Avoiding Celebration for a Mourner
Our parsha opens with the declaration of thanks made by the farmer who brings his first fruits. He affirms that he separated out tithes including maaser sheni, and adds, “I did not eat of it during mourning” (Devarim 26:14). The sadness of mourning is a contradiction to the joy required for eating maaser. (Technically this prohibition only applies during the first stage of mourning known as aninut.)
A modern-day analog of this law is the prohibition for the mourner to take part in a rejoicing such as a wedding. This prohibition is for thirty days; if the mourning is for a parent, then the prohibition is for twelve months (Yoreh Deah 391).
WAVES OF JOY AND SORROW The primary celebration that is forbidden is a wedding. A wedding is not only inappropriate to mourning; it is in fact a mirror image. During a wedding, the person renews and reconstructs the self by expansion, by incorporating a new person into the self and the family; during mourning, the renewal and reconstruction takes place after the contraction of the self and the family through the loss of a loved one.
The parallel relationship between mourning and the rejoicing of the wedding is hinted at in the Yerushalmi which explains that Moshe instituted both the seven day period of rejoicing for bride and groom and the seven day period of mourning for the bereaved (Yerushalmi Ketubot 1:1).
One central theme of the laws of mourning is that death is a momentous event, one that we do not allow to pass unnoticed. It is obligatory to make a funeral, which it is a mitzva to attend; the mourners sit shiva and all of their friends and relatives come to console them, and so on. The idea is to extend the wave of bereavement as far as possible. This is a way of giving proper respect for the departed soul, and also spreads the burden of the mourning as widely as possible.
The same applies to a wedding. The creation of a new family is of inestimable importance. It is a mitzva to take part in the bridal procession, and to gladden the bride and groom; after the wedding, all the friends and relatives come to the sheva berakhot to extend the rejoicing.
The parallel extends even to the idea of panim chadashot – new faces. Just as the sheva berakhot are said only if there is a new celebrant present, so in previous generations the special blessing of mourning was said only if a new person came to console (Tur Yoreh Deah 376 - Today this blessing is not said). Again, the emphasis on new faces shows the importance of extending as much as possible the participation in the event.
INDIVIDUAL AND COMMUNITY This halakha underscores a paradox in the laws of mourning. On the one hand, the prohibition to eat maaser while in mourning expresses the contradiction between the public character of simcha and the private seclusion of mourning. The maaser is shared with “the Levi, the stranger, the orphan and the widow” (26:12), while the mourner is alone in his sorrow. On the other hand, mourning, like all other periods of per- sonal transition, requires the participation and support of the community, to give expression to the communal nature of the Jewish people and to our mutual responsibility.