Comforting the Mourners

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Obligation

  1. There is a great mitzva to comfort mourners. [1]
  2. It is better to attend a mourner's house than a party.[2]
  3. It is better to comfort the mourner than to visit someone who is sick (Bikur Cholim).[3]
  4. Included in the mitzvah of comforting the mourner is just being present.[4] However, the mitzvah can also include speaking about the good deeds of the deceased.[5]

How to Comfort the Mourner

  1. It is crucial to remember that the reason for one's visit to the house of mourning is to comfort the mourner(s), and so one must be considerate to their wishes.[6]
  2. There are two components to comforting the mourner; one, easing the pain of the living relatives and two, showing a last honor to the deceased.[7] There's an additional productive aspect of going to the house of mourners; it reminds a person of the fragility of life.[8]
  3. Those coming to comfort the avel should not initiate conversation but should respond when the mourner begins to speak. [9]Just listening and enabling the mourner to relieve some of his pain by expressing his emotions is a form of comfort. [10]
  4. One should not say “What could you have done? You can’t change what Hashem decreed.” since this implies that if one were able to change what Hashem decreed, one would have, which is blasphemous. Rather one should accept Hashem’s decrees.[11]
  5. The mourner should not say I have not been punished according to my actions because it is forbidden to give the Satan an excuse to get involved.[12]

When Should one Visit?

First 3 Days

  1. Many poskim cite the practice not to visit during the first three days after the funeral.[13] However, others hold that this is an incorrect practice and one should even within the first three days.[14]

Night

  1. One may visit the mourners even during the night.[15] But one shouldn't go so late when the mourners need to sleep.[16]

Shabbat

  1. It is permitted to visit a mourner on Shabbat. However, one should not plan to visit a mourner specifically on Shabbat. [17]
  2. If one comforts a mourner on Shabbat one should say "Shabbat Hiy MeLeNachem VeNechama Krova Lavo" and some are lenient to say HaMakom Yinachamecha. [18]

Yom Tov

  1. If someone's relative dies on Yom Tov or Chol Hamoed according to Shulchan Aruch the community should perform nichum aveilum on Yom Tov and Chol Hamoed.[19] The Ashkenazic minhag is not to go to go to the house of the mourner on Shabbat or Yom Tov but the minhag is to comfort the mourner on Chol Hamoed, Rosh Chodesh, Chanuka, and Purim.[20]

Tisha B'av

  1. If one is going to make a shiva call on Tisha B'av, he should ideally do so after midday but if that is not possible he may go earlier.[21]

Over the Phone

  1. Many authorities hold if a person can go to the house of the mourner he should not exempt himself by calling on the phone. However, if a person can't make it to the mourner's house because of an illness or involvement in a mitzvah there is an obligation to fulfill what he can by calling on the telephone. [22] Similarly, some allow one who cannot visit to fulfill his obligation by sending a letter.[23]

Who Should Comfort the Mourner

  1. An enemy of the mourner shouldn't comfort the mourner so that people don’t think that he’s happy because of his downfall, however, he may be involved in escorting the funeral procession. [24]
  2. Men and women can be involved in comforting a women. If there are only women mourners men should go to comfort the mourner together with others or after the shiva minyan when many people are there.[25]
  3. It is good chinuch to bring one's children to visit a mourner for comfort.[26]

