that now the oral law, the Torah shebe’al peh, is in writing? Let me share with you a very simple analogy, which Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch offers to understand the distinction between the written law, the Torah shebichtav, and the Torah shebe’al peh. Imagine that you go to a lecture, and you actually enjoy it, so you’re taking notes. At the end of the lecture you go to your husband, your wife, your friends, and you say, “That was a great lecture; let me share my notes with you.” Why will they not be successful in reconstructing the lecture from the notes that you give them? There are lots of reasons. okay, it might be they can’t read your handwriting, but let’s assume they can. Well, there’s an asterisk here and a color code over here. You have your criteria for what you think is important to include in your notes and what you don’t think is important, so it’s impossible for anybody to reconstruct the lecture based on your notes. Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch explains: The Torah shebichtav, the written Torah, is the notes to the lecture. The lecture is the Torah shebe’al peh. The missing information that is extrapolated by forcing you to ask questions is hidden in the Torah shebichtav. And that was transmitted mipi haGevurah, from the mouth of HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, so to speak, to Moshe Rabbeinu, to the zekeinim, to the Anshei Kenesses Hagedolah, all the way down to our generation. We’re going to discuss the meaning of the Mishnah. I want to share with you one last mashal, a very simple analogy that the Ba’al Shem Hakaddosh offers to understand the relationship between the Torah shebichtav and the Torah shebe’al peh — Chumash, Nach, Mishnayos, Gemara, Halachah, Medrash, Chassidus, Mussar, Hashkafah. Every portion of the Torah has to find its source somewhere, either in the storyline – that’s the non-legal side of the Torah – or if it’s the legal side of the Torah, in Mishnah, Gemara or Halachah. It must find its source somewhere in taryag mitzvos. So that means that Mishnah is actually a commentary to taryag mitzvos. Gemara is a peirush, an explanation, of the Mishnah, which itself is a peirush to taryag mitzvos. Halachah is the legal outcomes, the legal conclusions of the discussions in the Gemara, which is a peirush, an explanation, of the Mishnah, which itself is the first listing, if you like, of the details of taryag mitzvos. The Ba’al Shem Hakaddosh, explains the relationship between Torah shebichtav and Torah shebe’al peh with the following analogy: Imagine a king who has vast wealth, treasuries, palaces and many slaves and servants. He wants to bequeath all his treasures to his only son, the heir to the kingdom – everything. “But,” he says to himself, “what will make my son appreciate and value this inheritance? If I gift it to him or if he has to work for it?” So what does the king do? The king says to his son, “I have built a palace for you. This palace is perfect. It is designed without the slightest flaw. There isn’t any inconsistency. There are no mistakes. If you find a tile on the floor slightly mislaid, too high or too low, that’s not a mistake. This palace was created, built and designed with perfection. That means it’s a clue. If you dig behind that tile, you will find the hidden treasure. If you notice that the ceiling doesn’t meet in perfect right angles with the wall, that’s not a mistake. If you dig behind that mistaken angle, you will find treasure.” Says the Ba’al Shem Hakaddosh, the Torah shebichtav is a perfect palace. “Toras Hashem temimah,” the Torah is perfect. Tamim, Chazal always tell us, means without mum. There is not the slightest nick, no inconsistencies, no mistakes. Any apparent inconsistency is in order to tell us to dig a little deeper, ask questions and draw out the hidden information. HaKaddosh Baruch Hu deliberately hid the massive, vast treasures that are inside the Torah shebichtav in the Torah shebe’al peh, so that anybody outside of B’nei Yisrael has no access to the Torah. Automatically, B’nei Yisrael have a very special, unique relationship with HaKaddosh Baruch Hu because the heartbeat of the Torah is the Torah shebe’al peh. And the starting point of the Torah shebe’al peh is the mishnayos – the Mishnah of Rebbi Yehudah Hanasi. For 1,300 years, children learned with their father and their rebbi, as it says in Shema, “v’shinantam l’vanecha.” The word v’shinantam really means to role model with passion and excitement the Torah that you’re living, with your children. I’m not going into the details. We unfortunately translate it according to popular meaning, which is “teach your children.” Actually, v’shinantam doesn’t mean to teach, it really means shein, from tooth, and the tooth performs the function of chewing. When you chew it’s the only moment that your child knows you enjoy your food. “V’shinantam l’vanecha,” Chazal tell us, means shinun, sharpen the minds of your children. Shinun also means repeat, from the word shinayim, teeth, which repeatedly chew – sheini, twice. So in these multiple meanings, what Chazal is telling us is that the Mishnah is the repetition of the entire Torah shebe’al peh, for the first time in writing; by repeating the words again and again, learning the mishnayos with review – chazzarah is the ikkar limud, the foremost element of learning – you build up a vast treasure of information. Now your mind can compare similarities, this Mishnah to this Mishnah, this nafka mina (difference) between this halachah and this one, and contrast the differences. When your mind is able to draw upon a large amount of information from shinun, repetition, and you can sharpen your mind through repetition, comparing similarities and contrasting differences, you are building your ability to distinguish and discriminate and look at the world with an eye that says, “lo sasuru acharei l’vavechem v’acharei eineichem,” I’m not going to follow what my eyes and mind say. You know why? I’m going to follow da’as Torah, the directives of the Torah and Torah scholars. If I’m going to learn enough mishnayos, and eventually we get to the Gemara on the Mishnah, you know what will happen? My mind will be so saturated with “Hashem’s mind” that this is the mind I’ll be screening the world through. “lo sasuru acharei l’vavechem v’acharei eineichem” means don’t follow your thoughts and your eyes because what you and I see in this world is not real. What we don’t see is much more real. I’ll explain. We have a word, chayim. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with translations that are based on someone else’s religion, so we translate it as life, but actually there is no word in lashon hakoddesh, the Holy tongue in which the Torah is written, for life. The word chai is not the singular of chayim; it is actually an adjective. It means alive. The word chayim literally translates as lives. You see, lashon hakoddesh created reality. And because lashon hakoddesh created reality, that means you can’t have a word in lashon hakoddesh for something that doesn’t exist. There is no such thing as life. Chayim means lives; it’s plural because we don’t believe in one life. This world is not the real world. There’s another dimension. Chayim means lives. We don’t live for this world alone. As it says in the famous introduction to Mesilas Yesharim, we are preparing in this world for the Next World. What really counts is olam hanitz’chi, eternity. Olam Hazeh is not chayim; chayim is Olam Hazeh and Olam Haba. When we are learning mishnayos, what we’re really doing is chewing the information. The more you love it, the more you show you savor the taste of learning. We learn that Rebbi Meir says its mutar, permitted; Rebbi Yosi says its asur, forbidden; Rebbi Shimon says tamei, impure; Rebbi Yishmael says its tahor, pure. And you know what happens now? This invites the mind, this provokes questions, this engages our thoughts, and we delve a little bit deeper. When the mishnayos were written, the purpose was to remind us of the missing information that the Mishnah doesn’t give us – because the Chumash was written so you can’t understand it, and you’re forced to ask questions and start drawing out what’s missing, i.e., the Torah shebe’al peh. And then when the mishnayos was actually written, how did Rebbi Yehudah Hanasi write it? He wrote it with such a kitzur lashon; it’s so terse and cryptic. The language is so codified that when you read the words, do you have all the information you need to understand what it’s talking about? There is missing information. Rebbi Yehudah Hanasi wrote down a cryptic language, shorthand, so that you are forced to ask questions and think. Within 300 years, Chazal had to write down the missing information that the Mishnah represented – what was the reasoning of Rebbi Yishmael, who said it’s tahor; Rebbi Meir, who said it’s tamei; Rebbi Yosi, who said it’s mutar; Rebbi Shimon, who says its asur? What are the sevaros, the rationale, and what are their sources? This beraisa or this Mishnah or this passuk? Why learn from this passuk and not from this passuk? What ends up happening is that the mind of the child, the student, is being drawn into conversation. His mind is being engaged to think for itself and become part of the dialogue, which is Shas, Gemara, Mishnah. This way, when new situations and new applications come up, the mind will have to figure out and draw upon its knowledge of Mishnah, Gemara, and come out with the halachic conclusions, which teach me how to be a Yid, how HaKaddosh Baruch Hu wants me to be a frum Jew. And really, if you were to select one of these different systems of information – Chumash, Mishnah, Gemara, Halachah – and you had to identify the one that is the most pivotal, the one that links all the others together, it would be the Mishnah. Why? The word Mishnah is from the root of meshaneh, change; it changes us where we really need to change. What do I need to change? The shape of my body? My height? Not much I can do about that! Change my wardrobe? No, those are all externals. In lashon hakoddesh – the perfect language – begged means clothing, and bogeid means traitor. In English we have one word for traitor and one word for clothing; Ribbono Shel Olam, in Your unlimited imagination, why do You have two meanings coming out of one word? There are no mistakes in lashon hakoddesh. A bogeid, a traitor, is what my clothing is. My clothing betrays the real me. I’m not my clothing; I’m not even my body. So who am I? The real me is my mind. And what is it about my mind that’s the real me? The neshamah that was breathed into Adam Harishon. From the passuk in Iyov, we see that the neshamah is a cheilek elokah mima’al, a part of Hashem. The real me is not my body; that is just the vehicle that carries me from one place to another. The real me is not my clothing; the real me is not my home; it’s not my zip code; it’s not the car I drive; and it’s not how many children are in my family. The real me is what’s going on between my ears – my mind. And what feeds my mind? When HaKaddosh Baruch Hu removes the battery, the neshamah, from the mind, it’s dead. Along comes the Shelah Hakaddosh and tells us that the word Mishnah is the exact same osiyos as neshamah – nun, shin, mem and heih. Why? Because the neshamah of a Jew is the linchpin between HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, the cheilek elokah mima’al that He breathed into us, and the life that we live; it connects my body – the bottom of the scale – to HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, Who is, so to speak, at the top. Mishnayos is the link between the Oraisa, the Chumash, which is HaKaddosh Baruch Hu’s mindset, so to speak. Those are actually the words of Rabbi Avigdor Miller. The Torah, so to speak, is really HaKaddosh Baruch Hu’s mindset in writing, for us to be able to understand Him. That’s why the word “os,” – letter – is made up of an alef, vav and taf. An alef is the highest point in ruchniyus, that which is spiritual; taf is the lowest point in gashmiyus, that which is physical; and vav is the letter that means connect. Vav means “and” because “and” connects, it hooks things together. And that is what a vav actually looks like – a hook. So an os hooks the epitome in gashmiyus to the epitome in ruchniyus. Because the osiyos, the letters of the Torah, are Hashem’s attempt, so to speak, to communicate to us His reality. Mishnah is all about being meshaneh, changing our minds from seeing a world that’s not real and connecting to HaKaddosh Baruch Hu’s reality. What is HaKaddosh Baruch Hu’s reality? He gave us taryag mitzvos, 613 instructions, which tell us how to live the most happy lives possible. So, for example, we know to take wool and turn it into tzitzis. HaKaddosh Baruch Hu gave us mitzvos, so we take wool and turn it into clothing, and we avoid shatnez, where wool and linen are separated. HaKaddosh Baruch Hu gave us the hide of the cow, and we turn it into tefillin. We take the physical world, and through taryag mitzvos we elevate it to become spiritual. And it’s all because of mishnayos, because the mishnayos is what’s opening up the meaning of taryag mitzvos. It is the first attempt to give us what the taryag mitzvos mean; there is not a single mitzvah in the entire Torah that makes any sense on its own in the Torah shebichtav. Not a single one! Take a seemingly simple mitzvah, “v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha,” love your neighbor as yourself. Well, what happens if I hate myself; how much do I have to love you? What happens if I’m suicidal? I can kill you in the name of the Torah! And what about kibbud av va’eim? “Kabbeid es avicha v’es imecha.” What’s complicated about honor your father and mother? That’s pretty clear. No, no, no, the Torah is not clear. HaKaddosh Baruch Hu did not want the Torah to be clear so that the non-Jewish world has no access to it; anyone outside of the Torah shebe’al peh has no access to Torah shebichtav. So, in “kabbeid es avicha v’es imecha,” what does the vav mean? It means “and.” Very good, but what else does it mean? oh, it also means “or.” So how do you read the Torah? “Honor your father and your mother,” or “honor your father or your mother”? For most, it means honor your father and your mother. So you are going to assume that’s logical, fine. Look one perek later, in Parshas Mishpatim, perek 21, in Shemos; guess what you’re going to find? “M’kalel aviv v’imo mos yumas,” if you curse or hit your father or your mother then there is a death penalty. That’s a pretty serious one. Vav – “and” or “or”? Which one does it mean? Hit your father and your mother or hit your father or your mother? We can imagine that it means “and” because that’s what we said vav in “kabbeid es aveicha v’es imecha,” means. So if it means “and” over here, then it’s like, “Dad and mom, can you put your heads together so that I can hit you both?” How else would I be able to transgress this prohibition? The Torah deliberately doesn’t make sense to force you to ask questions. In fact, none of the taryag mitzvos make sense. “lo tirtzach” doesn’t mean don’t kill because the Torah shebe’al peh tells me “haba l’hargecha,” if someone comes to kill you, what should you do? Wait for them, and if they’re not successful, retaliate? No! We don’t believe in retaliation. “Hashkeim l’hargo,” get up early and kill him first. But wait a minute; it says “lo tirtzach,” don’t kill?! That is the principle; the application is not the principle. The application depends on the circumstances. So you need the mishnayos to elaborate on the full range of mutar and asur, permitted and prohibited, and tamei and tahor, pure and impure. What is the full range between the two extremes that we can apply to halachah in new situations? Rabbeinu Hakaddosh therefore gave us the Mishnah, but he also wrote it in such a way that we are still forced to go to a talmid chacham – which I will translate not according to the popular translation, but according to Chazal. A talmid chacham does not mean a Torah scholar, it means a student of a wise person. We are bringing attention to who we get this information from, since we depend on a mesorah, a transmission of live people. We learn much more from a live person than from a sefer. That’s why the Torah shebe’al peh was not meant to be written down, and it was hora’as sha’ah – as it says in the last Mishnah in Berachos, it was an emergency measure. Rabbeinu Hakaddosh said that if we don’t write the Torah shebe’al peh in the form of the Mishnah, we’re going to forget it completely. The Rambam in his introduction to mishnayos Zera’im gives us the history – if you want to call it that – of Torah shebe’al peh, and he explains why Rabbeinu Hakaddosh was called Hakaddosh in his lifetime – it’s a Gemara in Gittin: because he was extraordinary in his perishus, abstinence. He was arguably the wealthiest individual in the Jewish nation. He was the greatest talmid chacham, the gadol hador. He was the nasi, the president of the Jewish people. He rubbed shoulders, literally, with the Caesar of the Roman Empire. There is much more to be said on that, but what the Rambam brings out is really the following: Rabbeinu Hakaddosh was perfectly situated to be the right person at the right time to write the Mishnah. What does that mean? All the statements that all the chachamim had from their rebbeim, all the way back to Moshe Rabbeinu, had remained Torah shebe’al peh but now had to be written down. So Rabbeinu Hakaddosh financed hundreds of the Tana’im to sit down and record all the statements that they had heard from their rebbi, who heard from their rebbi, all the way back to Moshe Rabbeinu. This was the time when Rabbeinu Hakaddosh saw with ru’ach hakoddesh that we were about to enter the last of the four exiles, galus edom, and if we didn’t write down the Torah shebe’al peh, it would be forgotten. So the original intent in writing the mishnayos was to preserve the Torah shebe’al peh, but in such a way, similar to the Torah shebichtav, that when you read the mishnayos, you’re not going to understand what you need to understand from them. There is still missing information. You have to go to another talmid chacham to get the Gemara. Within 300 years, Chazal saw they had to write down the Gemara as well, the explanation, but when they did, they didn’t feed you. What’s the format of Gemara? Question, answer, problem, solution. It ensures that the transmission of Torah continues to be a dialogue. Dialogue means rebbi-talmid engaged in their minds, in the milchamtah shel Torah, literally the battle of Torah. It’s a battle of minds to break through the pessukim and understand the terse, cryptic, codified language of the Mishnah and pull out all the sevaros that are contained there, learn all the possible extremes, mutar-asur on the extremes, tamei-tahor on the extremes, and all the possible halachic rulings that will come out of the thirteen middos, the thirteen tools, that Chazal employed in order to be able to doreish. Doreish does not mean