A Practical Guide to Paying a Shiva Call

By Lori Palatnik

When one pays a shiva call, the focus is on comforting the mourners in their time of greatest grief. Traditionally, one enters the shiva house quietly with a small knock so as not to startle those inside. No one needs to greet visitors; they simply enter on their own.

Food or drinks are not laid out for the visitors, because the mourners are not hosts. They do not greet the visitors, rise for them, or see them out.

When entering the house, you should not greet the mourners. In fact, it is best to come in silently and sit down close to them. Take your cue from the mourners. If they feel like speaking, let them indicate it by speaking first. Let them lead and talk about what they want to talk about. It is best to speak about the one who has passed away, and if you have any stories or memories to share with the mourner, this is the time to do so.

This is not a time to distract them from mourning. Out of nervousness, we often make small talk because we do not know what to say. Don’t fill in the time talking about happy subjects or inconsequential topics like politics or business.

Often, the best thing to say is nothing. A shiva call can sometimes be completely silent. If the mourner does not feel like talking at that time, so be it. Your goal is not to get them to talk; it is to comfort them. Your presence alone is doing that. By sitting there silently, you are saying more than words can. You are saying: “I am here for you. I feel your pain. There are no words.”

And sometimes there aren’t any. Here are examples of things not to say:

• “How are you?” (They’re not so good.)

• “I know how you feel.” (No you don’t. Each person feels a unique loss.)

• “At least she lived a long life.” (Longer would have been better.)

• “It’s good that you have other children,” or, “Don’t worry, you’ll have more.” (The loss of a child, no matter what age, is completely devastating.)

• “Cheer up – in a few months you’ll meet someone new.” (He/she has just lost the other half of their soul!)

• “Let’s talk about happy things.” (Maybe later.)

Remember that speaking about the loved one they lost is comforting. It’s alright if they cry; they are in mourning. It is all part of the important process of coming to grips with such a loss.

You should not overstay your visit. Twenty minutes will suffice. When other visitors arrive and space is a concern, it is certainly time to leave.

Before leaving, one stands up, approaches the mourner and recites, “HaMakom yenacheim etchem betoch sha’ar aveiliei Tzion v’Yerushalayim” — May the Almighty comfort you among those who mourn for Zion and Jerusalem. One can read this phrase from a sheet of paper.

Upon leaving the house of the mourner, it is customary to give charity in memory of the one who passed away, may his soul be elevated.

Originally printed on aish.com from Lori’s book, Remember My Soul.
See Lori’s video blog each week on aish.com: “Lori Almost Live”

In the Eye of the Beholder?

by Akiva of Mystical Paths

Recently I had a humorous post up on my blog about an interesting morning at the (mens) mikvah. For those who don’t regularly utilize a mens mikvah, let me say that the conditions are (often) equivalent to a busy gym locker room.

I was somewhat taken to task for putting up a post that discussed (humorously) these conditions. After all, mens and womens mikvah experiences are just not the same.

The men coming through are very business like, taking care of a holy _optional_ ritual with alacrity, quickly spiritually cleansing themselves for the start of their day. Like when one goes to the gym, men are not usually not put off by the … heavy use conditions. They’re in and out, and on to other things.

This is significantly different from a womens mikvah. Their experience is once a month, the community often invests significantly to make sure the womens mikvah is a very nice place, and the mikvah attendants clean the facilities after every single use. Further, as an obligatory mitzvah, the concept of hiddur mitzvah (enhancing the mitzvah by enhancing the facility) can be applied. And of course, many woman would not tolerate, and indeed would possibly (G-d forbid) not perform the mitzvah, if the sanitary conditions were not of a high level.

So when we discuss mens mikvah experience, we discuss stories such as the Baal Shem Tov taking a mikvah in a frozen river. We discuss thousands of men who do the same by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in Uman every erev Rosh Hashanah (where the river is not frozen that time of year, but is very cold and rather muddy, or so I’m told). We discuss the mikvah Ari in Tzfat (Safed), which bubbles out of the side of a mountain and has a chill that will take your breath away (and of which it’s said if you dip there, you won’t leave this world without doing teshuvah).

When we discuss womens mikvah experience, we discuss the beauty of the mitzvah and the facility to go with it. We discuss those who may travel far, very far, to the nearest kosher mikvah, and sacrifices to perform the mitzvah in it’s full beauty.

In the case of womens mikvah facilities, we have a halacha that a community must have a womens mikvah as a first priority, more important that a synagogue, even if one must sell the synagogue to build one. In the case of mens mikvah facilities, well, lets just say adequate is the rule, optional is the case, and it’s often late on the community’s list of things to get to.

Few men are put off by locker room conditions. You go, you change, if it’s not pretty you barely notice (same if it is), you get on to your workout. You finish, you shower off quickly, get dressed and get out. Neither the style of the tile nor a little mildew is going to affect you.

Few women would accept mens locker room conditions. And that’s ok, there’s nothing wrong with maintaining a higher standard, our ladies are worth it.

Some people get put off when you discuss some practical facts of Jewish observance. I think thats a bit sad. While we don’t focus on the fact that there’s a bunch of plumbing carrying away unwanted products in the bathroom, when that plumbing has problems we’re going to be faced with some unpleasantness. If we never discuss that it’s there at all, people are going to be ill equipped to deal with those occasional … back ups.