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Monday, October 29, 2007

Aveilus Hiatus

I haven't posted here recently; my priorities were reorganized on the morning of the first day of Rosh Hashanna. My father's caregiver called me on the phone to tell me that my father was not breathing and not moving. I hurried down the street and found that my father zichrono livracha had just passed away in his sleep. As it happens, my father's chavrusa from Slabodkeh/Litteh, with whom he learned for 14 years straight day and night, was hospitalized, comatose, on the same day in Israel, and passed away four weeks later.

Writing chiddushim requires the ability to arouse and enjoy the creative faculty. Currently, my focus is overwhelmed by a sense of inadequacy to fill the shoes of a man who achieved world-level gadlus in limud haTorah, in harbotzas Torah, in gemillus chasadim, and in business. Being chometz ben yayin is not easy; a dissolute and solipsistic lifestyle provides some comfort, but sometimes even that is not enough.

I have said some chiddushim, though. One is an observation. I realized what Chazal meant when they said that one who is makir tov le'chaveiro, nafsho hu chayav lo, (true gratitude creates an indebtedness of the soul). This means that the feeling of gratitude, no matter how deeply felt, is not enough. True gratitude means that you change yourself so that you can emulate your benefactor and carry forth his good works. This is easier said than done; but if you don't, then you shouldn't fool yourself into thinking that you are a makir tov at all.

And this is a kashe. The Gemora in Kesuvos says that a chosson or kallah that becomes an aveil have the halacha of any aveil on Yomtov or Shabbos, since their days of Sheva Brachos have the status of yomtov for them. An aveil on yomtov may not show and signs of mourning in public, but must continue to observe the mourning restrictions in private. Here, too, the aveil may not act in a manner that is inconsistent with simcha when in public, but continue his aveilus when alone with the new spouse. This is very difficult to understand; the restriction on public mourning during a holiday make sense where an individual's public mourning would contradict and intefere with the joy of the community. Here, the community has no yomtov; it is yomtov only for the aveil and the spouse. So who cares if he is noheig aveilus in public?

And here's something that puzzles me:
The reason a person who loses a parent is an aveil for an entire year, whereas other losses create aveilus for only one month, is because of kibbud ahv, not because it is necessarily more tragic or hurtful than other losses. So, rabbi, how would you respond to this question:
1. A man was offered the opportunity to speak in honor of his father at a dinner.

2. This man is a gifted speaker and scholar, with an stately and impressive mien. His speech would surely bring great honor to his late father.

2. But he would not be able to speak without a black hat, that being the nature of the dinner.

3. He does not own a presentable hat, perhaps no hat at all.

4. He cannot buy a new hat, because he is an aveil.

5. He cannot even ask someone else to buy and wear it for a while because he has a freakishly large head (commensurate with his IQ), and a hat that would fit him would sink to the shoulders of almost anyone else.

This simple baalabos (me) would respond that his dinei aveilus stem from kibbud ahv; to think that his dinei aveilus could in any way or means interfere with his ability to show kibbud ahv is, to this simple mind, absurd, and therefore he should buy the damn hat and speak at the dinner. It seems pretty obvious to me that the passive and relatively trivial kibud ahv of 'not buying new clothing' does not compare to the positive and highly meaningful kibud ahv the speech would bring. But what do I know? I'm sure this is far complicated than I realize, and my opinion is full of holes. Yes indeed, 'tis a gift to be simple.


David Guttmann said...

Hamokom Yenachemchem.

We missed your insights.

Anonymous said...

If he doesn't own a hat and he is intellectually honest why should he don one for the dinner. Unlikely that in a comparable situation the speaker would wear a srugy. If he has an older hat then it's efsher lkayem shnehem. He could even use the opportunity to make an opening coment (or perhaps a lite comment as an ice breaker)

BARZILAI said...

Because we learn from the malachim that visited Avraham Avinu that one should defer to local morés, just out of derech eretz. I remember that Reb Moshe came to a minyan in the house of a chassidishe rebbe on the lower east side and brought a gartel; the rebbe didn't put on his own gartel; each in deference to the honor of the other. Do we really need to assign significance to things that make us seem like Lilliputians and Blefuscutians?