Comforting a Mourner

We are commanded to comfort mourners. The act of doing so makes us G_Dly; just as G_D comforts and visits us when we are mourners, so too we are commanded to comfort mourners, (as indicated by the Talmud, tractate Sotah 14a) when they are mourners. The action of visiting a mourner helps to alleviate their loneliness and sadness, associated with the loss of a loved one. This loss could be the most intense sorrow in a person’s life.

How does one comfort this mourner? Essentially, the visitor enters the mourner’s house, sits close to the mourner, and shares in the loss, in a quiet, yet subtle way. The comforter intensely ponders the loss, just as the mourner does. This action builds a subtle, yet strong support structure for the mourner, who has become quite removed from the world. This empathy is an antidote for the mourner, and as many people visit the house, these visitors collectively share the burden of the loss, lessoning the loss for the mourner. This is a true chesed (kindness) for both the loved one and the mourner.

What does one say to the mourner? One says little, but listens a lot. This is a time to let a mourner be a mourner. The visitors have no agenda other than to let the mourner contemplate the loss. Should the mourner want to discuss his feelings, then the visitors provide a forum through which the mourner can discuss his feelings.

Specifically, saying “everything will be alright†or “he’s happier nowâ€, while well meaning, can be construed as insensitive. To avoid such mishaps, the visitor should focus on being an ear. Facial expressions reflecting ones heart are more effective than words at this stage.

Laws and Customs Regarding the Visit

When To Visit Mourner – Night or day.(some have the custom not to visit the mourner during the first 3 days of Shiva, others permit this – this seems to be the prevailing custom (Pnei Baruch 11:6)

Visiting on Sabbath or Holidays or Chol HaMoed – (visiting the mourner on the Sabbath/Holidays or Chol Hamoed, while not the preferred option, is permissible. (Shulchan Aruch OC 287:1, Mishnah Berurah 287:1)

Words

The visitor, when leaving the house of Mourners should recite the following phrase in a language that he/she understands, whether that is Hebrew or English or both:

“Hamakom yinachem etchem b’toch sh’ar aveilei Tzion v’yerushalayim†(Prishah 393:3)

“May God comfort you (amongst) the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

Laws and Customs Regarding the Visit

When To Visit Mourner – Night or day.(some have the custom not to visit the mourner during the first 3 days of Shiva, others permit this – this seems to be the prevailing custom (Pnei Baruch 11:6)

Visiting on Sabbath or Holidays or Chol HaMoed – (visiting the mourner on the Sabbath/Holidays or Chol Hamoed, while not the preferred option, is permissible (Shulchan Aruch OC 287:1, Mishnah Berurah 287:1)

Position of Mourner – The mourner should stay seated on his mourners stool, and does not rise to great visitors. That said, during the mourners meal the mourner should sit at the front on his stool at the front of the table (YD 376:1).(the mourner may be included in a “zimun†of three people, but may not be included in a “zimun†of ten.(Pischei Teshuvah 379:2)

Behavior

  1. Greetings – A visitor should avoid any greetings (in coming and in taking leave from the mourner)
  2. Speaking – Typically, one should not initiate (the initial) conversation, but rather let the mourner speak his or her mind.(YD 376:1)
  3. Sitting – A visitor is allowed to sit in normal chairs (Shach 387:1) , whereas the mourner will sit on a stool (or on the floor with or without cushions), which is close to the ground.

The Menu of the Meal of Condolence

The pasuk says (when Hasem said to Yechezkial the prophet â€bread of others you shall not eat (24:17)†Hashem commanded the prophet specifically not to eat other people’s bread for his first meal, however other people/mourners must specifically eat other peoples food for the first meal (YD 378:1)

  1. Meal – The meal should include bread, cookies pretzels, hardboiled eggs (which should not be peeled by the mourner himself) (which represent the continuous circular nature of life). Some also cook lentils (378:9) (Ya’acov Avinu (Jacob our father) was making lentils for his father Yitschak Avinu (Isaac our father) on the day Avraham Avinu (Abraham our father) died.) or chickpeas which are traditional mourning meal.
  2. When to eat the meal – The meal should be eaten on the first day of the burial. (as the first meal) In the event that the mourner chose to fast for the duration of the first day, the mourner may eat the first meal on the second day from his own food (378:3)).
  3. Who Prepares the Meal – It is proper and righteous for friends and neighbors to prepare this meal.

Sabbath and Festivals – On the Sabbath or Festivals we do not publicly mourn. Thus, the traditional mourner meal is not served. (378:5)

After the burial, the mourner moves into a new stage of mourning, Avelus. Accordingly, the spotlight now focuses on comforting the mourners. Specifically, to comfort the mourner the funeral attendees form two straight and parallel lines (no less than 10 people), opposite each other (Megilah 23b, Sanhedrin 19a. YD 353:5 allude to it). The mourner walks through the middle of the two lines. As the mourner walks between the two lines, the attendees (who are devoid of shoes), say (YD 376:4))

“May the Lord comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.â€

Ha’makkom yenachem et’chem b’toch sha’ar avelei tziyon vi’Yerushalayim

Disclaimer

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