interpret; that is a very dangerous term because interpretation means my life experience interprets this information. It’s exactly the opposite. Derush comes from the two-letter word dash, which means to extrapolate. If you want to come up with your own explanation, if you got it from the thirteen middos shehaTorah nidreshes bahen, that’s great. And you come up with what you say is mutar and Rebbi Meir says is asur, Rebbi Yishmael says tamei, and Rebbi Yehudah says is tahor, both are correct. If you want to come up with your own explanation anywhere in the Torah, you know what you have to do? You have to show where in the words that explanation is. Because it is not the explanation of your mind on the Torah; rather, you are extrapolating the information that’s already in there. So to come up with a new meaning, you have to show you where it is within the words. The Gemara was written in such a way that it maintains the engagement of the mind. But the linchpin between the end of the whole Chumash, Mishnah, Gemara, and Halachah, which are the legal conclusions of how to apply the taryag mitzvos in my life, the linchpin between the Chumash and the halachah of how to be a Yid, how to serve HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, how to do His will, is Mishnah. Mishnah is the turning point that changes us from just getting the raw information of Chumash and mishnayos, to using our minds to ask questions. That changes our mind – shinui, Mishnah. Now, I want to share with you what the Shelah Hakaddosh says in Masechta Shavuos. Famously, he explains the words of Chazal, who tell us that the writers of the Mishnah were amongst those who destroyed the world. Destroyers of the world is a very strong statement. Says the Shelah Hakaddosh, that is only if you were to study mishnayos raw and not learn the halachic applications that come out of the Gemara, based on the Mishnah. That would be destruction because people would be making halachic decisions from the Mishnah, and that’s not why the Mishnah was written. The Mishnah was written to be the linchpin between the Torah shebichtav and the massive, unlimited layers of the Torah shebe’al peh that can be extrapolated from the Torah shebichtav. Then the Shelah Hakaddosh says that now that we have the Rambam’s commentary on the Mishnah, which gives you a summary of the meanings and halachic conclusions of the Gemara on the Mishnah, and we have the Rav Mibartenura, learning Mishnah is elevated. It’s a limud, a lesson, in and of itself. And the more we learn mishnayos and review it, the more our understanding of the Gemara is superior because the Gemara is the commentary to the Mishnah. If I don’t have the skeleton, how can I learn a commentary to something I am not clear on? Chazal tells us (Ta’anis 7). that is you find a talmid who finds learning very difficult, what might be one of the reasons? Chazal reveal to us that it’s because his mishnayos, the Mishnah, is not suddar alav, it’s not arranged and not organized. Rabbeinu Hakaddosh was the quintessential organizer because he took taryag mitzvos, which are located in no apparent sequence throughout the Torah, and he divided them under six sections, shishah sedarim, and then those sections he subdivided into sixty-three masechtos, sixty-three separate tractates. Every single masechta he then subdivided yet again into numbered chapters, perakim, and then every perek has numbered paragraphs called mishnayos. It’s incredible organization. If you follow the logic of that logic that claims yeish seider l’Mishnah, then when you pay attention to not only the information of each Mishnah, but start noticing the link, the connection, you will also be able to identify how within every Mishnah there is structure. In fact, when you learn Gemara, you will notice that the Gemara always goes sequentially through the Mishnah, tackling the first problem that it notices at the beginning of the Mishnah, and then once it’s finished that part of the topic, continuing with the next part of the Mishnah, in sequence. Yeish seider l’Mishnah. Learning mishnayos is a way to organize information. Learning mishnayos, says the Shelah Hakaddosh, is a whole new obligation today because we’ve got the peirushim, the commentaries. Today, we have mishnayos pictorial. We have mishnayos with Yad Avraham and mishnayos from ArtScroll. Today, one doesn’t have an excuse for not learning mishnayos; it’s been brought down to whichever level of beginner you want to identify. But the main thing is to learn systematically from beginning to end and to review. With that, especially if you learn the masechta of the entire mishnayos of the Gemara you’re going to learn first, you are putting yourself at a tremendous advantage. Truthfully – according to Chazal – every single Gemara is assuming you know all the mishnayos, and the obvious proof of that is that the Gemara is constantly cross-referencing from beraisos and mishnayos all over Shas. Really, we are supposed to have had that amazing, vast, critical mass of information that mishnayos provides for us before learning Gemara. But even if we are not following ben chameish shanim l’Mikrah, ben eser l’Mishnah, ben chameish-esreih l’Talmud (at five years of age a child should begin learning Chumash, at ten, Mishnah and at fifteen, Gemara), at least we should learn the mishnayos on the masechta of Gemara that we’re going to learn. The Gemara in Sanhedrin (99a) tells us, “Ki devar Hashem bizah.” It’s a passuk in Mishlei that a person could disdain, show degradation, for the word of Hashem. What is that referring to? Chazal answer that this is talking about “mi she’eino mashgiach al haMishnah,” someone who is not supervising learning Mishnah. Rashi spells it out even more: “she’oseik she’eino ikkar,” he makes learning mishnayos as though it’s not important. That’s not really the translation; ikkar means the root. Mishnayos is the root of the Torah shebe’al peh; mishnayos is the heartbeat of the Torah shebe’al peh. Your neshamah is the heartbeat, the spiritual battery that’s inside and gives you life force. The first time the letter alef appears in the Torah is in the word elokim, g-d: alef is HaKaddosh Baruch Hu. If you take the alef out of adam, man, you’re left with dam, blood, the life force of the human being. Dam also means inanimate, dead, gone. But the neshamah, where does that go? That continues forever. You can’t destroy the neshamah. When HaKaddosh Baruch Hu created man, “Vayitzer Hashem elokim Adam afar min ha’adamah, vayipach b’apav nishmas chayim.” Number one: Adam was created from the earth of the soil, in the wisdom of HaKaddosh Baruch Hu. And then, number two, HaKaddosh Baruch Hu breathed into man a nishmas chayim, a soul of lives. It’s a soul that lives throughout every life, through this world and the next. It’s eternal. That’s why Mishnah is the one type of learning, more than any other, that we learn when someone is niftar. We don’t say learn Chumash – you can, and it would be a zechus. We don’t say, let’s learn Gemara – you can, and people do, but that’s not what you’ll see on a list during the shivah. You’ll see a list of mishnayos, masechtos of Mishnah. Mishnayos not only helps you to gain clarity on taryag mitzvos and prepares you for learning the masechta of Gemara you’re going to learn, you are also feeding your neshamah when you learn mishnayos. And if you’re learning it l’zecher nishmas another person, that’s a whole new story. Why? The neshamah of a human being is only elevated as much as they invested in this world. But there are people who are smart in business; they don’t just invest in a store, they invest in something that creates residual income. They put their money somewhere where their money makes more money. That’s smart. You have to be able to do that. You may have to have a little bit of extra money to be able to do that; don’t do it with your bread and butter money. If you have extra, invest your money in a way that it will create dividends, that it will work for you. Residual income is where you’re not working, but the money continues to do so. I’m using this as a very simple mashal because sefer Gesher Hachayim, one of the most popular sefarim on aveilus, tells us the most beautiful story. It’s told by, I think, Rabbi Yisrael Salant, about twin boys in a womb who are having a conversation. one is saying to the other, “Life is so good, the insulation, protection, nutrition comes straight through the umbilical cord; you just relax, and basically you’re sunbathing in this warm, perfect temperature. It’s just so good!” And then the other brother says, “Well, you do realize that this is not going to go on forever? Eventually we are going to leave this beautiful world, and when we do, we’re going to enter a world immeasurably greater than this one.” So the sophisticated brother says, “You’ve been watching too many videos; what are you talking about? This world is it! Can’t you see? Everything we need is here!” “No, no, no,” says the second brother. “one day, we are going to leave this world, and you know what’s going to happen to your legs? They’re going to unfold. Your legs are actually going to carry your body wherever you want. Your eyes will open, and you will see a whole new world immeasurably greater than the womb. In that world you’ll see in full color. Your mouth will open, and you will talk and receive food instead of getting it through your umbilical cord.” But the sophisticated brother says, “You know what, this is ridiculous; where are you getting these ideas from? You’re dreaming!” Suddenly, the womb begins shaking, and the second brother is sucked out. The sophisticated brother says, “No, no, my brother! Where has he gone? He’s dead! He’s gone forever!” And he’s crying and mourning the death of his brother, not realizing that the screams on the other side of “Mazel tov, it’s a boy!” are celebrating the birth of a child entering a world immeasurably greater than the womb. Shlomoh Hamelech, the wisest of all men, says “Tov sheim mishemen tov,” a good name is superior to good oil. You know what it takes to get a good name, a good reputation? It’s a lifetime career of working on one’s relationship between himself and Hashem and himself and his fellow man. Tov sheim, a good name is superior, mishemen tov, than good ointment or good oil. oil? That’s a really valuable commodity! oil gives light, warmth, fire, petroleum, gas. And as much as good oil and a good name are worlds apart, it’s not nearly as much as the yom hamaves miyom hivaldo – the day of death is different from the day of birth; the day of death is immeasurably greater than the day a person is born because when we leave this world, now begins the party. Olam Hazeh is just the prozdor, the reception room. Don’t ever think the smorgasbord is it! If you think this is the party, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! As soon as the doors open at the end of the reception hall and you enter, “oh my gosh, look at this party; this is the banquet!” Olam Hazeh domeh l’prozdor lifnei Olam Haba, This world is like a hallway leading into the World to Come; hatkein atzmecha, prepare yourself, fix yourself in the hallway, at the smorgasbord; kedei shetikaneis l’traklin, so that you can enter into the giant banquet hall, so that you are prepared for the real world. What does that mean? How am I preparing for the Next World? How am I investing, so to speak? When a parent leaves a child behind and that child continues doing mitzvos and Torah, that elevates the neshamah because the neshamah can only go as far as it has done in this world. But if he has invested in children who know how to learn and those children are learning mishnayos, he’ll continue to rise. Of all the shevatim, Chazal tell us that Asher learned the most Torah shebe’al peh from his father, even though sheivet levi were the transmitters of Torah later on. Chazal tell us that when someone chas v’Shalom goes to Gehinnom and screams out, “Can anyone pull me out?” Asher, of all the shevatim, comes and says, “Did you learn any mishnayos? You did? You’re mine!” And he’ll pull him out. As we said previously, we don’t believe in one life; we believe in chayim, Olam Hazeh and Olam Haba. And mishnayos is elevating the neshamah in the Next World because what I do down here affects the big picture, the real world, Olam Haba. Mishnah is the one limud over and above all the others that is selected because it’s the linchpin. Someone who has learned the most mishnayos is probably going to understand the Gemara the best. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein used to make one siyum a year for finishing Shishah Sidrei Mishnah, just for the mishnayos he learned during lechah Dodi. While lechah Dodi was continuing, he was finishing up his mishnayos. He had many other siyumim of mishnayos, more than once a month, but this was one just for that period of time. Amazing! It wasn’t the first time he was learning it; it was chazzarah, and the more review, the faster it gets. That is the preparation for really knowing Gemara well. Because what’s the Gemara? The Gemara is constantly cross-referencing the mishnayos and beraisos. Chazal tell us, “l’olam hevei ratz l’Mishnah.” l’olam is a very strong word; it means consistently or constantly. A person should constantly run to the Mishnah over and above other limudim. Not because it’s necessarily superior to Gemara, but it’s the linchpin that connects taryag mitzvos to the halachah, which the Mishnah and Gemara is between. And the Mishnah is the one that prepares us the most. Who has the greatest merit of learning Torah? I’m not the one who can say, but I would like to speculate that it would be the Beis Yosef, Rabbeinu Yosef Karo. Here’s the logic – a very powerful logic, a very simple logic. Rashi holds our hand for Chumash and Gemara. Who wouldn’t want the merit of Rashi? But what’s the purpose of learning Chumash, and what’s the purpose of learning mishnayos, and what’s the purpose of learning Gemara? It’s in order to come out with the halachic applications, how to be a Jew, how to do the will of Hashem, how to be joyful in performing the mitzvos of HaKaddosh Baruch Hu. So the real purpose of all the studying is al menas la’asos, in order to act upon it. It’s not lilmod al menas l’lameid, to learn in order to teach; that’s praiseworthy, but you know what the highest level is? lilmod al menas la’asos. That’s why the Maharsha explains the passuk in Iyov, “Adam l’amal yulad,” (man was born to work) as follows. The Gemara in Sanhedrin says, “Ashrei mi she’amalo baTorah,” praised is the one whose work is Torah. The Maharsha explains that “l’amal” stands for “lilmod al menas la’asos.” The purpose of all learning ultimately has to be, “Ribbono Shel Olam, what do you want me to do? How do I apply what I’ve learned in my marriage, with this child, in my health, in my finances? How do I be loyal as an employee, with money? How am I honest in the workplace? How do I get along with my co-workers?” The Torah gives us directives on every level. Comes along Rabbeinu Yosef Karo, who first wrote a commentary to the Rambam and then the Tur and finally wrote the Shulchan Aruch. And to what does he attribute that unbelievable merit? To the fact that he learned mishnayos by heart all the time. He would learn masechtos and masechtos, Shishah Sidrei Mishnah. He actually had learning sessions when he finished the whole mishnayos once a week. In his sefer, Maggid Meisharim, he recounts what he learned every night with a malach, an angel; this was the malach over the Mishnah. Reb Yosef Karo merited to be the author of the Shulchan Aruch, which until today is the starting point of almost all the legal applications of how to be a frum Jew. What a zechus! You could argue that the Rambam fed into that because a lot of halachic decisions are based on the Rambam. I’m not taking away from that, but what I am bringing out is that this zechus came about because of Reb Yosef Karo’s abundant learning of mishnayos: sequential review, sequential learning from the beginning of a masechta to the end, and then another masechta, and another mesechta, and constant review. That’s the secret to success in learning mishnayos. I conclude with a medrash Rabbah in Vayikra (3:7). It tells us that the kibbutz galiyos, the ingathering of the exiles, will be in the merit of mishnayos. It’s in the zechus of mishnayos that Mashiach will come. That’s not small; that’s gigantic. Those are the two major events that are going to happen before techiyas hameisim. How does that work? And why are they going to happen in the merit of mishnayos? There is a Chazal in Pesikta Rabbasi (5:1) that tells us that when HaKaddosh Baruch Hu brings everyone to the Final Day of Judgment, all the non-Jewish nations will say, “We are Your children.” And B’nei Yisrael will say, “No, we’re Your children.” So how will that get sorted out? Chazal tell us that HaKaddosh Baruch Hu is going to say, “When I gave the Torah at Har Sinai I gave it to B’nei Yisrael.” But the Christians and Muslims are going to say, “We also believe in the Torah shebichtav.” And they actually do, so they will say, “We’re also Your children, the descendants of Yishmael and eisav.” Then HaKaddosh Baruch Hu will say, “There’s one way to be sure who My children really are.” I’m going to now share with you a beautiful mashal. under the chuppah at Har Sinai, the King, HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, marries the queen, B’nei Yisrael. In this mashal, the King gives the queen a rock, a massive diamond, and places it on her finger. This diamond is an external demonstration of the king’s love for his beloved queen. But he also whispers in her ears only words that the queen can hear, nobody else. The queen asks, “Which is more precious to you? The diamond ring or those words of endearment that are completely unique and intimate between king and queen, husband and wife?” HaKaddosh Baruch Hu gave us the Torah shebichtav, a diamond that is His demonstration of His love of us to the world outside. But you know what else He did? He whispered in our ears the Torah shebe’al peh, which nobody has access to unless you are part of the Torah shebe’al peh, the Mishnah, Gemara, and Halachah. So when the nations will say, “But we’re your children too!” Hashem will say, “Yes? Who knows the mysteries of My Torah? Who knows the secrets? Who remembers the whispers?” And what you’re learning today, Mishnah, Gemara, Halachah, they are the echoes of the Torah shebe’al peh that started at Har Sinai. By now you know that mishnayos is the linchpin, the pivotal piece that links it all together. In the zechus, b’ezras Hashem, of taking mishnayos more seriously for the sake of our Gemara learning and the for the sake of clarifying all the taryag mitzvos, may we be zocheh to bring nachas ru’ach, eternal pleasure, to our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, who are all elevated for having brought us into this world and ultimately bring nachas ru’ach to HaKaddosh Baruch Hu with the coming of Mashiach, bimheirah b’yameinu, amein!

