A wonderful family we know was trying to schedule shiva for this Sunday. But when I contacted a rabbi, I found out that it was Shavuot and he was not able to do it.
I confess (Jewish-style; I still feel guilty after) that my first thought was, “What the heck?” A grieving family is asking for help and we cannot schedule this because of a holiday that I (again, confession) cannot really, truly remember what it even celebrates?
I know that Judaism says that a person’s health trumps (ugh, that word) a religious obligation. Well, what about an emotional health need? Huh, God?
I am about to head to Temple Emunah for a Sisterhood dinner and talk with Tova Mirvis, who recently wrote a memoir. To oversimplify her book, it is about her leaving the Orthodox faith and her marriage and finding her way. The book resonated with me for many reasons, but not because I have ever left either of those things. We all struggle with finding our way, with feeling connected, with knowing what to hold onto and what to let go of.
“The Book of Separation: A Memoir” by Mirvis was a wonderful example of this journey of decisions and which parts of religion to keep in your life. And it made me realize that while the difficulty of finding a rabbi for a shiva that was originally scheduled for Shavuot was a pain, the rules and customs around shiva have comforted people for centuries. Maybe the reason they have been kept alive (bad pun) is because they are so regulated. Maybe if we just scheduled shivas whenever they were convenient, we would have stopped doing them by now.
When my mother died, I admit (two confessions per blog is plenty) that I saw hosting a shiva as a chance to gather friends and feel their support. And I did feel it and was grateful for it. When the rabbi began the Havdalah and Mourner’s Kaddish, the words, the tunes, resonated in a spiritual way that I would not have ever expected. I felt the customs and words travel down through the ages and felt connected to something bigger than just what I had lost.
Smashing a glass at a wedding, lifting the bar mitzvah boy in the chair, eating apples and honey, prizes for the afikomen, new outfits for the High Holidays, dressing up for Purim and, of course, Hanukkah latkes and gifts, are all fun and meaningful. Religion is a way to explain the world and help you navigate your way through a life cycle. I feel lucky to have it, inconveniences and all.
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