AY - Lesson 20 - Consoling Mourners - Nichum Aveilim

The crux of the mitzva is to comfort them in their pain, to offer them emotional support, and to say comforting words that will relieve their worries and ease their pain.




We are striving to love our fellow Jews by improving the way we interact with others.


Last week’s Stretch of the Week:  Visit a sick person this week.  Remember to care for this person’s physical and emotional needs as well as pray for their complete recovery.

Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.


Lesson #20

Consoling Mourners

(Nichum Aveilim)

One way to emulate our Creator is to make every effort to console mourners after the loss of a close relative. If we were in the position of the mourner we would certainly want others to comfort us, therefore, by consoling someone who has experienced a loss we also honor the commandment to treat others as we wish to be treated.

The primary goal of consoling mourners is to comfort them in their pain and to offer them emotional support. Even if the deceased person did not leave any living relatives who could sit shiva, some opinions say that ten people should do so in the home of the departed and that people should gather there to honor him.  When possible, a group of ten men should gather to pray in the shiva house during the week of mourning.

If someone is unable to come to the house of mourning, due to illness or other difficulty, he can console the mourner via telephone.  However, this is not a complete fulfillment of the mitzvah, which can be accomplished only by actually visiting the shiva house.

If the purpose of consoling a mourner is to alleviate his pain, the act of doing so should be performed in a way that does not aggravate his discomfort.  This pertains to when we arrive, how long we should stay and what we should say, or refrain from saying, during our visit.

(Excerpts from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rabbi Yitzchok Silver)



Story: (based on a true story)

I feel uncomfortable around overly emotional and passionate personalities.  It is quite possible that, because I am rather reserved, anyone who displays feelings is overemotional in my mind.  When others start to cry when I am talking to them, I feel like crawling under a rock.  I don’t know how to handle their intensity.  It starts with an awkward feeling in my stomach, and then triggers a feeling of guilt over my lack of deep emotions. Finally, I am left with embarrassment.  Since I often struggle in these situations, I try at all costs to avoid them.

Unfortunately, my dear friend Rachel’s mother had been diagnosed with a very virulent form of cancer at a young age.  It was a shock to all those who knew her as a young and healthy woman.  Over what seemed a short time, despite all medical intervention and heartfelt prayers she passed away.  To say that my friend was distraught would be a gross understatement.  Throughout her mother’s illness, I stood by Rachel’s side, but struggled with the intense emotions of those around me.

When my phone rang at 5:30 in the morning, I knew something wasn’t right.  I picked up the phone to hysterical crying.  It was then that Rachel told me the news and asked if I could arrange help for the children.  I immediately planned what had to get taken care of for the day.  After my children awakened, I explained what had happened, sent them off to school and went to the funeral home.  After the funeral, I decided to go home, take care of some arrangements for my family and go straight to the shiva house.  

As I tackled various chores that had been ignored around my house the past few days, I started feeling a little shaky.  I had always busied myself with details, like cooking or carpooling for Rachel but I realized that she would need something else from me now.  Although she would need help with childcare and other necessities, she would need me to be emotionally available.  She needed a listening ear, a caring heart and someone to feel her pain.  As soon as this hit me, that gnawing sensation in my stomach returned.  I started feeling so uncomfortable, afraid that I would not know what to say or how to comfort her.

As I sat at my kitchen table my fears and doubts ran rampant but something inside me told me to go and I’d figure out what to do.

As I approached the living room where Rachel was sitting with her two sisters, I saw her look up at me.  As if a release valve was pushed the moment she noticed my presence, she stood up, hugged me and cried bitter tears on my shoulders.  I held her but did not and could not say a word.  I was at such a loss for the right words.  Rachel looked at me, as if she knew exactly what was on my mind and said “You don’t need to say a word.  Your being here is all that I need right now.  I can’t thank you enough for your friendship and caring.” 

I realized that she didn’t need me to say anything.  My friend knew I was there, that I cared, and that I was available.  Rachel understood my empathy for her which provided comfort without me saying a word.

I often feel uncomfortable in situations that warrant emotional responses but I have come to realize that my focus needs to be on showing the other person that I’m simply present and empathetic.  Through my experience with Rachel, I learned that just being there is what’s truly important.


Discussion Question Options:

How might the writer have felt if she had decided to wait a few days before visiting her friend? Would it have been easier or more difficult for her to provide support in the manner she chose based on her fears regarding how to handle the situation?

To what extreme will people go to avoid discomfort?

What motivates people to do the right thing even when it is difficult?

Stretch of the Week:

Choose one act of loving your fellow Jew (ahavas Yisrael) that you may have procrastinated in performing and commit to doing it this week.






Stretch Of The Week