For most of us, the loss of a loved one drives us into a place of emotional pain, deep reflection and a tremendous sense of loss. We all deal with death differently, but we know that the comfort we receive from family, friends and the community at large goes a long way in healing our pain.
This week's Torah portion, Chukat, describes the death of Aaron, the High Priest and brother of Moses and Miriam. Upon his death, the Torah tells us that "all the house of Israel bewailed Aaron thirty days" (Numbers 20:29). This is one of our earliest references to how the Jewish community responds to the loss of a cherished member. Our traditions have since evolved, providing us with a beautiful set of rituals that demand we surround mourners with comfort and support to combat their sense of isolation and loss.
The practice of shiva (seven days of intense mourning) is something most Jews experience regardless of their level of observance or connection to the Jewish community. At a recent gathering of Federation volunteers and staff, participants were asked to share one life event that had brought them closer to their Jewish identity and the community. Almost universally, participants described sitting shiva for a loved one or making a shiva call to support a mourner.
What is so special about shiva? Perhaps it's the collective expression of caring, support and love we show one another at a time of despair. Perhaps it's the act of joining others who share our beliefs and traditions for an intimate ritual that marks a major event in any family or community.
Great things can grow from the shiva experience. One young Jewish man was touched so deeply by sitting shiva that, although he had been raised with no connection to the faith or the community, he committed himself to rediscover his Jewish roots.
We never know what will touch and inspire us. When our hearts become open, our minds are free to weave our experiences and emotions into a new story that more closely mirrors our inner soul. These life-changing moments can move us from loss and bereavement to a new vision of our individual and collective future.
May this Shabbat bring you a "new morning" filled with brightness, warmth and hope.
President and CEO