Jews had something, they really did, and I’m not sure what happened. Why did their traditions get lost in the move from their being no messiah to their being a messiah?
All around me I see people everyday that are going through the process of grieving a lost family member. People die around us all the time and people have to get over it, but it seams to me that we just don’t do it very well in our culture. Either people hide away and don’t engage with it or try and avoid the having to move through the pain trying of avoid the full weight of our loss. Also the number of people who just can’t let go and try things like trying to contact the dead in the hope of being able to contact their loved one.
The Jews really did have something; this thing I am speaking of is called ‘Sitting Shiv’ah’ which literally means ‘seven’.
Shiv’ah is the name of the Jews seven day long period of mourning a dead loved one.
Immediately after the burial of the dead person (which would happen right after their death due to the heat), the close relatives become ‘avel’ or in English a mourner. This lasts for the seven days after the burial and which the family gather together in one house and receive visitors together.
It is thought by Jews to be an amazing ‘mitzvah’ (an act of rebuilding a broken world) to visit the mourners. The visitor would arrive at the home with no greeting not even a hello would be given by either side. The visitor would just sit in the corner of the room and wait until the person was ready to speak. Just sitting there would indicate your support by just being in the room and having to do anything but just allow the full weight of the persons loss.
A biblical example of Shiv’ah is found in Job 2:11-13
“When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him (his family had died), they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was”.
They sat for 7 days and no one said a word, they just sat Shiv’ah.
When the visitor has finally the permission to speak they would often just simply say,
“Ha-makom yenachem et’chem b’toch she’ar avelei Tzion vi’Yerushlayim”,
Which literally means…
“May the omnipresent comfort you together with the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem”.
Once this has been said and only if it was appropriate the visitor would talk about the dead person, sharing stories about them.
This is called ‘Sitting Shiv’ah’
‘Sitting Shiv’ah’ is not meant to distract the mourner from their loss, but rather to let them experience their grief together with friends and family.
At the funeral, the Jewish mourners would traditionally tear their outer garment (keriah), which is not mended for the duration of the Shiv’ah week. Tearing the garment is about saying ‘this just is not fair, why did God allow this to happen?’
When the week is up, the time of Shiv’ah is over and it is time to worship and move on with life. It’s time to remember what they do have, and not what they don’t have.
It seams to me that God is always sitting Shiv’ah in all the crap we have in life. Its not just about mourning the dead but also about when we fight and fallout with people, when we are angry or even when we are lonely.
When people say where is your God now? And, ‘How can you believe in God when things like this happen?’ The truth is he is there Sitting Shiv’ah all the time and saying,
“I the omnipresent God is here comforting you together with the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem”.
God is there as a real presence.
Next time you sit in silence mourning, lonely or lost. Recognise that there is a God who is sitting in the room waiting to talk, waiting to share stories, waiting to bless you. And that he wants you to understand the full loss within this fragmented broken world, so that you may know how awesome his blessing is of piecing back together our fragmented broken hearts.