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How to Comfort a Mourner -- 8th Day of Pesach

Passover (seventh day) (Exodus 13:17-15:26 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING!  My mother, Devorah bas Yisroel David, passed away about three weeks ago from a massive stroke. She was close to 99. She and my father, may he live and be well, would have celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary this coming July.

My mom was the paradigm mom -- always home when we returned from school, made us take our vitamins, brush our teeth, do our homework,clean our rooms. She always gave us encouragement and unconditional love. She was a devoted wife. My siblings and I never heard our parents argue or raise their voice to each other!

Mom graduated UCLA with a degree in Physical Therapy and immediately joined the United States Army Medical Corp. She spent W.W.II in England helping to rehabilitate wounded soldiers.

Having gone through the Shiva (the first week of mourning following the burial when one stays at home, sits in a low chair, and neighbors, friends and community members come to be with you and provide a minyan to daven -- pray -- and say Kaddish) for the first time, I have some lessons that I learned to share with you.


  1. Don't ask how s/he died. It just makes the mourner relive the pain over again.
  2. Don't ask how old s/he was. Whatever the age, it's not old enough. Even if my mother lived close to 99, her long and full life does not take away or assuage the pain of her loss.
  3. Don't ask the mourner "How are you?" It is a seemingly innocuous and well-intended question, but there really is no answer to describe the swirl of emotions and feelings. When I would try to articulate an answer my throat would choke up and I'd just start to cry. It scares the heck out of the person who is just trying to give comfort! Sometimes just a hug (where appropriate) is enough.

The DO'S:

  1. Visit or call at appropriate times. Make sure that the mourner has meals for the Shiva.
  2. Do not try to distract the mourner from his loss with talk of politics, sports, etc. It is not a social gathering or a place to gather around food and shmooze.
  3. Wait until spoken to. It's enough that you are there. Your presence is in itself a comfort. The mourner is not alone. People care. People came.
  4. Once the mourner engages you in conversation ask meaningful questions -- "What is one trait of your mother that impacted your life?"  "Is there one story that comes to mind about your mom?" "Would you tell us about your mom?"
  5. Express your heartfelt words of comfort in a short simple sentence -- "My heart goes out to you."  "I am sorry for your loss." And the traditional, "May the Almighty (HaMakom) comfort you among all of the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem."

I'll end with a story about my mom. When I was about five she took me with her to the grocery store. In the cereal isle I saw boxes of Kellogg's Corn Flakes -- each with a little plastic bag containing marbles. I asked my mom to buy the Corn Flakes, but she refused.

Later in the afternoon my mom saw me playing with marbles. She asked me where I got them. When I told her, she grabbed up the marbles, grabbed up the bag and grabbed up me and drove right back to the grocery store. She took me into the General Manager's office, told him that I had stolen the marbles and wanted to return them and apologize. She made sure that the manager put the fear of God into me not to steal again! And ... today I am rabbi!


Torah Portion of the week

Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17; Numbers 28:19-26

This Shabbat has a special reading for the Eighth Day of Pesach. It includes the Second Tithe (the first tithe being taken for the Cohen and Levite) of one's crop which was to be eaten in Jerusalem; remission of loans in the Shemita year (the seventh year of a seven year cycle); take care of the destitute; the Jewish slave; the three pilgrimage festivals -- Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot -- where the Jewish people were commanded to go up to Jerusalem. The portion from the Book of Numbers deals with the mitzvot of the Pesach holiday.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"And you shall rejoice before the Lord, your God, you and your son, and your daughter and your servant and your maid, and the Levite that is within your gates, and the convert, and the orphan and the widow that are in your midst" (Deut. 16:11).

Rashi cites the Sifre which points out that in this verse we have a list of four members of a person's household: his son, his daughter, servant and maid. We also have four that are needy: the Levite, convert, orphan and widow. The Almighty says, "If you take care of My four, I will take care of your four." We learn from here that by helping the needy we merit that our needs are taken care of as well; the Almighty responds to us measure for measure.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states regarding helping the poor:

"You shall surely open your hand unto him and shall surely lend him sufficient for his need which he lacks" (Deut 15:8).

What are the details of this mitzvah, commandment?

We are told that we must give charity to a poor person. What if the person doesn't want to take it? Rashi, the great commentator, tells us to then give the person the money as a present or a loan.

It is a positive commandment to give charity to the needy with happiness and a good heart. The mitzvah of giving tzedakah (charity) does not only apply to giving aid to the poor. To aid a wealthy person when he needs assistance is also a fulfillment of the mitzvah of tzedakah. Furthermore, whenever you give pleasure to others, whether it be through money, food, or comforting words, you fulfill this mitzvah. The Rambam (Moshe Maimonedes) writes that he never saw or heard of a city in which there lived ten Jews that did not have a charity fund (Hilchos Matnos Aniyim 9:3).

The word the Sages used for charity is tzedakah, which literally means "righteousness" or "justice." This term illuminates the Torah's concept of charity. It is not merely a charitable act to give to the poor; it is the obligation of every single person to do the right thing, the just thing.


Candle Lighting Times

For Shabbat
(or go to

Jerusalem 6:35
Guatemala 6:00 - Hong Kong 6:30 - Honolulu 6:37
J'Burg 5:24 - London 7:57 - Los Angeles 7:15
Melbourne 5:22 - Mexico City 7:40 - Miami 7:31
New York 7:29 - Singapore 6:49 - Toronto 7:56

Quote of the Week

A good laugh and a long sleep are
the two best cures for anything
--  Irish proverb



With Deep Appreciation to

Joseph Wiesel

With Special Thanks to

Harvey Greenberg


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