God is always by my side

By Rabbi Haviva Horvitz, Temple Beth Sholom, Middletown

Approximately one month prior to the deadline for this article, my husband, Ely David Spiegel, passed away of pancreatic cancer.

In an effort to bring me comfort, a number of well-meaning friends tried to reassure me that “God only gives us what we can handle.” Although their intention was heartfelt, those words did not sit well with me. I do not, and cannot, believe in a God, an Almighty Being, who would intentionally make us suffer.

Shortly before the funeral, I was reminded that one does not study Torah during the seven days of shiva. The idea is that the study of Torah brings one pleasure, and this is not a time for pleasure, but rather a time to allow oneself to mourn and to grieve.

As is typical within Judaism, there is an understanding that some people have a need to study, and shiva is not intended to be a time of discomfort, especially caused by a lack of study.

Therefore it is permitted, possibly even encouraged, to study the Book of Job.

Simply put, the book of Job is a story about a wealthy man named Job who lives in the land of Uz with his large family and extensive flocks. He is blameless and upright, always careful to avoid doing evil. One day, Satan appears before God in Heaven and challenges Job’s faith. The book explores Job’s journey through immense suffering, his interactions with friends who attempt to offer explanations, and his eventual encounter with the Almighty.

Despite his trials, Job maintained his faith but questioned the nature of suffering and Divine justice. The study of this book during shiva is permissible because it can help the mourner find comfort. Job’s experiences resonate with mourners who grapple with grief, pain, and existential questions. His story provides solace and companionship to those in mourning.

Like the Book of Job, the Book of Lamentations, which mourns the destruction of the Temple, and parts of the Book of Jeremiah that foretell doom, can be studied during shiva.

While one might think that reading these would only encourage depression, these texts — expressing anguish and sorrow — allow mourners to connect with and work through their own emotions.

The narrative of Job also serves as one of the sources for the laws of mourning and bereavement. In Chapter 1, Verse 20, it states: “And Job stood up and rent his robe.” This leads us to the practice of kriah, where a mourner rends his garment while in an upright position at the most acute moment of mourning.

In addition, we learn that while in the presence of a mourner, it is appropriate to remain silent until the mourner opens the conversation. This practice is demonstrated by Job, as the verse (3:1) states: “Job then opened his mouth,” implying that he was the first to speak.

The familiar phrase from Job Chapter 1, Verse 21: “The Lord gave, and the Lord took; may the name of the Lord be blessed,” is frequently used as a part of the funeral service. We learn that although we do not necessarily understand the reasons, we are to trust that the Almighty does what is best.

Personally, I have found that observing the full seven days of shiva, followed by a total of 30 days for shloshim, has helped me grieve and then slowly reenter reality.

While I respect the efforts of my friends and appreciate their attempts at giving me strength and support, I believe that rather than giving me what I can handle, the Almighty helps me handle what I have been given. I am not alone; but rather, God is always by my side.

As it says in Psalm 23: “…He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in straight paths for his Name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou are with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; Thou has anointed my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

May the Source of peace send peace to all who mourn, and comfort to all who are bereaved. Amen.

To read the complete May 2024 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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