Introductory words for the Shloshim of my father הכ’’מ

We had decided that in keeping with my father’s modest comportment and innate sense of unpretentiousness, that we’d keep his Shloshim, “low key” and a family affair. My mother had a few of her closest friends, but apart from that, it was a sombre and less public event. I know many people would have attended if it had been a different way; we hope you can appreciate the approach we took, however.

In truth, it is very difficult at a time of Aveylus to once more “confront the public gaze”. The Avel often craves solitude and is struggling with their sense of loss and grief. Indeed, Halacha encourages a detachment from the more public aspects of life during the year of Aveylus.

I had spoken at the Levaya, and was somewhat “grateful”, if I can use that word in context, that I was voicing introductions and context, as well as a Siyum Mishnayos.

The following is most of what I said to introduce the Shloshim.

Tonight we have gathered on the night of the Shloshim, the thirty-day period after the departure of our dear father, ר’ שאול זעליג הכהן הריני כפרת משכבו from the world as we know it, to the mysterious and exalted world of Souls. The Jewish people have a firm foundational framework which is rooted in Torah and through which we live and after which we depart this world. That framework does not evolve in the sense that it takes on new manifestations of populist modes of worship. Rather, like the foundations of a building that has been constructed to withstand an earthquake, Halacha is designed to move a given and acceptable number of degrees to the left or to the right, to remain intact, eventually returning to a proper and upright posture.

Following on from the Kevurah, where we tear our clothes, mourners observe seven days where there are major restrictions on the mourners and a responsibility for others to attempt to comfort the mourners.

Emerging from Shiva is a strange feeling. It is akin to letting go of certain practices; practices that directly and indirectly affect both the mourner and the comforter. It can sometimes be seen as an expression of “recovery”, and the notion of recovery is somewhat “offensive” to a mourner who is convinced that they will never recover, and perhaps should be sitting for two weeks and not one. Halacha is clear, however. A secondary period of mourning commences after the Shiva. Essentially, many of the restrictions are removed, providing a gentle but steady integration into society. It is far from a complete re-entry.

Some technical restrictions remain, and these represent visible signs that a person is very much still in a state of mourning. The aim of these restrictions is not to cause pain to the mourner. Rather, like all tenets of Judaism, there must be a tangible materialisation of the existential feeling of loneliness and aloneness that uniquely defines the state of mind of a mourner. Judaism has not ever been only a religion of the heart. One cannot reduce Judaism to “I am a Jew at heart”. Judaism is a religion of action emanating from feelings and belief.

From tomorrow morning, the Shloshim period ends and the mode of mourning is relaxed further, although there are still some clear strictures in place.

Jews have always had these three types of mourning: the Shiva, the Shloshim and the 12 months, and the customs and laws that go with each of these categories.

Each year, on Tisha B’Av, we mourn the fact that our true independence in the land of Israel, together with our Temple and all its accoutrements were removed from us. Even today, when we are blessed with our own country, we are far from independent, and find ourselves constantly bullied by our so-called friends and enemies. The commemoration of this loss follows three stages: the three weeks, the nine days, and then Tisha B’Av itself.

Unsurprisingly, Judaism is innately consistent. The customs surrounding the mourning of the three weeks are derived from those of the 12 month period of mourning after a parent. The customs of the nine days corresponds to the period of Shloshim. Finally, on Tisha B’Av, when we also sit on low chairs, the customs of mourning are based on the period of Shiva. Note though that the order is reversed. First it’s the 12 months, followed by the Shloshim and finally on Tisha B’Av it’s the Shiva. Rav Soloveitchik explained that this is an Aveilus Yeshana, and older event that we are mourning. We can’t simply start with the Shiva minhagim. Rather, there needs to be a gradual build up, culminating through Slichos and Kinnos to the Shiva, which is the last stage of mourning.

In the case of mourning after a human being, however, the wounds are red raw. The Aveilus is termed Chadasha, a new experience: both shocking and harrowing. The mourning commences from Shiva, the most intense period, and over time moves to Shloshim, and then finally onto the 12 months. Eventually, it becomes a Yohr Tzeit as well as special Rabinically enacted Yizkor prayers.

What then is the nature of the particular 12 month period that we are moving into?

Consider the following Halachic conundrum. A boy’s parent passed away when he was under Bar Mitzvah age. The boy became Bar Mitzvah during the Shiva period. He commences mourning. Does his choice of observing the remainder of the Shiva and Shloshim constitute the technical fulfilment חיוב of the Rabbinic enactment of the Customs of Shiva and Shloshim or do we say that since he was a minor at the time of the parent’s passing, he is doing a normal and good thing, but he couldn’t have been commanded to do this by the Rabbis because he was a minor at the time of death. Without argument, the Shulchan Aruch concludes that the unfortunate child is performing Minagim of mourning, but he cannot be considered as one who was commanded, or had to do so (בר חיובא).

I was learning the Chochmas Odom last Shabbos at Elwood Shule; the Shule where my father and his father davened, and where I have been leading the prayers each day in his honour. The Chochmas Adam (later cited by the Pischei Tshuva) made the following observation: in respect of the mourning after the Shloshim, that is, the mourning of the 12 months, the boy is actually doing what he was commanded even though he was a minor at the time. How so? The Chochmas Odom explains that the mourning after the Shloshim is essentially connected to the Mitzvah of Kibud Av V’Eim, honouring one’s parents. In this case, honouring a parent through acts that are undertaken which will bring them Nachas Ruach in another world, is something that he is now expected to do. This can commence as soon as the boy turns Bar Mitzvah.

It is this new period that we as children move into from tomorrow morning. It is also something that grandchildren may participate in, since the Gemara tells us that בני בנים הרי הם כבנים (grandchildren are like children). This insight might also explain why curiously, for our dear mother and aunt, the formal mourning laws and minhagim cease tomorrow morning. It is only children who are commanded in the Mitzvah of Kibud Av V’Eim.

The human process of grieving and missing someone, of course, is another thing entirely, and that is something that each person deals with in their own way, and their own time, and hopefully with well-meaning friends and family, especially those who have gathered here tonight and who have been so loyal and supportive to all of us.

ר' שאול זעליג הכהן בלבין הכ’מ
ר’ שאול זעליג הכהן בלבין הכ’מ
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