A personal tragedy which befalls a member of a community is tantamount to a communal tragedy. The traditional blessing of consolation offered to mourners is comprised of the statement “May the L-rd comfort you, along with all who mourn for Zion and Jerusalem.”
The destruction of Jerusalem, nearly 2,000 years ago, was mourned by all of Israel equally. And, today, the entire Jewish nation still yearns for the rebuilding of our holiest site and the reunification of our people.
When offering condolences to a grieving friend, we convey our feelings of shared grief; just as when the Temple was destroyed all of the people mourned equally, and everyone hoped for a better day.
But, in addition to simply sharing in our fellow’s pain, and the constant reminder that the community cries along with them, we must not lose sight of what tradition believes about the life after life.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, was once approached by a father whose only child had suddenly passed away. The man cried to the Rebbe, saying that he felt that his life was now purposeless, and that he took no comfort in any of his earthly belongings.
The Rebbe asked him to consider the following scenario. Imagine your son had traveled overseas and he had absolutely no way of communicating with you. The only thing you can do for him is send care packages every so often. Would you be content knowing that your son is happy with his current situation?
Of course, responded the father. While it isn’t ideal, as long as I know that my son is happy and I can make his life easier, I would be satisfied.
Jewish tradition enumerates various activities one can do for a departed loved one. Whether it is reciting specific prayers, or performing a Mitzvah in their memory, we are given the opportunity to send packages and impart that we care for them. It is also a reminder to ourselves, that although a family member has passed on, our relationship has not ended.
How much more so – considering that a personal tragedy is in fact communal – when the community comes together and performs Mitzvahs and good deeds in one’s memory. We all show that we care. And, better yet, in their current “life,” they appreciate the “packages” we send them, as it keeps them going as well.
But, ultimately, we hope and pray for the day when there will no longer be reason to grieve; a time when the world will be utterly and obviously good.