MEANING IN MITZVOT by Rabbi Asher Meir
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.
Grieving is an important and positive part of mourning. For example, an important role of the eulogy is to stir up weeping among the listeners. We are commanded to acknowledge, not to minimize, the incalculabe loss we suffer by the passing of a relative.
At the same time, it is forbidden to grieve excessively. Such excess is considered not just unseemly but indeed ominous. “Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav, anyone who grieves excessively over the dead, is destined to weep over another. . . What is appropriate? Three days for weeping, seven days for eulogy, thirty days for unkempt clothes and hair. Anything beyond this, the Holy One blessed be He says, Don’t think that you are more compassionate than Me.” (Moed Katan 27a.)
It is important to note that there are a number of exceptions where excessive weeping is appropriate. Still, even the idea of rebuke for such weeping seems quite excessive, and may be hard for us to understand.
The sin of the spies was not a simple case of fearing war; the problem was that their grief and despair revealed a lack of faith in HaShem. There was an explicit Divine promise that the Jews who left Egypt would inherit the land. Likewise, while a period of weeping is desirable, a person may grieve so excessively that he shows a lack of faith in HaShem, denying His promise that ultimately all is for the good – that the departed will receive a just reward, and that ultimately return to life.
According to the Iyun Yaakov’s second explanation, the gemara is not referring to any kind of punishment. Rather, if someone weeps for an unusual amount of time, it may be because his spirit has a kind of inkling or premonition of a future misfortune. We infer that the mourner’s weeping is is no longer over the past misfortune but rather over an expected future one.
Rabbi Meir HAS JUST 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.