Each week we discuss one familiar halakhic practice and try to show its beauty and meaning. The columns are based on Rabbi Meir's commentary Meaning in Mitzvot on Kitzur Shulchan Arukh.
Part of the special recitation made on disposing of all tithes is “I did not eat any [maaser sheni] in my aninut” (Devarim 26:14). This verse is one of the main Torah sources for the special status of aninut, the period between the death of a close relative and the time when his or her burial has been completely taken care of (Tur YD 398). Let us examine the special character of this unique period.
The ordinary rules of mourning begin when the body is buried. Until that time, everything surrounding the death is in a state of dislocation; but when the body is returned to its place of origin in the earth then the entire process of reconciliation begins:
At burial, the body of the departed begins to be absorbed and accepted by the earth, and so finds rest in its place of origin. The soul is completely freed from the body, which is now completely hidden and is in no way suited to be the abode of the soul, and so may begin its journey into the world of souls, to be judged and receive its appropriate reward in the next world. And the mourners have completed their practical obligations towards the deceased, and through the act of burial demonstrate that they have completely reconciled themselves to the passing of their relatives.
Before the burial, the relatives do not yet begin to mourn but rather are in a special state known as “aninut”. At this time the mourner is preoccupied with the burial; eating meat and drinking wine is forbidden, and the mourner is exempt from all positive mitzvot. Even if he or she wants to, the onen may not pray, say blessings, and so on. Two complementary explanations are given for this status in the legal works.
HONOR OF THE DECEASED
OCCUPIED WITH A MITZVA
Even if the second mitzva seems to be more important, it can’t displace the first one (with rare exceptions). “Be as careful with a light mitzva as with a grave one; for it is impossible to know the reward for each mitzva”. (Avot 2:1.)
For this reason any person who is guarding a dead body (which is never left alone – YD 339:4) is exempt from regular prayers – even if he or she is not a family member. (SA YD 341:6.)
WHICH REASON IS PRIMARY?
Rabbi Meir has recently completed writing a monumental companion to Kitzur Shulchan Aruch which beautifully presents the meanings in our mitzvot and halacha.
Rabbi Meir authors a popular weekly on-line Q&A column, "The Jewish Ethicist", which gives Jewish guidance on everyday ethical dilemmas in the workplace. The column is a joint project of the JCT Center for Business Ethics, Jerusalem College of Technology - Machon Lev; and Aish HaTorah. You can see the Jewish Ethicist, and submit your own questions, at www.jewishethicist.com or at www.aish.com.