21 Nov 2019 Parshas Chayei Sara: Comforting the Mourner by Emulating G-d
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Chayei Sara, our righteous foremother, Sarah Imainu, dies at the age of one hundred and twenty seven years old – וַיִּהְיוּ חַיֵּי שָׂרָה, מֵאָה שָׁנָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְשֶׁבַע שָׁנִים–שְׁנֵי, חַיֵּי שָׂרָה. After much effort and negotiation by Avraham Avinu, and at a steep cost of four hundred silver shekels, she is buried in the Me’aras Ha’Machpela, in Chevron (Ch.23).
The Torah then narrates, in great and lengthy detail, the search for the next matriarch, and the shidduch for Yitzchak. Rivka is found worthy as an exemplary ba’alas chessed, and she becomes the second of our Imahos. וַיְבִאֶהָ יִצְחָק, הָאֹהֱלָה שָׂרָה אִמּוֹ, וַיִּקַּח אֶת-רִבְקָה וַתְּהִי-לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה, וַיֶּאֱהָבֶהָ; וַיִּנָּחֵם יִצְחָק, אַחֲרֵי אִמּוֹ – And Yitzchak brought her (Rivka) into the tent of Sarah his mother, and he took Rivka, and she was to him a wife, and he loved her, and Yitzchak was consoled after his mother (24:67).
And then, after the loss of Sarah, and the marriage of Yitzchak, Avraham marries Keturah (25:1 – who Rashi teaches was Hagar) and fathers more children with her.
And finally, the sun sets on the life of Avraham… At the age of one hundred and seventy five years old, the father of the Umah Yisraelis dies, and is buried in the Me’aras Ha’Machpela (25:7-10).
With the passing of Avraham, the Torah tells us: וַיְהִי, אַחֲרֵי מוֹת אַבְרָהָם, וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱלֹקים, אֶת-יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ; וַיֵּשֶׁב יִצְחָק, עִם-בְּאֵר לַחַי רֹאִי – and it was, after the death of Avraham, and Hashem blessed Yitzchak his son, and Yitzchak dwelt in Be’er Lechai Ro’i (25:11).
What did Hashem bless Yitzchak with, while he was mourning the passing of his father? Chazal (Sotah 14a) teach that Hashem came to Yitzchak to comfort the mourner.
The Gemara there asks: What is the meaning of the verse “After Hashem your G-d you shall go” (Devarim 13:5)? Is it possible for a person to go after the Divine Presence? And does it not say that Hashem your G-d is a consuming fire (ibid 4:24)?
If G-d is a Consuming Fire, how can we be commanded to go after Him?! One who goes after a Consuming Fire will surely be burned. How, then, can we fulfill the mitzvah of “going after G-d”?The Gemara answers: אלא להלך אחר מדותיו של הקב”ה – it means that we must emulate the middos, the character traits, the ways of G-d. Just as G-d clothes the unclothed, as He did for Adam and his wife after the first sin (Bereishis 3:21), so too, we must clothe the unclothed. Just as Hashem visits the sick, as He did for Avraham after his bris milah (ibid 18:1), so too, we must visit the sick.
הקב”ה ניחם אבלים דכתיב (בראשית כה, יא) ויהי אחרי מות אברהם ויברך אלקים את יצחק בנו, אף אתה נחם אבלים – the Holy One, blessed be He, comforts the mourners, as it says: “And it was after the death of Avraham, and Hashem blessed Yitzchak his son,” so too, we must comfort the mourners. And just as G-d buries the dead, as He buried Moshe (Devarim 34:6), so too, we must bury the dead.
Comments Rashi on the Gemara: ויברך אלקים את יצחק – ניחמו על אביו וברכו ברכת אבלים – And Elokim blessed Yitzchak: He comforted him over his father and Blessed him with the blessing with which one blesses mourners.
Comforting the mourners is not only a mitzvah in its own right, it is also an emulation of the ways of G-d. Should the mitzvah present itself to us, let us be cognizant that Hashem blessed Yitzchak by comforting him over his father – and it is for us to emulate His holy ways.
R’ Henoch Plotnik recently wrote (8.7.19), “As many of us can attest, the atmosphere in a beis avel (house of a mourner) can be very uncomfortable and awkward. If the mourner is reticent, we tend to stumble over ourselves to make conversation, which often leads us to topics that have no connection to the niftar (deceased) or the aveilus (mourning) at all. I recall being menachem avel one of my rebbeim on a hot Yerushalayim day when a prominent talmid chacham entered to offer his condolences. This distinguished guest, who was himself in failing health, stayed for a mere few minutes and promptly left. I remained for quite some time, and when I eventually made my way out and headed for the bus stop, I came across this talmid chacham outside, waiting for a bus in the stifling heat. Since he was no stranger to me, I had the chutzpah to ask him why he had so quickly left the air-conditioned apartment to wait in the heat, especially given his fragility and declining health. (Indeed, he was niftar [passed away] during that year and I was able to share this incident with his almanah [widow].)
“His answer made an indelible impression on me, which has lasted nearly four decades. “I needed to come to be menachem avel out of hakaras hatov (gratitude), as your rebbi was of great help to me when I was seeking proper medical attention. But you heard yourself how the conversation was going — people were exchanging stories about gedolim that had no pertinence to the niftar. I had nothing more to stay for.”
“Although it is certainly natural for even gedolei Torah to converse about such topics in a setting where limud haTorah (Torah study) is off-limits, and if the avel chooses to steer the conversation in another direction, it is his prerogative and should be respected, to this adam gadol (great man) the irrelevant topic of conversation was a sign that it was time to leave. Nichum aveilim is nichum aveilim and his mitzvah had concluded” (https://mishpacha.com/thoughts-on-shivah/).
May we always be busy with times of simcha and joyful mitzvos. However, should we be faced with a mourner in need of comfort, let us be sure we actually comfort the mourner in ways that are kind, appropriate, validating, comforting, and thoughtful. And if, in fact, we find that we have nothing to say, it is always better to err on the side of caution, and say nothing; וַיִּדֹּם, אַהֲרֹן.
בברכת שמחות, בשורות טובות, ושבת שלום,