Multifaceted Mourning – Parshat Devarim

The word mourning usually conjures up sadness, grief, depression, loneliness and other feelings which are unpleasant (I don’t like to call feelings 'bad' – but that’s for another blog). The period of mourning also brings up memories. Those memories will be pleasant, bitter, bittersweet or even neutral. Each period of mourning will be different for different people – even within the same family or environs. Mourning is usually thought of in the personal sense. (Weird how disjointed this paragraph feels.)

There is public mourning as well. National and communal tragedies, which seem to be becoming more prevalent, are often followed by a period of shared mourning. People talk about what happened, flags are at half-mast, speeches are made, psychologists visit with those affected, etc. After all, the tragedy was felt by many.

On Shabbat, however, there is no public display of mourning - personal or communal. Usually. It is not quite appropriate.* Yet there are times when there is public mourning on Shabbat, for instance on this Shabbat, Shabbat Chazon. Parshat Devarim, which is read every year on Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat before Tisha B'av, is accompanied by certain mournful tunes used during the Ashkenazi davenning and reading of the Torah to help prepare us for the upcoming mournful day.1 It is not just to remind us of the laws regarding the upcoming fast day but also to help prepare emotionally for the experience of Tisha B'av. Mourning for a temple destroyed 1950 years ago requires some help to refocus not only on the tragedy which led to the Roman exile but on how to improve individually and societally and be worthy of a new temple.

However, personal, quiet, hidden mourning, is permitted on Shabbat. In a sense, these feelings cannot be avoided and, so, are not forbidden. Those memories or feelings discussed above are not entirely under control. And so, the laws of personal mourning apply on Shabbat as well. Our past, describes Dr. Viktor Frankl, founder of logotherapy, is a granary, a storage place of memories.3 Memories, then are always there. Always a part of us. Hard-wired in. They are ours.

On a personal note, having finished the 12-month period of mourning for my mother z"l this week, I have tried to make sense of the different experiences, sensations and feelings I had over the past year regarding my mother. Often the memories of my mother were nostalgic, pleasant memories. Others were less pleasant. Some came out of nowhere and some i struggled to recall. So, I figured, I generally wouldn't try to make sense of them or judge them but I would try to note them. 

In addition to the memories, though, I also experienced a longing. Despite the baggage I had regarding my mother (I may be the only one in the world with baggage about parents, right?), there was also a longing and a wish to reconnect. Remembering the difficulties and challenges that she suffered through and the strengths she called upon to deal with them helps me understand her better and appreciate who she was. And at certain times even have a sense a longing to see her again.

May my mother's memory be blessed.


*For further discussion on public mourning on Shabbat , see Yoreh Deah, 400:1

  1. The tune of the lament "Eli Tzion" is often used for "Lecha Dodi"; the tune of Eichah is used to read Devarim 1:12; the tune of Eichah is also used for the reading of most of the Haftarah.
  2. Har'rei Kedem, Volume 2 chapter 136
  3. Will to Meaning – p. 120

Have A Great Shabbat!laughing

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