When our Temple stood in Jerusalem and was destroyed, the community entered a period of collective grief. In response, the Rabbis began to create a Judaism that would be viable to any contemporary time. The curiosity and imagination of the collective Rabbinic mind took a leap of faith: to contain the caution and fear brought forth at the destruction of the Temple by forming a transportable Jewish life that could live beyond the venue of Jerusalem and move with the people, no matter where they lived. Out of the destruction of the Temple, the Rabbis strived to scaffold a Judaism that through its text study, holiday observance, historical perspective, and guidance for living would create templates for daily life: how to eat, how to conduct business, how to build community, how to teach, how to treat others, how to die, how to mourn, how to stand in Awe.
Out of this context, the Rabbinic imagination crafted a spiritual stance that encompasses the human experience of grief. They declared all mourners be greeted: HaMakom y’nachem etchem b’toch sh’ar aveilei Tzion virushalayim, “May the God who comforted the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem comfort you now in your grief.” With this, the Rabbis encapsulated the core paradox of grief: grief is a universal human experience, and each of us experiences it unto ourselves. The Rabbinic mind teaches us that for each person, our own grief is as cataclysmic as the destruction of the Temple. Every person’s individual loss is linked by the historic arc to the communal loss of our Temple.
This declarative link of historic fact to the inevitable human experience we all come to know binds our communal experience to every individual soul. Its resonance of the inner life with the outer historic experience is a generational vibration across the millennia that catapults us into a future that will forever be linked one generation to the next across time and space. It takes imagination, leaps of faith, curiosity, and the containment of caution to move through one’s own grief. Mourning may lead to new ways of seeing, acting, choosing, living. Grief may affirm our faith, it may alter it, it may destroy it, it may leave it untouched. Grief rarely ends a conversation. Rather, grief affirms the thrill and the disappointment of relationship. Death may take a body, but it cannot take a relationship; fraught or healed, relationships often continue after death. We may see our dead, if only in our peripheral vision; we may hear them, if only in memory; we may smell their scent, recall their touch.
Since the destruction of the Temple, our tradition has met each moment by threading our history into the present so that we can wrap ourselves in a fabric that warms the soul. All theology strives to frame our human experience into ritual, prayer, and spiritual reflection. We will never tire of this poetry because it is the endless form with which we express our deepest yearnings. Spiritual reflection—in prayer or ritual—is the form that allows us to link our history to our personal story. This glimpse into moments of life that yearn to be significant, comforting, of solace and succor, follow a path toward wholeness. From the secular to the religious, our natural spiritual hunger seeks nourishment. It is a desire that rises with a demanding vulnerability from the throes of grief and looks all around—inside, outside, and above, for anchor, for firm footing, for the horizon.
[The] collection, Mishkan Aveilut: Where Grief Resides, is an effort to provide the spiritual sustenance we all crave in the midst of one of life’s greatest vulnerabilities. Whether grief comes because a loved one died or one is relieved they have left this earth, we are filled with a loss that demands attention. At any moment along the spiritual journey we can be filled with either surety or doubt. We may struggle with language, metaphor, and theology, or we may find them satisfying. Our hope is that the moment you enter into prayerful engagement here, the experience will bequeath you, across the millennia, your place within our people’s unbreakable relationship to God, Torah, and Israel. Vulnerability in any endeavor brings the soul’s yearnings into new arenas of expression. We hope that this healing book will help weave our human capacity for curiosity into our capacity for spiritual life.
Rabbi Eric Weiss is the CEO/President of the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center, and is the and the editor of both Mishkan R’fuah: Where Healing Resides and Mishkan Aveilut: Where Grief Resides.