Friday, May 6, 2016

Achrei Mot- A Time to Mourn

Vayidabeir Adonai el-Moshe acharei mot sh’nei b’nei Aharon…
And Adonai spoke to Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aaron… (Vayikra 16:1)
As a rabbi, I have attended a lot of funerals. At some I have been the officiant. At some one of many clergy or speakers, and at some an attendee paying respects to the deceased or the mourners. At every funeral I cried. And at every, I am interested in how the funeral rites inform our mourning process.
Those who know me well are not surprised by my crying, no matter the relationship. I am a great crier. I cry at Hallmark cards and at sappy commercials. The other night, Keren and I cried at a scene in Marvel’s Agents of Shield, a superhero television show. In ancient, and even not so ancient times, I might have found employment as a professional mourner. Even now, hired mourners are popular in Asia and the Middle East. Rent-a-Mourner is a real thing in England. Some see this as a breakdown of the family, but others point to the respected history of the profession, and see it as one more way to honour the dead. It’s not false mourning. A mere thought of the hole left by the deceased, and the tears flow. The loss of any life changes the world.
Jewish mourning laws and rituals are very specifically designed to move mourners through these earth-shaking changes. Grief is a part of life. It is not something to be avoided, nor to be experienced alone. Rabbi Ruth Langer, a Boston College Theology professor, writes, “the rituals surrounding death are…the most tightly choreographed and the least liturgical…. Jewish rituals tend to be accompanied by a…[expansive liturgy], the performance of funerary rituals are striking in their combinations of silence and free speech. The result is the creation of a time that is markedly different, that responds powerfully to the emotions of the moment, and that effects the dual transition of accompanying the deceased to the grave and only then of comforting the mourners…. [effecting] first the transition of deceased from the world of the living to the world of the dead/afterlife; and, second, it places the mourners into a liminal state from which they gradually emerge to reintegrate into a social realm reshaped by their loss.*
Unfortunately, in today’s world, this change is often glossed over. Many people want to grieve privately. Shiva is cut short, or severely limited in its hours. We are in a hurry to return to “normal” life, not taking the time needed for shiva, shloshim, and shanah. Each step marks a change from one world to the next. And, while directed at the mourner, they are meant for all of us in the community to share.
Shabbat shalom.

* Langer, Ruth, “Jewish Funerals: A Ritual Description,”

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