There Are No Words


There’s a time for everything.

A time for silence and a time for speaking.*

According to Jewish custom, from the moment one hears of a death until the body is buried is a period of aninut, pure grief or sorrow, a kind of “suspended state of being” for the mourners.  Daily activities—even ritual obligations—are postponed until the body is laid to rest. The only words recited are those of the shomer, who sits with the body and quietly recites the Psalms. We show respect for the dead by never leaving them unattended.

Following the burial we enter a period of avelut, mourning, in which we show compassion for those grieving by being present. As the mourner’s leave the burial site, the community stands shoulder-to-shoulder, forming a wall on either side of them, and recites a single sentence of consolation.

When we enter the house of mourning, we are not supposed to speak first, but rather allow the mourners to initiate a conversation if they feel the need to talk. As my friend and colleague Rabbi Fred Greene explains, “It is the act of showing up that brings healing.” We recognize that a mourner’s pain is intensely personal and words of comfort are often inadequate.

And so, this period of aninut before the dead have been laid to rest and before the period of avelut has commenced—when the families of two people murdered in Libya may not even have heard the news of the death of their loved ones—is a time for silence.

This period of aninut is a time for us to reflect. Not a time to shout at one another—casting aspersions on political rivals, laying blame at the feet of anyone but the murderers.

It is a time to whisper words of sorrow; to pray and recite the healing words of Psalms.

During this period of aninut, daily activities are suspended and we wait in this time for silence until there is a time for speaking.

I am deeply saddened by the lack of respectful silence around me.

I pray the mourners will find consolation as they grieve.









*Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) chapter 3, verse 7


Comments (4)


Thank you, Pamela.

As the usual politics played out around this deep sorrow, I’ve felt a depressing sense of cosmic unbalance weighing me down. You’ve managed to capture in words what I’ve been experiencing. It’s time for us all to be quiet for a moment.

Thanks for your comments, all. Ron, I can imagine that you–as a writer/journalist/sensitive human being– are feeling discouraged. Me, too. At the same time, I find glimmers of hope. The pictures from Libya, especially the one of a woman wearing a hijab and holding a sign R.I.P. Christopher Stevens, reminded me that most people are well-meaning and good at heart. It’s too bad that a few rotten apples…well, you probably know an even more colorful SOUTHERN saying than that one.

I hope y’all appreciated the irony of my using 354 words to call for silence. L’shanah tovah, may we all be blessed with peace in the New Year (5773).

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