Past Weekly Shabbat Message
(Torah Portion Vayishlach) Comforting
The Torah relates that while Yaacov was traveling back to Israel after a long absence, he received the sad news that Devorah, the elderly nursemaid of his mother, passed away.
Our Sages infer from the wording of the text, that Yaacov was also notified about his mother Rivka’s death at the same time.
Why didn’t the Torah specifically mention the death of our matriarch Rivka?
An answer offered is that Rivka’s death was surrounded by unfortunate circumstances. None of her family members were able to tend to her burial. Her husband Yitzchok was elderly and blind. Her son Yaacov was still out of the country. Her estranged son Aisav was not notified of her death so that his wicked presence at the funeral would not tarnish Rivka’s honor. She was clandestinely buried by her neighbors in the Cave of Machpaila, therefore the Torah did not announce her death.
One of the most difficult experiences that a person undergoes is the pain of the death of a loved one. Without guidance, one finds it very difficult to find the correct approach to death. On the one extreme there are some people who try to escape the unpleasant feelings associated with death by denying it. Someone related to me that when he was a teen one of his friends tragically died. He and his friends, not knowing how to react, went out and got drunk to escape the unpleasantness of the situation. Occasionally this need to escape is even expressed at a house of shiva, where the visitors speak of mundane matters instead of talking about the deceased.
On the other extreme, some do not know how to recover from the pain of losing a loved one. They mourn excessively to the point where their life is permanently harmed in some way. For example, after the death of her husband, Prince Albert, Queen Victoria remained in a state or mourning for the rest of her life, only wearing black clothes. This is an example of excessive mourning that is contrary to Jewish thought.
As we know, there is Shiva –– the seven day intense period of mourning for the loss of one’s seven closest relatives, which eases up and extends until the end of thirty days upon the loss of a spouse, sibling and child. An additional eleven month mourning period is observed for a parent.
The Torah relates that immediately after the Rivka’s death, G-d appeared to Yaacov. Our Sages tell us that G-d gave Yaacov a blessing of comfort over the loss of his mother.
This is not the first time we find that G-d appeared to comfort a mourner. When our forefather Avraham passed away, G-d also appeared to his son Yitzchok to offer him comfort.
We are not privy to the words of comfort G-d gave to Yitzchok and Yaacov on their respective losses.
Perhaps, just knowing that G-d was in their presence, and He was there for them during their grief and loss was the greatest source of comfort.
The Talmud tells us that when we pay a visit to comfort mourners, we follow and emulate G-d’s ways.
It is not necessarily the words of comfort we offer the mourners, rather our presence, listening ear, show of support, care and attention that brings comfort.
When one exits the mourners, he recites the following phrase/blessing; “May the Almighty comfort you, amongst all mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”
We bestow our fervent wish that the Almighty’s Presence envelop the mourners with comfort, thus bestowing on them the greatest comfort.
Wishing you a most uplifting, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks
Rabbi Dovid Saks