I am sitting in the dusk of Winter, preparing to officiate a funeral. As I re-read my notes from the meeting with family members and work on the eulogy, there is a phrase from the Talmud that runs through my head over and over, “As we enter Av, we decrease in joy.”
The Talmud (Taanit 29a) is talking about the month of Av, on the 9th day of which, we commemorate the Destruction of the Ancient Temples in Jerusalem, our exiles, and so many other catastrophes which have occurred on that very day from generation to generation. While there is no comparing or measuring grief, the loss of a beloved friend, spouse, parent, grandparent, feels even more acute in this moment.
As this Talmudic mantra runs through my head and heart, over and over, it does so in a Chassidic twist. With just the addition of one comma, our Rabbis transformed the month of Av. They wrote, “We decrease, comma, in joy” - meaning, we go down into the darkness, but in joy. There is no joy in death, but the paradox of this teaching feels appropriate as I think about walking a family through the mourning process. Indeed, this process is one of the most treasured and honored of many clergy. For through it, we actually have the privilege of both helping families to mourn as well as reminisce in their deep love and affection for their beloved. They go down into the darkness of grief, but that darkness is a response to their feelings of love. And the affection that is shared, is built from each memory that is shared, and each family member and close friend, who joins them in support.
The paradox of this grief and joy feels ever more poignant as we begin transition from the gloom of a winter season, into the joy of the month of Purim. And so I pray that we may all learn to find ways to feel both grief and joy in every hardship. May our grief be a way of praising that preciousness of the beloved whom we have lost*. May we be surrounded by many loved ones holding our hands and our tears, in the palms of their hearts.
*Also, see Martin Prechtel on "Grief and Praise"