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To console -- and be consoled

איך מנחמים אבלים

* Translation by Yehoshua Siskin ([email protected])

Rabbi Yoni Lavi writes that this war caught us by surprise in creating a terrible reality: having to console the families of 1,400 terror victims . But how can we provide them with the consolation that they need?

"The first and most important thing we can do is to be by their sides. In the words of the psalmist: 'I am with him in distress.' Looking them straight in the eye with a firm handshake and a warm embrace reinforce their ability to cope and their power to maintain. No words are necessary since, in truth, it is doubtful that there is anything to say. When Aharon the Kohen lost two of his sons at the inauguration of the Mishkan, the Torah says: "And Aharon was silent." Because there are moments when words are inadequate to express grief, and the one response that reflects our feelings more than any other is silence.

Second, listen to their words in order to hear their pain, their memories, the story of their fallen loved one. As written in the book of Job: "Let me speak to be relieved." Listening to their story makes their burden easier to bear. At the same time, the halachah instructs that we must wait for the mourner to begin talking before we open our mouths to speak. We must hear where the mourner is at and meet him there.

Don't try to offer commentary on what happened or to be God's spokesman. The ways of God are hidden. We cannot explain why someone was killed in an explosion while the friend beside him escaped unscathed. We believe that God watches over us and that nothing happens by chance. Yet we are not prophets and lack the ability to explain what happens to any particular individual.

We need to remember that a human being is not just a body but, above all, a soul. So when a body is placed in the earth, the soul still lives as it goes to a better place. The one who fell has many merits since he died in the defense of us all. He is now in the Garden of Eden under the wings of the Shechinah and this recognition can give us strength, consolation, and solace.

Offer actual assistance. Check and see if there is something you can do for the mourners. Cooking, organizing, watching the kids, financial aid.

To conclude: It's said that the most difficult day of the shiva (seven-day mourning period) is the eighth day. The world goes on spinning and those who lost loved ones are left with silent walls, mute memories, and stinging yearnings for the deceased. Therefore, do not forget the mourners the day after or the month after the shiva has passed.

Experience teaches that life eventually wins out. Initially it seemed that with the death of our loved one, our lives ended too. But time is a great healer and the passing days allow us to return -- ever so slowly -- to life, to family, and to dreams about the future.

May we all console -- and be consoled.

איך מנחמים אבלים


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