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.
When Sarah passes away, we learn that Avraham came “to eulogize her and to weep over her” (Bereshit 23:2). Indeed,our Tradition considers it a great mitzva to eulogize the departed properly (SAYD 344). The particulars of this obligation impart many instructive lessons.
STIRRING UP GRIEF
Those present at the funeral are called upon to weep. “Anyone who cries over a decent person, all his sins are forgiven”. These tears are so precious that the Holy One blessed be He counts each tear and puts it aside in His treasury (Shabbat 105b).
We have explained before that the essence of joy is unity, breaking down the barriers between people. Conversely, the essence of grief is separation, and there is no separation so great and final as death. By calling for a eulogy which causes weeping, the halakha encourage us to acknowledge the tragedy of separation engendered by a loved one’s passage from this world to the next.
One explanation is that we seldom find the opportunities to properly express our best traits. The eulogizer’s praises reflect how the departed would have acted had he had the proper opportunities. (Taz YD 344:1.)
DIGNITY OF THE DEAD
But the eulogy is considered exclusively the honor of the dead. Only his acts are being measured and praised, and a person may decide that he doesn’t want this honor, or is unworthy of it (Sanhedrin 46b, SA YD 344:10). Indeed, there are many instances of great scholars who asked that no eulogy be said at their funeral. (In this case, it is usual to say praises of the scholar in an oblique way or at a stage of the proceedings where it is not technically considered a eulogy.)
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.