There is an overriding flow of an idea in Judaism that by tapping into the wisdom of our tradition, we can live a deeper, more meaningful, life.
To aid us in tapping into the potential of the time that we have on earth, we have holidays, rituals, and life-cycles. These act as reminders of who we (as a community, as individuals) can aspire to be.
Most of the time, these reminders (i.e.- mezuzah on your door, blessings before eating, Hebrew baby-naming) are subtle, and the connection that we feel to something ‘bigger than us’ feels natural.
As our engagement to our Judaism, and our Jewish identity, increases, so does the opportunity to transcend the mundane into something elevated (kaddosh).
One of the ways that many of our Temple Emanu-El congregants do this, each month, is through Torah study. The narrative, and our willingness to delve into it, helps us to further recognize our place in changing our lives, and the world around us, for the better. Rather than through grand gestures (although those exist), most of the time it is through simple acts that can impact one other person at a time.
This week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23) translates as ‘the life of Sarah’, but speaks about her death. Her husband, Abraham, bereft with grief, goes to extremes to secure her a burial spot. One that he (and other Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs) will return to with each season, and eventually lay there themselves for their final rest.
I’ve always been quite impressed, and grateful, for the mourning rituals that Judaism offers us; including the ingathering of community for shiva minyanim so that the mourners are surrounded by loved ones in their acute grief. I respect the suggestions from our sages of time-allotted deprivations over the course of the first month, and the first year, following the burial so we can grieve without guilt, empowered to feel our loss. Even the unveiling at the cemetery (11-12 months after death) has brilliantly been crafted to move us from mourning to sadness, with permission to live life renewed.
What we are missing, and I would ask you to consider this a reminder, are set times to reach out to the widow or widower, the friend who has lost a parent, a sibling, or (God forbid) a child, to let them know that you are with them, thinking about them, and care for them. As much as they need this in the days following their loved one’s burial, even more so they would appreciate this when the proverbial dust has settled.
Abraham purchased a burial place for his wife so that he could return there to pay his respects, and be flooded with memory of their time together. But that does not mean that he always returned there alone. When we reach out to the mourners, especially when they least expect it, we remind them that they do not dwell alone.
And that connection, your decision to reach out, can effect both of you in a way that is profound, even in its simplicity.
This is how we together build the world that we want to live in.