How much mourning is enough?

By Rabbi David Fine, Temple Beth Or | Aug 31, 2011

For the worship column this week, we are re-publishing a previously written column from 1997 by Rabbi David Fine. Enjoy! –Ed.

    We’ve all experienced the urge to tell someone else that they’re crying too much, that whatever their loss. it’s time to move on.

    In those situations, we feel we know when enough is enough.

    For whatever reason, we assume our emotions are correct and are sufficient for dictating to others how they should feel.

    However, with deeper reflection, it should come as no surprise to us that each one of us has a range of feelings, sensations and knowledge that is unique to the individual – as different as the whorls and ridges on our fingertips.

    It’s therefore appropriate that each one of us uniquely, for ourselves only, decide when enough is enough.

    When a loved one dies, some save their tears for private moments while others wet the soil at the gravesite.

    Some of us become virtually incapacitated for days on end in reaction to a loss while others choose to remain active while mourning.

    Each of us reacts in our own way to death and loss. Our need to grieve and express that emotion is based primarily on our personality and past experiences.

    Jewish tradition tries to teach the individual when enough is enough by allowing for deep mourning for one week, less intense mourning for 30 days, then a lighter period of mourning for a year following the death of a family member.

    It is striking then, that in Judaism there is a national day of mourning that has been observed for centuries. It is known as Tisha B’Av.

    On this day Jews mark losses incurred as a nation and as a people.

    Tisha B’Av day recalls the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE, the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70, the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 and more recently, the death of four Israeli athletes at the Olympic games in Munich, Germany, in 1972.

    Some may say that enough is enough, that it is time to cease this mourning for institutions long gone. There may be merit in that argument.

    On the other hand, the truth is Tisha B’Av, this day of mourning, has kept essential memories alive.

    Though some, especially those living in apparent safety and security in the United States, may view this remembering as unnecessary or superfluous, the reality is that Tisha B’Av – and other traditions of communal grieving – helps keep Judaism alive as a family, a people and a nation.

    The situation for individuals is not necessarily any different. We each need to set aside moments to mourn long after circumstances have changed, to retain, maintain and build upon our unique identity.

    This does not prevent us from living our lives, but rather enhances the richness of those lives. In this way, we can acknowledge the shoulders upon which we view the world.

    Each of us needs to be allowed to mourn at our own pace, in our own way. The words of Ecclesiastes reminds us of that.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die.

A time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted.

A time to break down, and a time to build up.

A time to weep and a time to laugh.
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together.
A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.
A time to seek and a time to lose.
A time to keep and a time to cast away.
A time to rend and a time to sew.
A time to keep silence and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.”
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).


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