The Torah forbids various forms of mourning that were prevalent among the non-Jewish nations. One of the reasons that these were forbidden is they were too excessive, ascribing a sense of permanency to death, when in truth, we know that the person’s soul continues to exist and lives in the Next World. The Rabbis also criticize excessive mourning even when forbidden acts of mourning – such as cutting one’s skin – are not performed. The Talmud1 tells us of a woman who had seven sons and one passed away. She was extremely distraught and mourned for a long time. Rav Huna warned her that she should not mourn so much. The woman continued, and soon after she lost her remaining sons as well, a punishment for excessive mourning.
The Talmud continues to outline the mourning process. In stages, the intensity of the mourning is reduced. The mourning period varies as to the relationship between the deceased and their relative: A person mourns for twelve months for a parent, but only one month for a child, wife or sibling. Rabbi Ozer Alport recounts that when Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik was sitting shiva for his wife he was visited by Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner and Rabbi Pinchas Teitz. The question arose as to why is the mourning period for the more natural and frequent loss of a parent longer than that for the unnatural and seemingly more traumatic loss of a child? Each Rabbi offered a different perspective on this question. See the Dvar Torah of Rabbi Ozer Alport for the outline of their answers.
Rabbi Binyamin Rubin offers a different answer based on the Talmud2 that tells us that the Mitzva of honoring one’s parents applies both during one’s parents’ lives and after they have passed on to the Next World. Accordingly, the extended mourning period is a way of honoring the parent for a longer time, something which again does not apply to other relatives.
This answer teaches there is something extra special in the relationship between a person and his parents3. The lengthy mourning process enables a person to continue honoring the memory of his parent, appreciating the irreplaceable loss, learning from their example, and to recognize their line in the chain of connection back to the Giving of the Torah.
By Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen
- Moed Kattan, 27b.
- Kiddushin, 31b.
- The exception to this is the explanation of Rav Soloveitchik, because he stressed that the natural pain one has for losing a parent is not as great as for losing a child, and therefore there is less concern of excessive mourning.
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