Comforting someone who has lost a relative is the gist of Nichum Aveilim. When attending a ceremony as sorrowful as the shiva, it is only appropriate that you accord such an occasion the thoughtfulness it deserves. You can enquire about the Nichum Aveilim service at Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah if you need to commiserate with a relative or friend.
Shiva: Formalized Mourning Period
Understanding shiva is crucial to know how the fulfillment of Nichum Aveilim comes about.
In Jewish culture, shiva is the period of mourning after the burial of the deceased. The word “shiva” means seven. Thus, it represents the seven-day mourning period after someone’s burial. Usually, the deceased’s family members sit on low stools as they receive condolences from other relatives, friends, and other community members. That’s where the expression “to sit shiva” originated. Shiva involves performing all the required traditional rituals like the Mourner’s Kaddish.
Ideally, people should sit shiva at the deceased’s house. However, circumstances may not always permit this. As such, people can sit shiva at a close relative of the deceased’s house or friend when necessary.
People not related to the deceased are welcome to share in the mourning occasion. While they may not weep with everyone else, they can still commiserate with the deceased’s relatives in other ways. For instance, they can avoid things like festive celebrations during this period or listen to joyful music.
What Does It Mean to Fulfill Nichum Aveilim?
Among the several rituals performed during shiva is Nichum Aveilim. This translates as “comforting mourners.”
Comforting the deceased’s family and relatives during shiva is the core principle of Nichum Aveilim.
Aveilum derives from the term “avel,” meaning to be cut off. This symbolizes the feelings of the relatives of the deceased during shiva; they feel cut off, isolated, or lonely. A crucial objective of Nichum Aveilim is to ensure that such individuals don’t feel lonely during their period of grief.
A mourner can visit a house where shiva is going on as soon as the burial of the deceased is completed. Though some sources cite the waiting for three days after burial, it is generally accepted to visit the house of shiva soon after burial to fulfill Nichum Aveilim.
From the moment one decides to visit a house where there is shiva, they are to observe certain rituals. For example, they are to wash their hands at a designated place just outside the house and dry them with towels before entry.
The avel (mourner) dictates most of what happens during the fulfillment of Nichum Aveilim. When a visitor walks into the house to pay their respects and offer comfort, they are not to speak to the avel unless spoken to first.
Mentally, the visitor has to come from a place of deep understanding and appreciation for the loss that the avel feels. Sometimes, the avel may just want to sit in silence and reminisce about the whole sorrowful event. The visiting mourner shouldn’t utter a word but rather just sit in the presence of the avel. The presence of the visitor is comforting enough. By silently being in the presence of the avel, the visitor tacitly acknowledges their loss while also offering a shoulder to cry on.
The avel can later choose to break the silence. This is when the visitor is allowed to speak. During such a conversation, both the visitor and the avel can swap stories about the deceased in a mournful but respectful way. Throughout this interaction, the avel leads. The visitor should always take cues as to how the to avel wants the interaction to proceed. For instance, the visitor may want to hug the avel as a sign of deep commiseration. If the avel is uncomfortable with such a display of affection, the visitor shouldn’t push it.
When leaving the house of shiva, the visitor faces the avel and other mourners and says, “Hamakom Yenachem.” Ideally, all the mourners should be seated on low stools.
Someone that goes through this process is said to have fulfilled Nichum Aveilim.
What Happens When You Can’t Visit During Shiva?
It’s not always possible to fulfill Nichum Aveilim during shiva. If you were away when the deceased passed on, you can still offer condolences and perform Nichum Aveilim. You simply follow the rituals and norms expected of a Nichum Aveilim as though you were at a shiva. The same rule applies if you have to use a phone or personal letter to express your condolences.
All in all, you can fulfill Nichum Aveilim post-shiva. However, seeking guidance from your rabbi or local synagogue can always clear up any misgivings you may have regarding the propriety of your actions regarding any aspect of Nichum Aveilim.