On the roof of the Aish center looking down at the Western Wall with Chevra & Davai in 2011

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Parsha Acharei Mos – An after death experience

On a normal week, I think about the Torah portion and what in it that inspires me either when I’m learning or at shul.  Unfortunately this week, instead of going to shul for morning and evening services, I spent most days at a Shiva house. 

A close friend and member of my community lost his father late last week and as the usually custom, services were held throughout the week of Shiva (Same root as Sheva meaning seven or Shabbat) at his home.  I tend to say a fair amount of extra things after morning services so I’m usually the last to leave and the other day I found myself alone with the mourners and their immediate family.  My friend expressed to me how grateful he was that the community had rallied around him in his time of need and this experience has strengthened is faith.

As I left the home and made my way to work, I thought to myself that it was just the normal thing to do to support someone in their time of need.  Nothing so special. It’s just what we do as a community.

It wasn’t until a period in between the afternoon and evening services later that day that what he said started to sink in.  As the Rabbi was teaching a Mishnah (yes I should have been paying attention) I found myself staring at the sign on the wall with the traditional mourners blessing “May the Omnipresent console you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” 

I further thought about the room we were sitting in.  Services were being held in my friend’s basement.  I thought about how many times I had been in that basement before on countless Shabbas afternoons playing with my son and my friend’s son.  We laughed and always had fun times.  So many times, I sat playing games on the same couch that I now sat on to pray and comfort my friend in his time of need. 

When we bless someone, we typically extend the blessing to others as well.  When we comfort the mourner, the blessing is “may G-d comfort you and all of the other mourners.”  When we celebrate with someone, we typically sing Siman Tov U Mazel Tov… which the full translation is “May there be a good sign and a good fortune for us and for all of Israel.”  The same is true for the blessings of the Shemona Esrei.

There are many reasons for the plurality of our blessings.  I’ve learned such explanations as to ward off the evil eye and the collective merit of the Jewish people.  Individually, someone may not deserve a to be comforted so quickly, but when combined with the other mourners of Israel, maybe the whole group is greater then the individual mourners. 

As I sat there, I thought of another possibility.  Maybe it’s not only that we’re wishing consolation on the mourner in front of us and the other mourners of Israel, but we’re also wishing consolation on ourselves.  After all, the Jewish people are one family.  If a fellow Jew passes to the next world and he leaves behind mourners, shouldn’t a part of me be mourning with them?  I once read a story where Rebbetzen Jungreis described that when her father would go to a Shiva house.  He wouldn’t say a word.  He would embrace the mourner and weep with them.  He was so sensitive that he felt their sorrow essentially turning himself into a mourner along side of them.  Mourners reported back to her that this was more comforting than anything that anyone else said to them.

It would be great if we could always be so sensitive to our fellow, but sometimes it’s only when our friend is celebrating or, as in the name of the parsha acharei mos (literally after death), that we can really reach a point where we can truly merge our feelings to be one with our fellow.

If we can do get to the point where we can do that on a regular basis then we don’t need to look any further in the Haftorah for Acharei Mos, as Amos says “On that day, I will erect David’s fallen Sukkah. (Allusion to the Third Temple)  I will repair their breaches and erect their ruins, and I will rebuild it as in the days of old.”

This week’s Dvar Torah in the memory of Leib ben Bear.

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