By Shoshana Rosa
Jewish mourning comes to help a person gradually decrease the intense sadness which he feels at the departure of a beloved. According to Jewish law, the laws of mourning only apply to seven first-degree relatives of the deceased: son or daughter, brother or sister, father or mother, and spouse (husband or wife).
There are five stages to the mourning process:
1) Aninut, pre-burial mourning.
2) & 3) Shivah, a seven day period following the burial; within the Shivah, the first three days are characterized by a more intense degree of mourning.
4) Shloshim, the 30-day mourning period.
5) The First Year (observed only by the children of the deceased).
Interestingly enough, while the mourning process of personal loss is a gradual moving away from the meis (deceased), the grieving process that we go through during the three weeks -- the twenty-one days which mark the loss of the Bait Hamikdash (our Holy Temple) as well as a remembrance and sorrow the number of historical calamities that overcame our nation -- intensifies as we get closer to the blackest day of the year.
Personal loss, the departure of one who was closest to us, in blood if not in spirit, is like having a piece of our hearts carved out. The experience is excruciating, mind numbing.
Since the measure of loss one feels over his loved one's departure is generally in alignment with the measure of love s/he has felt for that person, anyone who has gone through the loss of a loved one can identify with one who is currently experiencing it. But what about a child whose father or mother passed away before s/he could experience a relationship with them? How could this child truly comprehend the pain of loss, his or otherwise, if s/he has never experienced it?
That is the pain of our, the Jewish nation's, mourning for the Holy Temple and the presence of G-d in Jerusalem. Many of us mourn because we aren't aware of, we cannot fathom, the loss because we have never experienced the relationship.
When the war of 1967 ended, legend has it that the Western Wall was soaked in the tears of Jews who longed to daven (pray) at the remnant of the place where the Holy Temple once stood. When they finally did get a chance to stand near the holiest place on earth, how could they hold their sobs back? Two secular Israeli soldiers took in this scene, somewhat bemused. Suddenly, one of them burst into tears. "Why are you crying," his friend asked, surprised. "I'm crying," the other man said, "because I don't know why I should be crying."
May we merit to see the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash speedily, in our days.
For further details on the laws of mourning for personal loss as well as the laws which cause one to mimic the laws of personal mourning during the three weeks - culminating with the Fast of the Ninth (Tisha b'Av) - read on.
Note the inversion between the laws of mourning and the mourning process we are meant to experience during the Three Weeks. One is a gradual moving away; the other, is a slow approach as well as an intensifying of the experience of loss.
Five stages to personal bereavement
This is a time of numbing, paralyzing grief. As a result, the most religious obligations are cancelled since it is when a person's despair is at its height and his mind is most troubled. During this period, the griever's all-consuming concern is funeral and burial arrangements, to the extent that he is absolved by Torah law from the observance of all mitzvot requiring action (like praying, putting on tefillin, etc.). It is during this period that the k'riah, or rending of the garments, as a sign of grief, is performed.
Note to friends and family: don't try to comfort the mourner until the meis is buried. It is a time of silence, not words.
The second and third stages are called shiva (the seven day period following the burial.
The first three days of shiva are when a person is in state of intense grief - there is a lot of crying and lamenting. Therefore, visitors are somewhat discouraged. However, the last four days are ones where friends, relatives and community members are encouraged to visit the house of the mourner, to focus exclusively on the memory of the deceased with him and to offer him comfort over his loss. While s/he is still in a state of mourning, s/he continues to wear his torn garment and house slippers. S/he refrains from showering and grooming himself, sits on a low stool, and must recite kaddish every day. It is also a time when the mourner is prohibited to do work.
The mourner's house reflects the grieving s/he is going through - people generally light a seven day candle, cover the mirrors, and refrain from wearing leather shoes and freshly laundered clothes, or any new clothes for that matter, they do not have marital relations, do not listen to music and refrain from all forms of entertainment. They also do not learn Torah since this is considered the greatest source of delight that a person can experience.
The fourth and fifth stages are called the Shloshim and The First Year (the thirty day mark and the first twelve months following the burial).
Even as the mourner resumes his or her everyday routine after the Shivah, certain mourning practices, such as not purchasing or wearing new clothes, cutting one's hair, enjoying music or other forms of entertainment, and participating in joyous events (weddings, etc.), are continued for a period of thirty days. After thirty days, the mourner refrains from joyous events, various forms of entertainment and music for a full year. For individualized questions, ask your local Orthodox Rabbi.