Coming back from some days away in sunnier climes, I returned to several deaths in our congregation and families mourning their loved ones.
How do we offer comfort to those who are mourning and suffering? As the Bible asks, how do we speak to someone’s heart?
As a student, I learned from Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg that rather than, or as well as, wishing a mourner a long life, he wishes them a strong heart. I have been moved by these words and how they are received in the houses of mourning. Knowing what to say or what to do is something that our tradition helps us with; it navigates a path of speech and action in the most sensitive of circumstances.
I will always remember when I was at Westminster Synagogue, members there were dear friends of the Camerons (Prime Minister David and Samantha). When their young disabled son Ivan Cameron died, this couple was unsure, even as close friends, what to do and whether their Jewish tradition to visit and care for the mourners was appropriate.
We are taught how to comfort, which is something that is so useful and so important in how we negotiate death, grief and others’ pain.
Last Shabbat was called Shabbat Nachamu (Shabbat of Consolation) after the first line of the prophet Isaiah’s reading; Nachamu, nachamu ami, Comfort, comfort my people…” Isaiah 40:1. The next six weeks will have a haftarah of consolation drawn from the book of Isaiah that delivers a message of comfort in the seven weeks following Tisha B’Av and leading us to the period of Rosh Hashanah. Words intended to comfort do so often bring just that and understanding our role in inviting others to talk of their loved ones, not to be ashamed or embarrassed about recalling moments and memories.
I welcome this period of consolation and the different ways that we are encouraged to expand upon it. God is near to the broken hearted, says the Psalmist in Psalm 34. And that is our role too.
As we are in this period of comfort and consolation, here is Elana Arian’s “Nachamu”.
Wishing you Shabbat Shalom and a reminder that Beverley and I are always looking for sensitive folk to join our team of visitors and those who want to offer comfort and share consolation. Let us know if it is you.
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