Sources

  1. Sotah 14a, Rambam Avel 14:1, Shulchan Aruch YD 376:1, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 207:1. Rambam Hilchot Avel 14:1 seems to hold that this mitzva is only rabbinic, although Rabbeinu Yonah to the beginning of the third chapter of Brachos indicates that one fulfills a mitzvah deoraisa by comforting a mourner.
  2. Kohelet 7:2, Aruch Hashulchan 403:8
  3. Rambam (Avel 14:7), Rama YD 335:10
  4. Moed Katan 21b, Chazon Ovadia (Aveilut v. 3 p. 69)
  5. Chazon Ovadia (Aveilut v. 3 p. 69)
  6. Cf. Sefer Ahavas Chessed 3:6 and Sh"t Teshuvos V'Hanhagos 3:378
  7. Rambam (Avel 14:7)
  8. Ketubot 72a, Rama YD 403:10
  9. Moed Katan 28b, Shulchan Aruch YD 376:1, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 207:1
  10. Yoma 75a
  11. Gemara Bava Kama 38a, Rama YD 376:2, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 207:4, Chazon Ovadia (Aveilut v. 3 p. 70)
  12. Rama YD 376:2, Chazon Ovadia (Aveilut v. 3 p. 71)
  13. This practice is mentioned in Gesher Hachaim vol. 1 page 209, Teshuvot Vihanhagot 4:274:9, Sefer Chesed Shel Emet pg. 415, Nitei Gavriel Aveilut vol. 1:Perek 86. The Gesher Hachaim writes that since this is just a minhag if there are extenuating circumstances one may certainly go during the first three days.
  14. Chazon Ovadia (Aveilut v. 3 p. 71) writes that it is a mistaken minhag not to visit the mourner during the first three days and one of his proofs if the Rambam Avel 13:2. Emes LiYaakov pg. 394 writes that the minhag in Lithuania was to allow visiting even on the first day. The Lubavitcher Rebbe (cited in Shaarei Halacha U'Minhag YD 137) is also lenient. See also Teshuvot Vihanhagot 3:377 and 4:274:9 who writes that since the majority of people who just go to show support (and only say "Hamakom Yenachem...") may go at any time.
  15. Gesher Hachaim vol. 1 page 209, Sh"t Yabea Omer vol. 10 pg. 299
  16. Chazon Ovadia (Aveilut v. 3 p. 73)
  17. Shulchan Aruch 287:1 writes that it's permitted to comfort a mourner on Shabbat. However, Mishna Brurah 287:1 points out that the Rabbis only permitted this with difficulty. Thus, says the Mishna Brurah, those who only comfort mourners on Shabbat are not acting correctly. Rabbi Mansour on Dailyhalacha.com says therefore one shouldn't specifically plan to visit on Shabbat. Gesher Hachaim 1:20:5:2 writes that the sephardic minhag is to go to the mourner's house for comforting on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Chazon Ovadia (Aveilut v. 3 p. 73) confirms this.
  18. Mishna Brurah 287:3. Chazon Ovadia (Aveilut v. 3 p. 74) has a slightly longer version "Shabbat Hiy MeLeNachem VeNechama Krova Lavo Vlo Tosifu Ldava Od" based on the Maharshal.
  19. Shulchan Aruch OC 548:6, Shulchan Aruch YD 399:2
  20. Gesher Hachaim 1:20:5:2
  21. Iggerot Moshe 5:20:22
    • Sh"t Igrot Moshe 4:40:11 writes there's two purposes of comforting the mourner. One is to comfort and speak to the living relatives who are very distressed. The other purpose is to show respect to the deceased. Comforting a mourner over the phone only fulfills the first purpose and even in that respect it's much better to go to the mourners house. Therefore, if a person can go to the house of the mourner he should not exempt himself by calling on the phone. However, if a person can't make it to the mourner's house because of an illness or involvement in a mitzvah there is an obligation to fulfill what he can by calling on the telephone. Rav Moshe also has a similar idea regarding visiting the sick (Bikur Cholim) in Sh"t Igrot Moshe 1:223. Minchat Yitzchak 2:84 agrees with Rav Moshe regarding Bikur Cholim. Bear Moshe 2:104, 106 and 7:2:58 agrees with Rav Moshe both regarding comforting mourners and visiting the sick. Chazon Ovadia (Aveilut v. 3 p. 65) agrees with Rav Moshe regarding comforting the mourner.
    • However, Rav Yitzchak Hutner (Pachad Yitzchak Igrot #33) writes that calling a sick person on the phone basically accomplishes the purpose of Bikur Cholim to investigate in a fellow Jew's situation and see how one can help, however, calling a mourner one doesn't fulfill the mitzvah properly because Nichum Aveilim is supposed to create a gathering of comforters to surround the mourner (see Ketubot 69b) and a phone doesn't accomplish that. See Peni Baruch 11:12 who quotes Sh"t Minchat David 72-3 who says that one shouldn't comfort mourners over the phone.
  22. Teshuvot Vihanhagot 2:587
  23. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 193:1
  24. Gesher Hachaim 1:20:5:1. Chazon Ovadia (Aveilut v. 3 p. 74) writes that when a man comforts a woman he should remain by the door and recite the phrase of Hamakom.
  25. Chazon Ovadia (Aveilut v. 3 p. 72) citing the Reshit Chachma