Comforting the True Aveil, with Rabbi Tzvi Hebel

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Rabbi Tzvi Hebel is the author of The Neshamah Should Have an Aliyah, the definitive english text explaining the concept of providing merit for a departed soul and offering practical guidance for aliyas neshamah opportunities. He also authors the popular Mishnas Chayim series, a weekly Torah insight connecting a pertinent mishnah to that week’s Torah portion. Rabbi Hebel was an editor of the Artscroll Midrash Rabbah and is currently involved in translating the Nesivos Sholom, the works of the Slonimer Rebbe. Rabbi Hebel resides with his family in lakewood, NJ, where he has spent many years engaged in the study and dissemination of Torah.
Key points

• The mitzvah of nichum aveilim is not only to comfort the mourner but to comfort the niftar. During the shivah and year of aveilus the niftar himself is in pain – over his inability to perform further mitzvos, to gain zechusim and because it’s a time of judgment for the neshamah.
• Relatives can bring comfort to the niftar by learning Torah and performing mitzvos on the niftar’s behalf, earning him or her new zechusim.
• Benefiting the niftar in this way can bring tremendous comfort to the aveilim, who can genuinely feel that they are doing more than they ever could before for their loved one.
• The Neshamah Should Have an Aliyah (published by Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah in conjunction with The Judaica Press) details various customs and ways in which one can bring merit to the niftar.

