Rabbi's Message

  • November 06, 2015


                      The mitzva of nichum aveilim, comforting mourners, is an act of chesed which benefits the bereaved, gives honor to the deceased, and connects us to the Divine via imitatio dei, imitating the actions of Hashem Himself. As this week’s parsha addresses the topic of Sara’s death and burial, and Avraham’s mourning, I would like to take the opportunity to review some of the laws and customs of visiting a beis aveil, a house of mourning, better known as ‘paying a shiva call’ (culled from various sources):  

    1.      A shiva call is not a social outing or a mere formality. Its purpose is to share the sorrow of one’s friends and relatives, and to support them with one’s comforting presence. In no way is the visit meant to distract the aveil from the mourning, or to disrupt a somber mood.    

    2.      Hence, it is inappropriate to steer conversation to idle chatter, jokes, and small talk. The conversation is to be focused on the life of the deceased, his/her passing, and the family. Frivolous discussions are certainly inappropriate in a beis aveil.

    3.      One does not extend greetings to the mourner or to others in a shiva house. 

    4.      A visitor does not initiate conversation with a mourner; one waits for the aveil to initiate any dialogue.  Sometimes one’s presence alone is a comfort to the mourner and words are unnecessary.

    5.      One should avoid visiting late at night.  Additionally, one should be considerate of the mourner, and recognize that visits should generally be kept brief, approximately 15-30 minutes, as at times the mourners need a break to rest.

    6.      Customs vary regarding eating food in a beis aveil. Some specifically have a custom to eat so the beracha over the food will be a merit for the soul of the deceased.  Others customs consider eating inappropriate.

    7.      Many have the custom of giving tzedakah in a beis aveil as another source of merit for the deceased.

    8.      Upon leaving the shiva house, visitors should say, ‘HaMakom yenachem eschem b’soch sha’ar Aveili Tzion ve’YerushalayimMay the Almighty comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.’  The mourner should respond ‘Amen.’ Sefardim offer the consolation of, ‘Tenuchamu min HaShamayim – May you be comforted from the Heavens.’

    May the day soon arrive when these laws and customs are merely academic. 

    Have a great Shabbos.