December 21st, 2018
No, this essay is not about Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction.
This is about “shiva”, the Jewish mourning ritual. A friend from the synagogue lost his father this week, shiva was incorporated into Mincha/Maariv service at the shul yesterday evening. The prayer service also marked the beginning of Shabbat.
Be advised that I am not Jewish, and that, even after nine years of participating in various services at the synagogue, there are many things that I do not understand. That being the case, if I say something in this post which is glaringly wrong, please forgive me. Better yet, take the time to correct me.
I have been to Mincha in past, but it still sometimes difficult for me to follow along. Last night there seemed to be more than the usual amount of unexpected page-turning in the siddur (prayer book). There were also an unusually large number of people in the synagogue. It’s not often that the place fills up. This time there was no problem finding ten men to form a minyan.
The service started when Larry, the man whose father died, arrived on the scene. He was welcomed by the other members of the congregation. The rabbi spoke about Larry’s father, and he commented that life is a cycle of sadness and joy. Each of us grieves and rejoices at different times. The rabbi pointed out that Larry is now mourning. Then he looked at me and said,
“Frank, a friend of the synagogue, is here. He just became a grandfather. You have a grandson. When was the child born?”
I replied, “Yesterday.”
“So, Frank is rejoicing in his new grandson. Even in the midst of sadness, God brings good things.”
Then the rabbi explained a particular custom that they follow when somebody who is sitting shiva attends Mincha. There are a series of psalms read during Mincha, all of which have a joyful tone. Just prior to the reading of these psalms, the mourner is asked to leave the congregation for a brief time. It is not that he or she is being thrown out. It is more that the other congregants are aware that the person is grieving, and that this individual cannot, at that moment, fully participate in the joy found in these psalms. Once the psalms are finished, the mourner is asked to return and rejoin his friends.
Larry left the room for a bit while the psalms were read. Upon his return, the rabbi explained a bit more about what had transpired. The rabbi said,
“There were a series of six psalms, most of them attributed to David the King. However, there was one psalm that came from the Sons of Korah (Korach). Now, we know from the Torah that Korah rebelled against Moses. God was angered by this, and Korah and his followers were swallowed up by the earth. So, why do we read a psalm from the sons of a rebel? The Sons of Korah survived and lived lives of righteousness. They got something from their father that made them righteous.
When Korah met God, I suspect that God told him, ‘You really screwed up!’, but then He may have also added, ‘But your kids turned out okay.’ The point is that it’s not just our actions that make a difference in this world. It is also the legacy that we leave.
Look at the legacy of Larry’s father, Ron. Here we all are: davoning (praying), singing, and being here together for Larry. This is a beautiful legacy! This is what Ron has left behind for us.”
During the rest of the service, Larry was able to recite the Mourners Kaddish. That was a comfort to him, and probably to everyone else. It’s a beautiful prayer. It comes from the heart.
There is a power and peace that come when friends pray together. Souls are united. Wounds are healed.
I am glad that was there.