Transcript

Comforting the true aveil: Bringing Aliyah to the Neshamah Here are some basic things about aveilus in general that people might not be aware of one hundred percent or that people might have some misconceptions about. Like the Mesilas Yesharim famously says in his introduction, a lot of things that he’s going to say in his sefer are really very straightforward, they’re very obvious; but k’fi rov pashtusam, as obvious as they are and as simple as they are, since they’re so common and so known, people tend to forget them, so we need to be reminded. In the general topic of aveilus, I think that we find a similar idea. People assume, rightfully so, that the main idea of aveilus, the main concept behind it, is that here is a person, the aveil, who is suffering, who just experienced a tremendous and significant loss and who needs guidance, who needs comfort – which is all true. And I think that people tend to assume that most of the halachos and the customs and conduct of aveilus have mostly to do with helping the aveil to cope. Now, while that may be a very important aspect, really our sages tell us that there is another central and vital aspect to the aveilus. And that is the idea of nosei b’ol im chaveiro, feeling your friend’s pain. The ba’alei mussar explain that in general there is a very important character trait of being nosei b’ol, of helping out and feeling the pain of somebody who is in any type of tza’ar, any type of sorrow, any type of pain, and in the time of aveilus, there is someone who is experiencing tremendous tza’ar. But it’s not just the aveil, although that tza’ar is obviously very significant. The real and most intense tza’ar, though, is being felt – as we are ma’aminim b’nei ma’aminim, people who have emunah and believe – by the niftar himself, the neshamah of the person who has just departed. Chazal tell us that the mourner is not the only one in aveilus. The neshamah itself is an aveil for itself, and that pain and that tza’ar and that suffering is something that sometimes tends to be overlooked; but that neshamah is now coming to grips with the fact that it can no longer perform mitzvos, it can no longer get any zechusim, merits, on its own, and whatever station it’s at now, that’s the station it will be at forever and ever. Not only that, but we know that it is in the Next World where a person experiences the judgements, tribulations and recompense for his behavior in this world. And for anybody — which is basically everybody — who has imperfections, those imperfections have to be dealt with. It’s a very trying time for the neshamah itself. The idea of aveilus is to remind the mourner that really there is something the mourner can do to help the neshamah. There is the idea that the aveil should be concentrating and focused on the niftar, to realize and be nosei b’ol with the pain of the niftar and to realize that there’s something the aveil can do to help the niftar; even though the niftar is no longer of this world, their existence is very, very real, and they are in a lot of pain. Although they can’t generate their own merit, if they have a relative they left over in this world, that relative is able to generate merit for the neshamah. That relative is able, through his acts and resources, through the mitzvos that he does, through the Torah that he learns, through the Torah that he causes to be learned, to help that neshamah attain comfort, attain protection, and actually to accrue more and more merit. Several years ago, we [Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah] in conjunction with The Judaica Press] put out a sefer called The Neshamah Should Have an Aliyah, a book that details the ideas and customs and methods one can use to continue to provide merit for the niftar. one of the fascinating things we found in receiving feedback from this work is the amount of people who said that they themselves, aveilim, who are obviously in a very difficult circumstance, took a great deal of comfort personally when they realized that there’s something actual and tangible that they can continue to do to help the niftar. There are many people who experience a loss, and then they are plagued with very, very difficult emotions. They sometimes feel guilty, like they didn’t do enough for the person while they were alive. But they can realize that right now they have the opportunity to help this person and actually do something real for this person, to provide help more so than probably they ever could have done while the person was alive. I recently read a book called As long as I live, which was originally published in Hebrew as ethaleich. It has become very popular and has been translated into many languages. It’s about a certain individual, Reb Aharon Margalit, who led a very difficult life. He was plagued with all kinds of challenges and suffering throughout his life. For many years he was paralyzed, for many years he could hardly speak, but through willpower and through emunah he overcame so many obstacles. He was sick with the worst type of sickness, at least three times, I believe. He wrote this book, sharing his experiences and offering inspiration and comfort and encouraging people to have bitachon. One thing that he mentioned there, which I found very fascinating, was about his parents. His parents were Holocaust survivors; obviously they had gone through a lot, and they were strong people. After the war, even though they had lost their whole families, they were able to go to eretz Yisrael and build up a life for themselves there. It wasn’t easy for them either, but they were able to persevere. There was one thing that happened, which shattered Reb Aharon’s father completely. unfortunately, one of his sons was killed in battle during one of the wars in eretz Yisrael. After all the suffering and all he had endured, this completely shattered the father. Reb Aharon Margalit writes there that after this, his father could no longer go on. He could hardly get through a day. This went on for a long time until Reb Aharon’s father was given the idea to set up a gemach, a foundation where resources were allocated to provide loans to help people, as an iluy neshamah, as a merit for the neshamah of this son who was killed. Reb Aharon Margalit writes that once his father got involved in this project, he became a new person, almost instantaneously. It was through being able to work on something that he knew was helping his son, that he knew was providing the best type of support for his son – continuing to give him merit to help his neshamah have an aliyah – that gave him the strength and fortitude to once again continue functioning in his own life; this gave great meaning to his life. It is our hope that as many people as possible can take this same idea and use it to help the neshamos who so desperately need our help, but also that they themselves, the mourners, will be able to derive a significant measure of comfort in the knowledge that they’re doing something real and tangible to help their departed loved ones.

Shiva Call Do’s and Don’ts

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Rabbi Eytan Feiner
Rabbi Simcha Bunim Cohen
Rabbi Mordechai Willig
Dr. Norman Blumenthal
Rabbi Yissocher Frand
Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier
Rabbi Noach Isaac Oelbaum
Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, PhD
Rabbi Hershel Schachter
Mr. Charlie Harary, Esq
Mr. Shmuel Greenbaum
Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky
Rabbi Aryeh Sokoloff
Rabbi Yaakov Klar
Rabbi Fishel Schachter
Rabbi Noach Orlowek
R’ Aharon Margalit
Rabbi Paysach Krohn
Rabbi Yaakov Bender
Rabbi Y.Y. Rubinstein

Woman to Woman, Heart to Heart
Videos

An Introduction to “Woman to Woman, Heart to Heart”

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Key points
Transcript
By: Yehudis K. They say that time will heal me. But right now I’m feeling sad. They say that He does only good. But then why does it feel so bad? They say that I must be so special. But how I yearn to be plain as could be. They say you’re in a much better place now. But I only want you here with me. They say that they’re also heartbroken. But then they get up and walk away. They say they know just how I feel. But I know there is simply no way. They say that soon things will be better. But I know my tears will never dry. They say that we cannot question. But my heart is screaming: WHY?? They say that I must be so strong. But I will never get up from this fall. They say a lot of things… But I wish they would say nothing at all. Reprinted with permission from Our Tapestry.

The Light Never Goes Out, with Mrs. Lori Palatnik

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Mrs. Lori Palatnik is a writer and Jewish educator who has appeared on television and radio. She is the Founding Director of The Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project, an international initiative that brings thousands of women to Israel each year from eighteen different countries to inspire them with the beauty and wisdom of their heritage. She is a much sought-after international speaker, having lectured in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Central America, South America, South Africa and Israel. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area with her family.
Key points

• The mourning period is not a time to party or a reunion for long-lost friends and relatives. Rather, it is a time to focus on the loss, to feel the pain.
• When paying a shivah call, often there are no words. It can be enough just to sit there with the mourner and show you care.
• Don’t try to distract the mourner, to cheer him up. Rather, speak about their loss and their loved one.
• The year-long mourning process allows the mourner to slowly move on.
• Sitting shivah brings merit to the departed but also pushes the mourner to focus on the meaning of life.
• There is much we can do to benefit the departed in the Next World. our good deeds on their behalf allow us to remain connected to our departed loved one and to help them move closer to the Almighty.
• After the shivah is over, don’t forget about the mourner. Reach out and see what you can do for them, whether to lend a listening ear or to help out in some practical way.
• Paying a shivah call can be painful or awkward, but not paying the call will also be painful in the long run. Think about that – and make the effort to go.
• Just like a flame continues to burn upward no matter which way you turn the candle, the soul never dies. Emulating the departed nurtures their soul.
• The mourners partake of a meal upon returning from the burial to remind them that as painful as their loss is, they must carry on and eventually go back to fully functioning.

