Jewish Words of Comfort

Judaism helps provide the words to comfort mourners.

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God is at once the public God of the People Israel and also the God of persons, of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, as we recite in every religious service. The French Catholic philosopher Blaise Pas­cal, one of the keenest minds of the 17th century, had this phrase sewn into his coat lining--"I believe in the God of Abram, Isaac, and Jacob, not of the philosophers nor of the wise"--because it reflected his closest personal belief in a personal God and because he wanted to guarantee that it went wherever he went....

The Most Consoling Words

Probably the most consoling words I have ever heard are these: "Tell me what your loved one was really like." The dialogue between mourners and consolers during shiva is not designed to distract the bereaved but to encourage the mourner to speak of the deceasedof his or her quali­ties, hopes, even foiblesand, of course, not to criticize the dead who cannot respond. Far from recalling the anguish of the loss, it gives those who are bereaved the opportunity to recall memories and to express theft grief aloud.

Psychologists assure us that mourners specifically want to speak of their loss. Eric Lindemann, in his classic paper "The Symp­tomatology and Management of Acute Grief," writes, "There is no re­tardation of action and speech; quite to the contrary, there is a push of speech, especially when talking of the deceased."

Both the mourners' words and their tears should not be avoided or suppressed. For mourn­ers and for comforters, words truly make a difference. "Tell me what your loved one was really like" is a good beginning.

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Rabbi Maurice Lamm

Maurice Lamm is the author of many books, including The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning. He is the president of the National Institute for Jewish Hospice, and Professor at Yeshiva University's Rabbinical Seminary in New York, where he holds the chair in Professional Rabbinics. For years he served as rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation, Beverly Hills, CA.