Headlines »

August 14, 2022 – 12:52 am | 9 views

When I lived in California people complained that they missed the seasons. I always wondered about that. Having come from the East Coast, I often told them that if they were looking seasons, I could tell them exactly where to find it. They came to California for sunshine so why …

Read the full story »
Parsha Insights

Where Biblical law and Torah tale is brought vividly to life

Concepts

The Jewish perspective on topical and controversial subjects

Life Cycle

Probing for meaning in our journey and its milestones.

Yearly Cycle

Discover depth and mystique in the annual Jewish festivals

Rabbi’s Desk

Seeking life’s lessons in news items and current events

Home » Acharei Mot, Death, Family Life, Tragedy

Acharei Mot: Post Shivah

Submitted by on April 6, 2014 – 4:03 amNo Comment | 8,087 views

post shivah - innerstream.caThe Shelf Life

I have seen it as often as you have. Someone loses a loved one, family, friends and acquaintances close ranks around them, attend Shivah, coordinate details, bring food and provide comfort. Then Shivah ends, everyone bids the bereaved farewell and return to daily life.

It is now post Shivah, and, for the bereaved, the challenge has just begun.

They return to an empty home, to pictures that remind them of their loved one and to fragrances that stir their senses. They have no hold over emotions. One moment a wave of fatigue, the next a torrent of tears. Then comes courage and resolve followed by weakness and depression. One mood follows the next and the army of friends is nowhere to be seen. Turns out, Shiva has a shelf life.

I am as guilty as the next. We console ourselves with the excuse that life must go on and we can’t coddle the bereaved forever. At some point they must face life and it might as well be now. Comes the Torah and offers perspective. Life must be faced, but it need not be faced alone. At least not in the beginning.

Post Shiva

In Biblical Hebrew, there are two ways to say Post Shivah. Achar hashiva and acharei hashiva. They sound similar, but they have different connotations. Achar means shortly thereafter, acharei means well after.[1]

The Torah tells us that, “acharei mot shnei bnei aharon,” well after the death of Aaron’s two sons, G-d addressed Aaron and told him not to enter the Holy of Holies without Divine sanction.[2]

At first blush one wonders why this instruction appears in the Torah fully three portions after the episode of their death. However, when we note that the term acharei is employed, we realize that this instruction was given well after their passing, not shortly thereafter. Allow me to suggest that this instruction is read three weeks after we learn of their passing to teach us a lesson.

The first few days after a passing, mourners are numb to pain and distracted by funeral arrangements. The ensuing week of Shiva is difficult to be sure, but they are buoyed by the presence of family and friends, who envelop them in a blanket of warm comfort. The next week they are consumed with cleaning up from Shiva and picking up the pieces. By the third or fourth week, the frenetic pace slows somewhat and the painful realization sinks in. Now, post Shiva, they really need help.

It was at this point that G-d reached out to Aaron and offered guidance and support. This was a very different kind of support than the one He received immediately after his loss. Back then G-d offered instruction on how to grieve, now, three weeks later, G-d offered guidance on how to live.

We too must pick up the phone at this point and call our bereaved friends. We feel that we were there so much during Shivah that now, post Shivah, the bereaved might want some quiet time alone. Don’t let this discourage you. If your friends don’t want company they will tell you, but they will still be grateful that you called. And if they do want company, your call will have arrived at exactly the right time.

During Shiva you helped them cope with loss. Now you can help them cope with life. They won’t need you forever, but for the next little while, they can use your cup of tea, listening ear, and caring heart.

A Message To The Mourner

When you call or visit post Shivah you also offer another message. You encourage the bereaved to remain afloat and not let their sorrow drag them down. It is too easy to be overwhelmed by grief and drown in sorrow. They might begin with giving themselves an hour to rest or a day in bed, but if they don’t force themselves out of grief and into life, their loss can become all consuming.

They might feel that returning to life betrays the enormity of their loss. How can they smile when their hearts are full of tears? It is your role to them that returning to life is not a betrayal of the dead. Their loss will always be close to their heart and they will never forget it, but their loved one would want them to live.

Avoiding Apathy

In this vein, consider the following Midrash. Our sages wondered why the Torah informs us that G-d’s instructions on how and when to enter the Holy of Holies were given after the passing of Aaron’s sons.

They explained it with an analogy. If a doctor instructs a patient to avoid cold drinks and damp beds, he may or may not be obeyed. If the doctor instructs a patient to avoid cold drinks and damp beds to avoid dying as another patient did, he will certainly be obeyed. G-d wanted Aaron to obey Him so He added the fact that if Aaron obeyed these instructions, he would avoid the fate that had befallen his sons.[3]

However, when you consider that Aaron had never refused a Divine order, you wonder why G-d felt it necessary to reinforce this instruction in particular.

Allow me to suggest that it was all about the timing. When in grief, it is difficult to pull oneself together and embrace the joys and duties of daily life. Aaron was a High Priest, a position with many responsibilities and duties, but in his grief, he might not have been up to the task.

G-d said to Aaron, avoid cold drinks and damp beds. Don’t allow your heart to grow cold to life, to its sanctity, to its pleasures and to its rewards. There are tasks that await you and duties that beckon. Life lies ahead of you and it is time to embrace it. You might not be ready, but there is no use waiting. Begin anew today or you might drink the cold drink, meaning your heart might grow cold. Embrace life today or your bed might grow damp, your cocoon of comfort might grow into a den of depression.

If you become apathetic to life, you might share your sons’ tragic fate. They died physically, but you, though alive, might be just as dead. Don’t let this become you. Avoid the cold drink and the damp bed. Get up, get dressed and fulfill your duties. Allow life to rouse you.

This might be the most critical message you can offer to your mourning friend. Many can help them cope with death, but only the best of friends can help them reenter life. If you are a good friend, you are perfectly positioned. It might be post Shivah, but you are needed now more than ever. Pick up the phone and make the call. Don’t delay. Do it today.



[1] Bereshis Rabbah 46: 5. See also Rashi’s commentary to Sotah: 33b.

[2] Leviticus 16: 1 – 4.

[3] Rashi quoting Torat Kohanim on Leviticus 16: 3.

Tags: , , ,

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also Comments Feed via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.