Transcript

The Light Never Goes Out Imagine you’re driving down any street in North America, and your car breaks down. You forgot your cell phone. You need to call your spouse, the AAA; what are you going to do? You’re in a Jewish neighborhood. You look around, and you see in one house that there’s a lot of activity going on. People are coming in, and people are coming out. There seems to be a lot of laughter and activity, so you figure you’ll go in and ask if you can use the phone. You go in, and you see there are waiters and waitresses, food, drink, there’s laughter. If you didn’t know you were at a shivah, what would you think you were at? A bar mitzvah? An anniversary? A birthday party? Unfortunately, in most of the Jewish world, this is what shivah has become – a party. Years ago, there was somebody I was very close with in Toronto, and her mother passed away. I remember calling her up, and she told me that she was only going to sit shivah for three days. I tried to explain to her that shivah is sheva, the number seven, it’s supposed to be seven days, seven is completion. I tried. But she was like, “No, no, no, my rabbi told me just three days.” I remember going to pay a shivah call. There were waiters, waitresses, food, drink – I couldn’t even find her. Where was she? She was in the kitchen, directing the waiters and waitresses. I said to her, “You don’t have to do this.” She replied, “I know, but everybody expects me to.” I sat her down and I said to her, “Do you want to know what Judaism says happens after you die?” She said, “We believe that something happens after you die?” I said, “Yes.” And I told her about heaven and the World to Come, and how the soul never dies. She said, “I just didn’t think it was Jewish, but I felt something.” She called me up a couple of weeks later and said, “Lori, you were right. After three days, my husband went back to work, my brother went back to the city he lives in, and I never mourned my mother.” No wonder “rabbis” today are telling people to sit for three days. “Because,” she told me, “who wants to host a party when I just went through the greatest loss of my life?” The Jewish way in death and mourning is so psychologically sound. It’s so emotionally healthy. It’s so spiritual. It’s so growth-oriented. But we’re so far away from it. And people just don’t know. At most shivahs that I attend, there’s a lot of talking going on, but the last thing they’re talking about is death or the person who passed away. People are talking about the problems with their help and politics and business. It’s almost like a reunion; this is not what it’s supposed to be. If you’ve ever gone to a traditional shivah, it’s a whole different ball game. Nobody greets you at the door. There are no waiters and waitresses or food and drinks. You come in. There is often a tzeddakah box where you can give money in memory, in merit, of the person who passed away. The mourners are sitting low, their clothing is torn — not just those little black flags — and they look terrible because they are in mourning. This is heavy. There are chairs in front of them, and you’re supposed to sit down on the chair. And you know what you’re supposed to say to the mourner? Nothing. That’s right; you’re supposed to say nothing. Why? Because there’s nothing to say. Your presence alone says more than words can say. Your presence says, “I’m here for you; I feel your pain.” If the mourner speaks, of course you speak to the mourner. And ideally, what should you be talking about? The person who passed away. unfortunately, we think that we’re supposed to be there to cheer up the mourner and distract the mourner. No, no, no, no. We think it’s a mistake when the mourner is crying, that somehow we’ve done something wrong by causing them pain. But this is when the pain is very real. And you’re there not to cheer them up and not to distract them. You are there to comfort them. That’s what it’s all about. I have to tell you, I speak to people all the time, and I wrote a book about this. I interviewed people who had losses even twenty years ago. I asked them, “Tell me some of the stupid things that people said when you were sitting shivah.” It was right there; it was still fresh for them. We don’t mean to say stupid things, but we do because it’s awkward, it’s heavy, it’s uncomfortable. One woman who lost a child told me people said to her, “At least you have other children.” This is not comforting. one man lost his wife. People were slipping him pieces of paper with women’s names and phone numbers on them. Or a woman who was widowed at a young age was told, “oh, you’re young; you’ll marry again.” This is not comforting. One woman told me that her father passed away in his late eighties. She was sitting shivah for him, and what did every other mourner say to her? “At least he lived a long life.” She said, “Lori, I felt like standing up and screaming, ‘That’s why I’m in so much pain – because I loved him for so many years!’” This was not comforting her. Be there for people. Your presence alone says more than words can say. There is somebody I know who lost a baby, hours after the birth. Somebody else I knew, months later, experienced the same thing. So I asked the first woman, “What can I say? What can I possibly say to this woman to bring her comfort?” She said the greatest thing that somebody said to her when she was going through this heavy, unbelievably devastating experience, what gave her the greatest comfort, was, “There are no words.” That’s what the person said to her. She just touched her arm and said, “There are no words.” Because there are none, because there are no words. The Torah is very practical. It gives us a system of mourning that one woman described like this: “I felt like I was like a butterfly in a cocoon. First came the seven days, which are the heaviest days, when people are there to take care of all your needs, and you never even leave the home. And then there’s the thirty days, when there are fewer restrictions on what you do, but you’re still in mourning. And then there is the year.” And she said, “Slowly, slowly, at the end of the year, I could fly again.” You’re never going to be the same. But your loved one wants you to go on. They don’t want you to stay in mourning. The kaddish that is said, if you see the translation, doesn’t say anything about your loved one. Nothing. It’s all about your relationship with g-d. Because now, your connection to your loved one is only through the Almighty. And at a time when we could run away from g-d, we could be angry at g-d, we publicly reaffirm our belief and our trust in g-d. That’s what is happening. That’s what it’s all about. Sitting shivah of course brings merit to your loved one, that you are remembering them in such an important way. But also, it’s for you. We cover the mirrors, we don’t bathe, we don’t wear new clothing – because at this moment, at this time, we remember that we are a soul. We step back from all the physicality of life. We are not there to pretty ourselves up because again, we’re not hosting a party. We’re in mourning. We are focusing. When you lose a loved one, it’s a wake-up call; your whole life is pulled out from under you, and you start asking yourself heavier, more meaningful questions: What’s life all about? Am I living my life the way I should? Is there a g-d? What does the Almighty want from me? Everybody wants to do something. What can you possibly do now, especially for a loved one you cared for and now you’ve lost? That relationship does not end. There are things that you can do in this world that impact them in the World to Come. Your loved one has an awareness in the Next World. They don’t know what the weather report is down here. But they know when mitzvos, good deeds, happen. They know that you’ve taken on a mitzvah in their name. That is a merit for them, and that gives them a greater share in the World to Come. They move closer to the Almighty. They bask in His glory. When you sponsor a book in their memory, when you give tzeddakah in their memory, when you name a child after them, it’s something very real. When you name a child after somebody, it’s not just something to make your mother-in-law happy. First of all, the child takes on some of the good qualities their namesake had, and also, it is a merit to them. We’re all connected; we’re not islands. The decisions made by the people who came before us impacted us. You are who you are and you live where you live because of their choices. And your choices will impact the next generation and the next generation. When we go on to the Next World, the choices of the people who come after us impact us. We’re all connected. Honoring your parents does not stop when they pass away. It continues. You bear their name. You are living your life because of the values they taught you, so your choices are not just for you; they are impacting your parents as well. It’s a merit to them. You can give them more pleasure, more nachas, spiritual, soulful pleasure, in the World to Come because of the choices you make here. The shivah call itself shoudl be short. You shouldn’t be there for a long time. Also, the first three days should be only for people who are super, super close with the family because those first three days are the most painful time. You may want to come to pay a shivah call when the services are happening, when they are saying Kaddish, but sometimes that can also be a very busy, crowded time. You might want to come at a time that is quieter. You might want to check to see what hours they are accepting visitors. And don’t forget about them when shivah is over. Yes, everybody goes back to their lives. But they are still mourning, and now the question is, “How do I function in the world?” Do you know that there are times when they really need us? You know when? That first Shabbos – when their loved one is not there anymore. That’s a very hard time. Birthdays, celebrations, Yom Tov, Chagim, these are difficult times. Remember them, invite them, prepare food for them. Call them up, and say, “I’m thinking of you, how are you doing?” Take them out, help with their kids. After shivah their mourning hasn’t ended, and knowing that family, friends and community are there for them means a lot. Is paying a shivah call fun? Its not fun. Is there going to be pain? Yes. Is there going to be pain avoiding a shivah call? You bet. If you avoid going to the funeral, if you avoid going to the shivah, you’re going to feel very bad down the road. I should have gone, I didn’t go. You’ll feel guilty every time you see them. There is going to be pain going, and there is going to be pain avoiding. our rabbi, Rabbi Noach Weinberg of blessed memory, always said, “There’s going to be pain either way; would you rather pay winning or losing?” If we’re taking care of somebody who is very sick – that’s not fun. going to a hospital to visit someone is not fun; there is pain. Is there pain avoiding it? Yes. Would you rather pay winning or losing? You’ll notice that there are some consistent traditions you will see in different shivah houses, even across the spectrum. One is that you’ll see a candle that is burning consistently, a large candle, throughout the whole shivah. You see that candles are a big part of Judaism, whether it’s the Chanukah candles or the Shabbos candles. What’s going on here? The flame is compared to a person’s neshamah, to the soul. Why? Because if you light a flame on a candle and then you turn the candle upside down, where does the flame go? It always goes up. There’s a strong tradition that when we light Shabbos candles, we add one more candle for every child who is born. We have five children, so I light seven candles every Friday night. Because every child brings more light into the world. The soul apparently is attracted to the flame. That is why we light the yizkor candle and the yahrtzeit candles. And again, we have the candle burning throughout. The soul never dies; the light never goes out. We can do things to nurture it, to keep it connected and to keep that light going. The greatest thing is the values that they taught you, the example that they were. You emulate them and you pass these on to your children and grandchildren. That keeps the light going. Before the burial the focus is really on the person who passed away – the cleansing of the body and the chevrah kaddisha and everything that happens. We bury very quickly. We don’t have open caskets. We don’t do any of those things that the non-Jewish world does because our loved one was a soul. The body has sanctity, the body housed the soul, and so we are very careful and handle it with great modesty and care in preparation for the burial. But your loved one was not DNA, skin and physicality. At open-casket non-Jewish funerals everybody walks up and looks down at the cadaver, and what do they say? “She looks good, he looks great” because they’re made up to look like they’re alive. We don’t do that. Why? Because they’re dead, and we’re not trying to pretend that they’re alive, and we’re not trying to pretend that our loved one was this physical being. We don’t dress them in clothes as if they’re going to use them in the Next World. We came from the earth; we’re going back to the earth. The burial itself is done very quickly, and we don’t embalm, we don’t do anything to hold back the process. We actually do things to hasten the process. When the mourners come back after the burial, they immediately have a meal. What’s going on here? They come back and they eat because there’s a part of them that wants to die too. There is a part that says, “How can I go on without my loved one?” So we say to them, “go on, eat.” The community has provided for you, we’re here for you; you must go on. And your loved one wants you to go on.

The Greatest Transition, with Mrs. Miriam Liebermann

Recorded May 15, 2020

About the speaker
Mrs. Miriam Leibermann, LCSW, is the co-author of Saying Goodbye (Targum Press), as well as the editor of the A TIMe (A Torah Infertility Medium of exchange) newsletter, which guides couples in dealing with infertility and pregnancy loss. She has led support groups and is an accomplished author and lecturer, specializing in the topic of navigating the trauma of loss.
Key points
  • Only Hashem can offer pure nechamah.
  • Grief is a process – and it is necessary to allow oneself to fully experience it.
  • You don’t have a neshamah; you are neshamah. You have a guf, a body, and the neshamah is your essence. If we relate to others on a neshamah level, then we can continue the relationship even after their passing, on a soul-to-soul level.
  • The transition from life to death can be the most frightening change we will ever face. If we can face that with equanimity, we can face any challenge.
  • Life is how Hashem wants it to be. Life is about the challenges we are given and how we handle them; we have it within our spiritual DNA to overcome every challenge, every test.
  • The challenges we face are part of a larger picture. Perhaps they are a tikkun for a different gilgul, a different life we lived. or they may be a tikkun for the world and not specifically about us.
  • We cannot measure life by life only in this world, since life here is just a preparation for the Next World. It is not about the quantity, the number of years one lives, but the quality – what he did with them. Ultimately, the goal is to fulfill our personal potential.
  • In handling our tests, we might be creating reservoirs of strength upon which others in similar situations can draw.
  • Grief is compounded by unfinished business. If you have the opportunity before the death of a loved one, do what you can to bring closure in your relationship. 
  • Appreciate the value of life and live it to its fullest.
  • When going to be menacheim aveil, keep in mind the unique circumstances and needs of the mourners.
  • Consider the aveil’s physical needs. Allow him time to eat, give him space and time to take a break. 
  • Don’t overstay your visit. 
  • It can be very helpful to send a letter to the aveil. This is something he can draw upon for encouragement after the shivah is over.
  • Offer concrete help and support after the shivah. Validate the ongoing pain of the aveil.
Transcript

I would like to thank Rabbi Haikins and Rabbi Zohn for orchestrating this project. Obviously, there is a need for it, and I hope that it will bring comfort to many people. 

I find this to be rather a daunting task. We know that the foremost menacheim is HaKaddosh Baruch Hu Himself, as we say at the end of a shivah visit: “HaMakom yenacheim eschem.” However, I will do my utmost with the tools Hashem has given me to hopefully help you and also give you some chizzuk and nechamah along the way. 

Hashem Weaned
Before I begin, I’d like to share my own personal story and how I actually came to be sitting here, sharing these thoughts with you. My favorite phrase from Hallel is, “Mah ashiv laHashem kol tagmulohi alai,” how can I repay You, HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, for all You have done for me? Normally, we would translate tagmulohi from the term gomel, for example gomel chassadim tovim, one who grants kindnesses. We’re thanking Hashem for all He has done for us. But there is another interpretation. Avraham Avinu made a se’udah for his son Yitzchak after he weaned him, as the passuk says, “b’yom higamel es Yitzchak,” on the day that he weaned Yitzchak. The term higamel is used, related to the root of tagmulahi alai. So when I am saying “mah ashiv laHashem,” I’m actually thanking Hashem for having weaned me.

I realize now, in retrospect, that Hashem did a pretty good job of weaning me some thirty-five years ago. I lost my father suddenly at a family gathering. I got married soon after, and then I was expecting, but unfortunately – and I still get teary over this – we lost our first pregnancy when I was seven months pregnant. It was a very difficult time for me. This was all within twelve months. At the time I was in social-work school, and I basically made a promise to myself that afterward, when I was qualified to do so, I would help other people who are going through difficult circumstances; baruch Hashem I have had the opportunity to help many others over the years. 

So I recognize that Hashem weaned me at the time; He was saying, “Miriam, dear, until now everything has gone okay, but forgive Me, I’m going to have to make life a bit tougher for you. I want you to grow up and I want you to become more sensitive. I want you to be able to reach out to others. There is a journey you have to travel on; these losses are going to project you into a certain journey, and we have to get started now.” It’s now so many years later, and I can thank Hashem for having weaned me, although it was so difficult at the time. 

Over the years I picked up a lot, both from experiencing life and as a voracious reader, and I am very eager to share with you many of the beautiful thoughts and concepts that I have picked up. So, let’s begin.

