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ב"ה

Did You Get the Hint?

Monday, 13 July, 2020 - 2:01 am

 

 

Question of the Week:

A friend lost his mother and is sitting shiva. I’m not the closest to him so wasn’t sure if I should go visit or just wait a bit and give him a call. What is the etiquette around visiting a mourner?

 

Answer:

 

The two most important things you need to know about visiting a mourner are: when to come and when to leave. Jewish tradition gives us very clear instructions on both. 

 

It is customary for mourners to leave the door of their home unlocked during the week of mourning. Visitors just walk in unannounced. What would be considered rude in other circumstances is quite acceptable in this case. And there is good reason.

 

Many of us have a natural aversion to visiting someone in pain. We don’t know what to say, and we aren’t sure if they really want us there. But at the core of it, we are just scared. Scared to face intense emotion, uncomfortable at the thought of seeing someone grieve. This fear is misplaced, and we need to overcome it. 

 

So the door is left unlocked. It is up to the friends and family of the mourner to take the initiative and just show up. Don’t wait for an invitation to visit someone in pain. Don’t ask if they want you to be there. Just go. 

 

Once you're inside, take your cues from the mourner. Let them lead the conversation. If they want to talk about their loss, listen and empathise. If they want to change the subject and talk about the weather, follow their lead. 

 

But most importantly, take the hint when they want you to leave. Whether you’ve been there for an hour or you only just walked in, when the mourner indicates it’s time to go, it’s time to go. Watch their body language. If they do something like hitting their two hands on their knees, sigh and say “ok”, that’s your cue to get up and leave. Or listen to what they are saying. If you hear, “You must be busy, thanks so much for coming,” that’s a nice way of saying the visit has ended. 

 

You arrive uninvited, to show that you care. You leave as soon as you get the hint,which also shows that you care. You showed up at the door, and that is the greatest comfort you can give. 

 

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Moss 

 

Sources:

Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 376

The widespread custom to leave the door open or unlocked has no written source. The practical reason is not to inconvenience the mourners to have to get up every time someone knocks.  

 

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