Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg
August 25, 2003 – Number 19
Laws Relating to Death III – Shiva
Once the Funeral is finished and the grave filled, attention then turns to the mourners. We begin the process of consolation right at the funeral, having the family pass through two lines of friends who offer the traditional words of consolation “May G-d comfort you as G-d comforts all those who mourn Zion and Jerusalem. Some people no longer say the last part of the statement in deference to the modern state of Israel.
The mourners then go directly to the place they will be observing Shiva. If they will travel out of town to return to their home, they go directly to the airport. Upon arriving home, one washes their hands outside the door, to leave the last of the cemetery outside the house. They enter the house, light the Shiva candle that will burn for the seven days of Shiva, remove any leather shoes they may be wearing. They should sit on low hard chairs, symbolic of the discomfort that they feel for their loss. There is an old superstition that has one cover mirrors in a Shiva house. This is NOT required. The many reasons given are merely justifications for an old European superstition. One does not shave or wear makeup during the time they are sitting Shiva.
The first thing a mourner must do is have something to eat. This meal is called the “Meal of Consolation” and begins with food that is round, symbolic of the cycle of life. Bagels and Lentils are customary, a hard boiled egg is also used and has further symbolism of being the beginning of life. Even in the mourners claim they are not hungry, they should have a small bite to eat upon returning home.
While sitting Shiva, the mourner must not do anything except sit and talk about the deceased. It is the responsibility of the friends and community to see to it that there is food for the mourners and to tend to their needs. Shiva is NOT a party and mourners should not have to welcome guests at the door or see to their needs. The food at the house is for the mourners who may share it with guests if they choose. Food should not be removed from a Shiva house until Shiva is finished. Guests who arrive at the house should use the time to talk to the mourners and share stories about the deceased and make sure the needs of the mourners are tended to. This may cause some tears from the mourners but crying is what Shiva is about and no one should be embarrassed to cry, or to be in the presence of one who is that sad. One should not try and stop the tears, rather we see them as a sign that healing is taking place. Do not ignore the “elephant” in the room and distract the mourner by making small talk. Let them show picture of the deceased and let the mourner control the conversation. The best guest at a Shiva house is the one who sits near the mourners and listens.
The torn garment is worn the entire time one sits Shiva, excluding Shabbat. The only time a mourner leaves a Shiva home is to attend synagogue on Shabbat. Public displays of mourning are not allowed on Shabbat. Shiva will end if a major holiday interrupts the week. Daily services will take place in the Shiva home to allow them to say Kaddish for the deceased. Shiva begins the day of the funeral (Which is always counted as the first day) and ends after the first hour of the seventh day. Following Shiva, the next three weeks complete Sheloshim, the first month (30 days) after the funeral. During this period mourners can leave the house and return to work but parties and events that include music are to be avoided. When a parent dies some do not attend events with music for the entire year. Mourners may not be called to the Torah for an Aliyah until Sheloshim is over. For eleven months after the burial, one recites Kaddish daily. The monument can be erected anytime after Sheloshim but the custom in America is to raise it on or around the first anniversary of the death (not the funeral). On each of the four days when Yizkor is recited and on the Yahrtzeit (The anniversary of the death) a candle is lit that will burn for 24 hours and Kaddish is recited at all services that day.
Next week: Teshuva: Preparing for the High Holy Days