Nechama – Time to Evaluate
I’d like to start first with a beautiful concept that Rabbi Yechiel Spero discusses in his sefer on Tishah B’Av. The chapter is entitled, “What is True Nechamah?” Rabbi Spero quotes from Rabbi Shamshon Raphael Hirsch, who always discusses etymology, to go back to the first time nechamah is mentioned in the Torah. It says in reference to the Dor Hamabul, the generation of the Flood: “Vayar Hashem ki rabah ra’as ha’adam ba’aretz,” Hashem saw that there was evil, He saw the wickedness of man upon the earth; “v’chol yeitzer machshavos libo rak ra kol hayom, vayinacheim Hashem ki asah es ha’adam,” Hashem reconsidered having made man. And the next passuk tells us, “Vayomer Hashem ‘emcheh es ha’adam,’” I will wipe out the man; “asher barasi, mei’al penei ha’adamah mei’adam ad beheimah, ad remes, ad ohf hashamayim, ki nichamti ki asisim,” because I have reconsidered My having made them.

It wasn’t a nechamah for Hashem at that point that He had created man. He was disappointed in man. Rather, we are told to interpret the word nechamah differently. The word nechamah means that it’s a time, an opportunity, to reconsider, to reevaluate, to look at the situation from a different perspective, to reorient one’s viewpoint. That is really what nechamah is; it helps us to reorient ourselves and look at the difficult situation from a different perspective. I hope to share with you different thoughts today that will help reorient you and give you a different way of approaching a painful loss.

Time to Mourn
Before we do that and share more philosophical solutions to our pain, first we have to talk about the fact that grief is a real process. There is a grieving process one must go through after a serious loss. Dr. Miriam Adahan, a prolific writer, a wonderful psychologist and a dear friend of mine, has written many books and many articles too. Amongst them is a beautiful article called Good Mourning, which first appeared in The Jewish Observer. She allowed me, very graciously, to reprint it in the book called Saying Goodbye that I had the privilege of writing about nine years ago or so. She talks about grief as of the waves of an ocean; there are times when it peaks, when the grief is unbearable, and there are times when it dissipates a bit and you are able to get on with your life. But this is a process one has to go through. You must give yourself time to mourn before starting to look at the loss from a more intellectual perspective.

I would like to mention the book I just mentioned, which I wrote. It’s interesting – I wasn’t looking to write a book, and Hashem sort of propelled me on a certain journey. I began writing about twenty-one years ago. Because of that, I was approached by Dr. Neil Goldberg, with whom I work in the A TIME (A Torah Infertility Medium of Exchange) office – I became involved in that because of the loss of my own pregnancy – and he asked me to be a ghostwriter for him. I asked, “What’s your book about?” and he told me it was about grief and mourning. So I told him I had been collecting articles about that just for myself.

When I had my losses there was no support whatsoever. There were no support groups. No one was available to discuss my losses with me. My husband and I were totally on our own. As I said, I was in social-work school at the time, so I attended conferences on grief and bereavement. I read everything I could find on the subject – from the Torah perspective and from the secular perspective because there was very little out there then in the Torah literature. Everything I collected then, all the hard-earned wisdom, is contained in this book called Saying Goodbye. If you take a look at the cover, you see two hands releasing a butterfly. of course, we know the analogy that a man is here in this world, and the neshamah goes up to Shamayim and becomes a butterfly released from its cocoon. But I questioned the fact that the image was of a child’s hands, and this book is not written for young children. Then I realized that the truth is when we lose someone dear to us, when we lose a parent, we’re all young children who just want our mommy back or want our daddy back. Deep at heart we are young ones who just want the affection and caring, and we want to be with those whom we love.

There is one final thought I’d like to share with you before we really get into the crux of the matter. There is a beautiful vort from the Kotzker Rebbe. We say in Shema several times a day, “v’hayu hadevarim ha’eileh asher anochi m’tzavecha hayom al levavecha,” and these words that I commanded you today should be on your heart. Why on your heart? I would think the mitzvah, the commandment, should be within our hearts, bilvavecha. Why al? So the Kotzker says so beautifully that if we learn the concepts, absorb them, put them on our hearts, then when we need them they’ll fall in. But if we never learn and never hear these concepts, they are not there for us to absorb at the time when we need them. So even if you’re not ready right now to hear these words of nechamah, perhaps you’re still feeling very raw, perhaps your loss is very recent, but still read them, take note of them. Some of them are really very, very insightful and words of wisdom that could be helpful for you. In the future you might want to share them with your spouse, friends or siblings because I really believe it is these concepts that will help bring healing.

Connect on a Neshama Level
I’d like to discuss with you a little bit of the Torah perspective on death, which is really a very positive one. In fact, we talk about this in Saying Goodbye. I maintain that if we would talk about death in the elementary school years, when Sarah Imeinu or Avraham Avinu dies, when it’s not so personal and doesn’t hit home, it’s not so terribly painful. If we would become accustomed to the concept, it wouldn’t be so jarring and horrendous when it hits home and it hits close.

Rabbi Zev Leff asks a wonderful question: “Do you have a neshamah, a soul?” Certainly you are going to respond, “of course I have a neshamah!” He answers, “I beg to differ. You don’t have a neshamah, you are a neshamah, and you have a guf, a body.” Because we get so carried away with our world, we often forget that in essence we really are the soul, not the body.

Someone who takes it further along is Rabbi Itamar Schwartz. In one of his sefarim, Da es Atzmecha, he discusses the concept that man is primarily a neshamah – not a guf. He illustrates this in various ways that really hit home for me and are very relevant. He says, for example, that if we see ourselves as a neshamah primarily, then if we have a loved one who is living across the ocean, even if we are not with them physically, we can be with them emotionally. We can have a soul relationship even if we’re not there together with each other in one room. I have a daughter who lives in California – I live in New York – and I called her one day and said, “Racheli, do you feel me? I’m there with you right now.” It was such a comforting thought for me to know that we’re really together even though we’re far apart.

L’havdil, when I was sitting shivah for my mother about a year and a half ago, Rebbetzin Ruthy Assaf shared with me a wonderful point. We were discussing my relationship with my mother, and like many of us, there were ups and downs in our relationship. Rebbetzin Assaf pointed out that whatever differences we may have had during her lifetime, at this point, now that my mother had reached the realm of being purely neshamah, everything else just fades away. All the extraneous details that we would get caught up on were totally irrelevant now. She advised me to now work on building a new relationship with my mother, on a soul-to-soul level. That was very, very comforting for me. So if we see ourselves as a soul, we can relate to even these who have gone on to a better world.

My dear friend Mrs. Chani Juravel tells an incredible story. She had a friend, a woman who unfortunately passed away recently. Toward the end of her illness, Chani went to visit her. This young woman said to her, “Chani, do you recognize me?” The truth was that Chani did not recognize her, so she said to her, “Well, you know, you look a little bit different, but when you talk, I know it’s you. I know that you are my dear friend.” And this woman said to her, “Chani, don’t feel bad. I’m actually happy – when I look in the mirror I don’t recognize myself either, and that’s when I know that who I am is not my face. It’s not my facial features or my body. Who I am is something much, much deeper. It’s my neshamah, it’s my soul.” So that was a gift. This woman understood that this was a gift from HaKaddosh Baruch Hu to help her understand that it is the soul that is the essence of who we are, and the soul will last on to eternity.

For those of us who have lost loved ones, there are so many ways we can still connect. I mentioned before how Rebbetzin Assaf suggested I connect to my mother on a neshamah-to-neshamah level, a soul level. I know that when I lost my father very suddenly many years ago, it was really a wrenching time for me, and I was trying so desperately to hold on to him. I had his sefarim, his sefer Tehillim, his siddur, but on a more physical level, I had his sheepskin gloves that I used to wear. I still remember walking home with my father from shul as a young girl, and we would walk hand in hand. By wearing his gloves I felt that I was connecting with him again, in a physical sense. Then at some point, I misplaced the gloves, and I was heartbroken. until I realized, you know what, Miriam, you don’t need his gloves anymore. He is part of you. Who I am is so much who my father was. I really modeled myself after him to a great extent, and he is within me. I was able to connect with him on a neshamah level, and that was very comforting for me.

Focus on the Eternal
Chani Juravel wrote a beautiful article (Binah, July ‘08), in which she writes about the kohanim, the priests in the Beis Hamikdash. The word kohen comes from the word l’kavein, to direct. She is actually quoting Rabbi Shamshon Raphael Hirsch, who says that the kohen’s job is to guide us and direct us in every aspect of our lives. When Aharon died, he didn’t die a death as we know it; Hashem took him up to the Next World. Moshe Rabbeinu asked Aharon, “Tell me what happens.” He was trying to understand this mystery of death. What is so frightening about death is that what happens is unknown to us, and the unknown is always very scary.

The medrash tells us that Moshe asked him, “Mah atah ro’eh,” what do you see? Aharon understood that he was not able to share the details of what he saw at the time, but he did tell him, “Halevai kodem zeman basi lekan,” if only I would have arrived here even earlier. He found that the Olam Ha’emes, the World of Truth, was a wonderful place to be. It was not a frightening place, it was not a scary place; it was a wonderful place to be. Reb Shimshon Pincus takes a further lesson from these words. He says that the transition from life to death is probably the most frightening transition we will make in our lives. There are many transitions that we come across, but if when touched by death, we can face it with equanimity, as Aharon did, then we’re able to face anything that life throws at us. We have to understand that it’s from HaKaddosh Baruch Hu and that we will be able to handle it all with the tools HaKaddosh Baruch Hu has given us.

There is a wonderful line that singer Mordechai ben David shared after Hurricane Sandy, when unfortunately, his studio in Seagate was totally destroyed. “When I took stock of all the damage, and it was very significant, I called my Rebbe, Reb Yitzchak Meir Morgenstern in Yerushalayim, and he said to me, ‘Mordche, the important thing isn’t what’s left downstairs, but what remains upstairs; that’s what needs to last.’” (Mishpacha). I think we all understand the idea that we have to work on that which is eternal and not get so caught up in the physical world down here.

Opportunity for Growth
I’d like to share with you a fabulous article by Rabbi Aryeh Zev Ginsburg (Mishpacha, December ‘10). The article was called “This Is Not The Way It’s Supposed To Be.” We all have an image of how our life should turn out, but we very often face detours or roadblocks, and it can be very disconcerting. Rabbi ginsburg discusses how life is the way Hashem wants it to be. We each have a journey we have to travel along. He tells the story of a very impoverished Yid who traveled to Radin to discuss with the Chafetz Chaim his difficult situation. This man asked for a berachah and commented, “Would it hurt if I only had it a little easier?” The Chafetz Chaim responded, “How do you know? Maybe it would hurt you if it was a little easier! HaKaddosh Baruch Hu is kulo rachamim, Hashem is compassionate. Don’t you think Hashem would make it easier for you if He could? Obviously the reason he doesn’t make it easier is because these are the best circumstances for you to be in. You have every right to ask for it to be better, but you cannot say that it wouldn’t hurt you to have more.”

Rabbi Ginsburg also shares a story: Rav Sternbuch was walking with his beloved rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Schneider, and a student approached him for a berachah. Rabbi Schneider said, “What kind of berachah would you like me to give you?” The talmid replied, “A life without any problems.” Rabbi Schneider replied, “A life without problems – that’s not a berachah. There is no such thing as a life without problems. I believe that the definition of life includes the challenges we go through. Rather, ask for a berachah that whatever challenges Hashem sends you, you should be able to cope with.”

And now here comes a line that I’m so enamored with. Rabbi Ginsburg quotes Reb Tzaddok Hakohen, who says that we see our responsibilities in dealing with challenges in the very laws of nature. Seeing the sunshine in the middle of a dark gloomy day is how we can manage to overcome our challenges and deal with them. We each have to experience a spell of darkness before we see the light. The night comes before the day, and the dark storm clouds fill the sky before we are blessed with rain. So we have to realize that these are the challenges that Hashem has given us so that we can grow and develop. Rav Mattisyahu Salomon, the famed Lakewood Mashgiach, says, “We need to put less faith in our efforts, and more efforts in our faith.”

