How to Make a Shiva Call

Because a shiva call requires total sensitivity to the needs of the mourner, the tradition mandates appropriate behaviors for the visitor.

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May God comfort

Ha-makom yenakhem

you

etkhem [many mourners]

 

otakh [one female]

 

ot'kha [one male]

 

etkhen [more than one female]

among the other

b'tokh sh'ar

mourners

a'vaylay

of Zion and Jerusalem.

Tzion v'Y'rushalayim

Ha-Makom is a name of God that literally means "the place," referring to God's omnipresent nature, including at the lifecycles from birth to death. It is only God who can grant the mourner lasting comfort. The comforter comes to remind the mourners that the divine powers of the universe will enable them to heal and go on with a meaningful life. Ultimate consolation comes only from the omnipresent God.

"B’tokh sh'ar avaylay Tzion v'Y'rushalayim" means "among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem." Once again, the message is "we are not alone." In fact, traditional Jewish practice requires a minyan of 10 in order to recite the Kaddish prayer. Personal bereavement is thus seen in the total context of the community.

The great genius of Jewish bereavement is to empower the community to be God's partner in comforting those who mourn. In making a shiva call in an appropriate and traditional way, we are the medium through which God's comfort can be invoked. In learning the art of coping with dying, we are, in fact, learning an important aspect of the art of Jewish living.

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Dr. Ron Wolfson

Dr. Ron Wolfson is the Fingerhut Professor of Education at American Jewish University and the president of Synagogue 3000.