Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page

Starting to sit shiva

Following the burial the mourners that are sitting shiva return to the “shiva house” and commence the seven day period whose name shiva is taken from the hebrew number seven – sheva. This period is normally refered to as sitting shiva. It is a healing time both emotionally and spiritually where the mourners are comforted by their family and friends.

One only sits shiva for the seven close relatives -mother, father, child, brother, sister, husband or wife. No matter how much the loss of another person might be felt one does not sit shiva for others.

If possible, the mourners should sit shiva in the residence of the deceased. This is not always possible or practical for various reasons.
You are allowed to sit shiva in whichever place you like. Normally all the mourners sit for the week together.

The mourners should move into the shiva house for the week. If this cannot be done then they should leave after dark and return early in the morning.

Mourners should ideally not leave the shiva house for the duration of the shiva. With the exception of Shabbat, Festival and according to some Purim, all prayers services should be held there. If by having prayers at the shiva house it means that there will not be a minyan at the local synagogue because the people from there will come to the shiva, then the prayers should take place in the synagogue and not at the shiva house. If errands need to be run others should do them. If there are questions concerning financial or other loses then the local Rabbi should be consulted.
Once shiva starts the focus turns to the mourners and away from the deceased. The mourners are meant to feel a loss and grief. The task of the visitors is to help them start to in overcoming their loss by comforting them and providing for their needs.
People are sometimes confused as to how to pay a shiva call and this will be discussed in a future posting.

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Aninut – The start of the process

From the moment that a person dies – one of the seven close family members that one sits shiva for is called an Onen. This applies if one was with the person who died or from the moment that one hears about the death and the burial has not yet taken place. The Onen is free from all mitzvot, as they are assumed to be dealing with the burial details. During this period of time it is not normal to try and comfort the mourner as they are not in a state to receive comfort and consolations.
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik states that aninut is the spur of the moment human reaction to death. Doubts and questions appear in the persons mind concerning all sorts of things to do with mankind and his convictions. The mourner may well start to question G-d and his ways,
especially when the person that died is a child, for example.
In this state of mind it is not possible for a mourner to be able to concentrate on any kind of mitzva. The rule of law – the Halacha – says “take a time out”. It displays compassion in this case, it gives the mourner time to start the process of grieving. The whole concept of aninut, shiva, shloshim, the year and then yarzheit is to help the mourner to cope in a manageable way with the task of returning back to their everyday existence.
Unfortunately, in most cases it is only after one has gone through the above process that one can see how consoling and comforting it is to have the various time periods for reflection and let it help the mourner work their way back into their daily workload.

Purim to Pesach

Purim has been and gone. The megilla has been read and all the kids and plenty of grown ups dressed up in their costumes to add heed to the hidden aspect of the holiday. With G_d not being mentioned in the megilla one has to look within the story to see the Hand of deliverance that saved the Jewish people from the wicked Haman.

With Pesach exactly the opposite is the case. G_d appeared to Moses at the burning bush and gave him signs to use in front of Pharoah. In the Torah and then in the Hagadda it says that it was the Hand of G_d that took the Jewish people out of Egypt. It was G-d himself that came down to strike the firstborns. How did He know which houses to strike at? Moshe told the Children of Israel to take a sheep – an Egyptian god – and tie it to their posts and later on to slaughter it, take the blood and paint it on the doorposts. All this was done in the faces of the Egyptians – no hiding. G-d didn’t need the sign of the blood that was put there for him. Plenty of the Israelites didn’t put blood on their doorposts and they suffered the same fate as the rest of Egypt – death of the firstborns.

On Purim we drink wine until we do not know the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai”. This is also part of the hidden side of Purim, that we don’t know who is who. On Pesach we drink four cups of wine to help raise us to the exalted level of leaving Egypt, as we are all meant to try and reach that level during the Seder. The Seder which is to remind us of the redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt, which was done openly in front of the Egyptian people as opposed to in times of Purim it was all done in a much more hidden revelation.

This is written in memory of Chaim Ephraim Ben Shimon Alter z”l whose 8th yarzheit is today the 16 Adar.

A Hidden Aspect of Purim

There are many hidden aspects of the Purim story. That Hashems name is not mentioned once in the whole of the Megilla is a reminder of the hidden Face / Hand of G_d within the message that we are meant to take out of this whole episode.

For starters why was the story taking place in the city of Shushan. The capital city of Achashveirosh’s kingdom was Madai. Achashveirosh wanted to show off to everyone the vessels of the Temple that had been captured seventy years earlier. One of the vessels captured had been a golden throne made by King Solomon. This itself weighed a massive amount and could not be moved with ease. The only place with a goldsmith capable of taking care of such a unique vessel was in Shushan.

What was so special concerning Shushan? Mordechai was there and not in Madai. Who was it that heard Bigtan & Teresh plotting? Mordechai. If Mordechai had not overheard that conversation who knows what would have happened to the Jewish People.

Therefore Mordechai was able to instruct Esther to carry out the plan that we read about in Megillat Esther every Purim. Of course, Hashem could have carried out His wonders in a different manner but he didn’t. This is the way that He chose to send His message to us.

We spend a lot of time wondering why a particular event happened at a certain time and place. More often than not we will not be able to fathom out the answer to the question. We need to be able to take a historical view of some small thing as to why in one city and not in another to be able to see how in this particular case the Jewish people were saved.

This basis of this was said to me by my son Avichai and is in memory of my father Moshe Ben Gavriel z”l whose yarzheit is on the 10th of Adar.