We know that HaKaddosh Baruch Hu is challenging us to become stronger people. Rav Yitzchak Hutner (sefer Pachad Yitzchak) says that the level we can attain through our own personal Akeidas Yitzchak surpasses any level that can be reached through other means. The truth is, there is a concept of ma’aseh avos siman labanim, the deeds of our forefathers guide us, their children, in how to behave. As Avraham Avinu went through ten nisyonos, ten tests, each of us is also faced with challenges. And we have the strength from Avraham Avinu, from Yitzchak, Ya’akov, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, and Leah. They created for us a reservoir of strength, of courage, of fortitude, of perseverance. We’re coming from very strong stock. We look at the generation that went through the Holocaust and how they rebuilt their lives. We have it within us to withstand the challenges. We just have to have the faith in ourselves to be able to pick up the pieces and move on.

And we are fortunate that there is so much chizzuk and encouragement out there for us in overcoming our challenges. I’m thinking of the literature we have today, the CDs, the DVDs, and just the support from friends and family, which really was not available thirty, forty years ago.

Focus on the Bigger Picture
Let me share with you another article by Chani Juravel, again from the Binah, on parshas Chukas, quoting Rav Mattisyahu Salomon. Rav Mattisyahu Salomon discusses the difficult concept of parah adumah, the red heifer used to purify the impure during the time of the Beis Hamikdash. Rashi predicts that this mitzvah will be questioned because on surface it seems to be such a strange request. Rashi says, “gezeirah hi milfanai,” it is a decree before Me; “ein lecha reshus leharher acharehah,” we are not able to probe further to understand the parah adumah; we have to take it at surface value.

Rav Mattisyahu Salamon says that this statute, this chok, the parah adumah, is very much akin to the whole concept of death. Just as we cannot understand the concept of parah adumah, we can’t question the whole concept of death. Why a person goes, why his time has arrived, it’s a gezeirah milfanai, a decree from Hashem that is beyond our comprehension. The deepest of exiles that we are in is the exile of doubt and depression. We hope that the divrei chizzuk will help bring us out of this particular galus and that with all the divrei chizzuk we should be able to serve HaKaddosh Baruch Hu with equanimity; the challenges can be difficult and daunting. But there is a greater picture that we can’t fathom right here.

I think to myself often that Hashem took Avraham Avinu out and showed him the stars and told him that your children will be like the stars of the heaven. I have been looking, studying and researching different analogies. one of the analogies is that ideally we have to be like the stars, to rise above, so that we can see the world from a more global viewpoint. We can’t understand what happens when we look at our life just from our more narrow view; but if we rise above, we can go up to the heavens and see. We can understand that there is a rhyme and reason to the world and the way HaKaddosh Baruch Hu runs the universe. We have to take ourselves above, out of the picture, and try to see it from a more global perspective.

Another idea about the stars that really hits home for me too is that the universe is quite incredible. Hashem created the celestial beings, and many of them are orbiting around up in the heavens. What is incredible is that each has its own orbit, and they don’t collide with one another. Similarly, each of us is a star. HaKaddosh Baruch Hu put us here with our own journey and our own orbit that we have to follow. It’s like we’re catapulted out into the universe, and we have to follow our orbit, our destiny. And I won’t collide with anyone else; Hashem gave me the tools that I need. My destiny is not going to interfere with someone else’s. We each have our own journey, replete with all its own challenges.

When I go through a nisayon, I often think to myself, “Okay, HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, You tested me, and I hope I passed. Do not test me again, please! Enough! I hope I passed this test.” There is a beautiful article by Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum (Yated Ne’eman, April ‘06) taken from the Penimim al Hatorah. He discusses the parshiyos of Tzav and Shemini, when Aharon lost his two sons, “vayidom Aharon,” and Aharon was silent; he didn’t respond. Rabbi Scheinbaum talks about other gedolim and other great people, how they dealt with their challenges. He talks about the Chafetz Chaim who lost a cherished son, Reb Avraham. And he points out that the anguish the gedolim felt is as great as our anguish. But they were able to transcend their personal emotions because they saw the total context. They understood that Hashem directs and guides world events, and all that occurs is the manifestation of Hashem’s Divine will. We too have to keep that in mind.

In parshas Chukas we read the phrase, “Zos haTorah adam ki yamus b’ohel,” this is the teaching regarding a man who dies in a tent. Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank (The Torah Treasury, Sefer Otzar Hatorah, Artscroll/Mesorah) presents a question. This passuk is talking about the parah adumah atoning for tumas hameis, the impurity from a dead body. Why do we say “ki yamus b’ohel,” a man who dies in a tent? Why don’t we say a man who dies in his home, in a bayis? Rabbi Frank refers us to Koheles, where Shlomoh Hamelech talks about man returning to his eternal home in the World to Come, and he uses the phrase, “ki holeich adam el beis olamo,” when man goes to the house of eternity. Why in parshas Chukas is it a tent, and there we are referring to beis olomo, the house of eternity? Because this world is a temporary world. We started off talking about how we get caught up in the materialism in this world, and we have to remind ourselves constantly that this is not the Olam Ha’emes, this is not the World of Truth. We are living in tents. Chag Hasukkos, when we dwell in the sukkah for eight days, is supposed to reinforce within us that we are really living in a temporary world now.

Rabbi Ezriel Tauber shares a phenomenal concept in an article in which he addresses a group of childless women (Mishpacha, April ‘13): “I am not a navi. I cannot tell you if you will have children; but if you don’t have children, please don’t think of it as a punishment. You must have raised your large families in your previous lives, and now you are here on a different mission.” Isn’t that amazing? You must have raised that family in a different life.

The Zohar talks about gilgulim. We can’t understand this, but perhaps in a previous life you have had those children that you so desire now. We hope everyone should be blessed with children, but when we have a difficult time in this world, we can remind ourselves that perhaps we had it easier in an earlier life. In this life, however, Hashem wants us to grow and reach heights that we had not reached before, therefore we are being challenged to strive for a higher level.

Another beautiful thought I’d like to share is from Rebbetzin Ruchoma Shain. At one point she was having a difficult time: she had fallen and fractured her arm, her house had been robbed, her sister Esther Stern had just passed away. She cried out to her friends, “What’s going on? Why am I being punished? Did I do something so terrible?” She approached her nephew, Rabbi Moshe Aharon Stern, the Mashgiach of Kaminetz Yeshivah in eretz Yisrael, to explain to her what was going on. He answered, “This is part of a gezeirah, a decree, for Klal Yisrael. This is not about you personally.” Rebbetzin Shain derived tremendous comfort from that. When we are going through a hard time, it’s not always about us personally; it’s about the world. Perhaps the world needs a tikkun, some kind rectification, and our pain and suffering will help bring a tikkun to the world. Perhaps it’s an atonement for us or for someone else, but again, it’s one of those things we cannot understand. This is a chok, just as the parah adumah is beyond our comprehension. And we really don’t have too much choice in the matter. We have to accept it and move on.

Rebbetzin Leah Cohen is a very beloved educator, the initiator and director of the Jewish Renaissance Center located in my neighborhood. The JRC was originally started by Rabbi and Rebbetzin Cohen and by Rabbi Yitzchak Kirzner, who unfortunately passed away at a young age. This was a tremendous loss for all of Klal Yisrael, but especially for the Jewish Renaissance Center, where he taught on a regular basis. What’s amazing is that in his last years and last months, when he was undergoing very difficult treatment, he continued teaching. His students had no idea that he was ill. Rebbetzin Cohen says what a blessing it was that he did not lose his hair when he went through treatments, so the women who sat in his class had no idea that he was undergoing such a difficult time. What’s even more amazing is that while he was going through his treatments, he was giving a series of classes on dealing with challenges!

In an article from a book called Jewish Matters: A Pocketbook of Knowledge and Inspiration (Targum/Feldheim), Rebbetzin Cohen talks about what a loss it was for her personally and for the whole Jewish Renaissance Center when Rabbi Kirzner passed away. She writes beautifully about death and about Rabbi Kirzner’s passing in particular: “Rabbi Kirzner was a melameid, a teacher par excellence who had an impact on so many people – women, men, young and old alike. Was it fair that he left this world so prematurely? It’s not fair if your measuring stick in life is this world only. We can’t measure life by the way we see this world. Reality for us today is our everyday lives. Intellectually, we know there is life after life, but this awareness does not participate in our daily reality. In truth, life here is only a preparation for life after life, for life in the eternal world. We are all passing players in this world, and what we’re doing is accumulating merit and working toward the Next World.”

Incredibly, she says the following: “We might wonder, could Rabbi Kirzner have earned a better eternity if he’d had more years here in this world? Not so. our earnings in the World to Come are based solely on the degree to which we actualize our potential. It’s the quality of our deeds, not the quantity; did we reach our potential?” Rabbi Kirzner obviously reached his potential within those short number of years, and he was taken, but what a loss for all of us.

Rebbetzin Cohen says that death is not negative, it’s not a punishment; rather, it’s a night between two days, between this world and the Next World. It is the corridor that will bring us to the Next World. It is not easy, but HaKaddosh Baruch Hu did not leave us alone. Hashem is here with us all the time, and Hashem also blessed us with the ability to invest in new relationships, to form new relationships and extend our world even further, to find other vessels for our love and for our affection, to find others to guide us and to help us along the way.

Acceptance and Grief Simultaneously
In an article in Mishpacha magazine, author Leah Gebber profiles Miriam Mazlin, a doula and grief therapist in eretz Yisrael who works, very sadly, with young women and couples who delivered stillborn babies or who lost babies shortly after childbirth. She realized that many women try to deny the pain and move on. They try to intellectualize the loss. Miriam encourages them that one has to grieve after going through a loss. She says in a very expressive fashion, “I can accept that this loss has been given to me by G-d with love, but still, I can acknowledge that I am in pain. I must honor both places in order to ultimately heal and come to a place of wholeness.” It is a very profound concept. We have to honor both places: honor the pain, but also honor the fact that HaKaddosh Baruch Hu gave us this challenge with love.

A woman was having a very difficult time after her loss, and Miriam said to her, “Did you take time to mourn?” The woman said no, she was too busy, she was working, she had other children to care for at home. Miriam said to her, “Take fifteen minutes a day for yourself; take the time to grieve.” The woman did so, and baruch Hashem it was very helpful to her, and she was able to move on with her life. Miriam reinforces the concept we said before that every woman has her own journey; all we can do is help each other along the way. Just as every star has its trajectory, its own orbit, every woman has her own journey. We hope and pray that we shouldn’t be tested, but what we can do is to be there as enablers and help people to emerge from the difficult segments of their journey.

A Part of the Growth Process
We are told that every year we start the year anew. The word shanah doesn’t only mean a year; it also means l’shanos, to change. We just celebrated Rosh Chodesh. Chodesh means month, but it also means new, it means to renew. We are given the power and creativity to be able to renew ourselves, to rejuvenate ourselves and to start all over again. Rabbi Avigdor Miller says that very beautifully. He says that we go through our lives, and each of our lives is really a storybook. We go through different chapters in our lives, and every chapter has potential within it for tremendous joy, for fulfillment and for growth. It is the transitions from one chapter to the next that are so difficult. Once we have made peace with the new station in life, there is certainly opportunity for growth and much happiness.

Let me quote now from a beautiful article taken from the Hamodia Magazine. The Maharal MiPrague asks, “Why are we called adam, man, from the word adamah, earth? We’re told that we resemble HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, and we have a cheilek elokah mima’al, a part of Hashem within us. If that’s the case, why do we refer to ourselves as adam, created from the ground?” The Maharal tells us that what we have in common with the ground is our pure potential. When you plant a seed in the adamah and go through the whole process – you plow and you winnow, you water and prune – there is tremendous potential for growth and development. So too with man; we have the potential to become great, and it is the nisyonos, the challenges that we go through, that will bring out this potential. Says the Maharal, through struggle and even through failure, a man can transform his inner potential into actual greatness.

When we’re going through a difficult time, we always have to remember that this is part of the growth process. Hashem is watering us, Hashem is pruning us, weeding us, and this is a journey to help elevate us. This is a nisayon that we’re going through. The word nisayon interestingly also contains within it what many of us are familiar with, the concept of a neis, of a banner; we can hold up the banner that we have persevered. But it’s also from the word nasa, to travel. It’s a journey we’re going on, a journey through the different chapters in our lives.

An article I read just recently by Leah Gebber had a huge impact upon me (Family First, December ‘12). A woman tells what a difficult time she was having. What was her challenge? This woman dreamed of having a big family, and unfortunately, because of medical reasons, she was not able to have one. So she was in mourning, on her own level. Then she started to read. And she realized that there is an entire library out there – which I am encouraging you to delve into – dealing with suffering and how people emerged from their suffering. They emerged through the darkness, the nisyonos, into a place of great light and radiance. She said: “My struggle became another stitch in the tapestry that is our nation’s history. It was a chance to personalize my relationship with Hashem.”

When we go through nisyonos, we are really bonding with our imahos, with our fellow women, because we’re all in this together. None of us can emerge through a nisayon on her own. We need to consult with others, and we need the courage from others. As we go through a difficult time, we may wonder to ourselves, what is the purpose? Perhaps we’re the role model for others. Perhaps we’re the ones creating a reservoir of strength for others to delve into in order to strengthen themselves.

Unfinished Business
Before we review some major concepts, there is one more item I want to mention. grief is compounded and very much complicated when there is unfinished business. I experienced two very major losses in my life. We know that death is very much a part of life. As birth is, so is death. I lost my father very, very suddenly, and there was no time for me to say goodbye. There was no time for any closure, there was no time to ask mechilah, to ask for forgiveness. It was painful for me that I had never had a chance to express my absolute adoration of my father. My mother was ill for a long time, and I saw her basically fading away, which was very, very painful. They say there is a grief that takes place, a prolonged grief, when a person goes through a lengthy illness. That was a grief in its own right. But with my mother I did have a chance to have closure, and I really made a point of taking the time to ask for mechilah, to express my affection and do a good job of the closure so I would have no regrets afterward, no qualms and no unfinished business.

I would like to share with you something extraordinary. HaKaddosh Baruch Hu had given me a wonderful concept that I was able to share with my mother, and this made a world of a difference to me as we ended our relationship in this world. our relationship had not always been ideal, and I was determined to end off on a very positive note. I davened to Hashem to help me find this positive note that we were going to end off on, and that it should be a natural ending to our relationship. Dr. Miriam Adahan has a line that resonated within me. She says that often we have one child who challenges us a bit more than the others, and we might say, “HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, this is the child I davened for? This is the one I dreamed of for years? This one?” And the answer is, yes. “Yes, Miriam dear, this is the child your neshamah needs. You need this child to grow and develop.”

It was basically the last week of my mother’s life, and I shared this idea with her. I said, “Mommy, I know our relationship hasn’t always been ideal, but for me to be the person whom I turned out to be, it’s obvious that you were the absolutely perfect mother. I needed a mother exactly like you. You have been perfect for me from day one.” And my mother, although her eyes were not open anymore at that time, and she really wasn’t verbal anymore, smiled. I went on and said, “Mommy, even more than that. Even if you thought I wasn’t the perfect daughter, I was the daughter Hashem wanted you to have, so in actuality I was the perfect daughter for you.” Every day until the end of her life, I reminded her and reassured her that she had been the absolutely perfect mother for me and how much I loved her and how much I learned from her. It was a huge berachah that Hashem gave me personally, to have such amazing closure, that there is no guilt and no qualms afterward; there was no unfinished business.

This is not an easy task to undertake, but there is a berachah when there is a prolonged ending and you do have this opportunity. When someone dies suddenly, it is difficult that there is no closure whatsoever. The truth is, one doesn’t have to wait until the end, of course, to express one’s affection and to ask mechilah. I’m told that there were even gedolim who would say vidui every single day of their lives, never knowing if they would wake up the next morning. There is no guarantee for any of us.

The Value of Life
Perhaps the most important message of this entire session, this entire project, when we discuss grief and bereavement and moving on to the Next World, is to teach us to appreciate the value of life. The Kotzker Rebbe would say that it’s a great accomplishment to be mechayeh meisim, to resurrect the dead, but perhaps it’s an even greater accomplishment to be mechayeh hachayim, to resurrect the living. There are people who are living but are not really alive and not living vibrant lives. Hashem gave us life; it’s a blessing that we wake up every morning, modeh ani l’fanecha. We need to use our time well and make each day count. Don’t count the days, make each day count. And we should make sure our lives are meaningful and full. We should enrich our lives with relationships, with good deeds and by working on our middos.

In terms of bidding farewell to a loved one, I want to mention some aspects that might be important to cover. First of all, it’s an opportunity to express appreciation and thanks and to ask for forgiveness. It’s an opportunity to express one’s assurance to a loved one that those who remain in this world will be okay. Very often, elderly parents need the assurance. They’re afraid to leave us and are afraid that perhaps we won’t manage on our own. We can assure them that they have been such wonderful role models and have taught us so well, that as much as we will miss them, we will be able to manage in this world. That could be a wonderful chizzuk and comfort for a parent as they journey on to the Next World. We might want to assure our parents that we will keep the Torah to the best of our abilities. I hope those who have the opportunity for this kind of closure can use it.

Referring back to the Kotzker Rebbe, we have the expression, “v’chai bahem,” we must live with the Torah and mitzvos. V’chai bahem really means to have a vibrancy to our lives. We shouldn’t live lives on a low, quiet, even keel; sometimes we need the vibrancy, we need to have a life, to be mechayeh hachayim.

So in closing, let me review with you. First of all, I hope that I offered you divrei nechamah, a different perspective on looking at the loss, although the only one who can really offer pure divrei nechamah is HaKaddosh Baruch Hu. But I hope that I and others who participated in this project were able to open your eyes and help you see your loss from a different perspective. I would like to suggest that we see ourselves, those of us dealing with loss, as playing a larger role in this world. Perhaps I am a mentor for someone else or a role model; inadvertently people will look up to you and see how you are coping. Perhaps we are adding to the reservoir of strength, hope, and courage in this world by facing a nisayon with equanimity. Perhaps we are increasing the level of spirituality in this world.

We can see ourselves acting upon the precept of ma’aseh avos siman labanim; Avraham had gone through nisyonos, and we too are going through our own nisyonos. We are following a pattern that was set before us many, many years ago in how we handle our nisyonos. Perhaps our role in dealing with loss is to be mekaddeish Sheim Shamayim, to sanctify the name of Hashem. If we are able to grieve as necessary but then accept the nisayon with equanimity and rise above our pain to use it as a stepping stone in serving HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, to turn it into a meaningful act in our own lives, to grow through it, we will be creating a kiddush Hashem in this world.

I would also like to suggest that we be creative in meeting our own needs. We have to keep expanding our world, and we have to keep learning and davening. 

Recommended Reading
I’d like to review with you some of the books that were very helpful to me and I’m sure will be helpful to you also. one is Da es Atzmecha, which people find helpful in getting to know themselves. Rabbi Yitzchak Kirzner’s sefer called Making Sense of Suffering, which I believe is taken from the series of lectures he gave while he himself was very, very ill, is an extremely powerful book. I would like to recommend the book that I co-authored together with Dr. Neil Goldberg called Saying Goodbye. I believe what is very valuable in this book are the essays in the back. These were the essays that helped me to a tremendous degree when I experienced my own losses, and I had no one to talk to and minimal support from the outside world. There is another very powerful book by Lisa Aiken called, Why Me, G-d? A Jewish Guide for Coping with Suffering.

I’d like to recommend Forever with Me by Shoshana Rube. Shoshana writes about the loss of her mother, dealing with her illness and her passing, in a very powerful way. Gesher Hachayim is a classic, written by Rabbi Tukachinsky, dealing with the passing from this world to the next, seeing this world as a bridge to the real life. And of course, I’d like to mention The Neshamah Should have Aliyah, probably the newest of all these books, which has had a profound effect upon many families, turning the loss into meaningful acts, helping to elevate the departed to the next level in Shamayim.

Pointers for Shivah
So just a couple of pointers. Every shiva different. There are so many determining factors. Is it the death of a loved one who was ill for many years? Was it a long drawn-out illness? Was it an elderly person who passed away, or was it, unfortunately, a young person who died suddenly? It does make a difference in how the mourners will react, so keep the needs of the mourners in mind when you enter a house of shivah. I’d like to mention from my own experiences that sometimes there is a shivah house where there are hundreds of people coming and going, a huge amount of action, while other shivah homes are quiet, and they really appreciate when people come and sit for an extended period of time. Take that into account. If you’re in a home where you see there is a tremendous amount of traffic, you could sit for ten minutes or twenty minutes, but don’t overstay. Please get up and allow others to take your place. It is disconcerting for people who travel a long distance to be menacheim aveil, and then they never get a chance to even talk to the aveilim because those in the front just sat there for half an hour, an hour or an hour and a half, which I have actually seen happen. This can be very painful for everyone involved.

Time is an issue, but I believe space is as well. one should not sit on top of the aveilim. Sometimes we just crowd on top of them, and physically it becomes uncomfortable. A friend of mine told me she had a horrible neck ache because people stood over her while she was on this very low chair, picking up her neck the whole time. So besides the emotional comfort of the aveilim, we should take into account their physical comfort. I understand that there are certain communities where they set certain times, perhaps between twelve and one, when the family takes a break and the community knows not to come between those hours. I think it would be very helpful to institute such a concept in other communities. It’s a long day, and sometimes people are sitting literally from eight in the morning until midnight, and they do need a break once in a while. Even health-wise, they need to stretch their legs, use the restroom and eat something – and it’s not comfortable to eat in front of other people. It would really be a tremendous chessed to the aveilim to allow them that space to move out for a couple of minutes.

I would like to suggest that one can also send a letter; having something in writing, a portfolio of letters expressing nechamah, is incredibly helpful for the family. We all know that the aveilus is not over in a week’s time, and to able to open up letters and see concrete words of nechamah can be so incredibly comforting for the family after the fact. I see that in some homes they put out a notebook and ask people to write words of nechamah so that the family can review it and derive the comfort they need when necessary.

I’d also like to suggest that although the formal aveilus is over in one week, those who have had a serious loss need comfort for weeks and months afterward. If you can, call on a regular basis, drop in and visit and offer concrete help. Don’t say, “Call me when you need help.” Rather say, “Can I help you do your grocery shopping today?” “Can I help with the children?” “Can I do carpool for you?” – offer whatever is necessary for them to feel that you are there for them.

Just last night I met with Mrs. Sarah Freund, a therapist who for many years has been working with children of Holocaust survivors. She asked me to share the following, which really applies to all those who are in aveilus. You can read a book, you can watch a video, you can attend a workshop, but the most important thing for those who have suffered a loss or trauma is to talk it out, to express their pain and then to receive the validation that they need. Again, the need for this doesn’t end after a week. So be there to validate their pain. Yes, it’s beautiful to send appropriate books; I think a beautiful gift would be, for example, to give the aveilim The Neshamah Should Have an Aliyah. But carry it out further by calling up after a couple of weeks a