Hilchos Aveilus reflects the normal emotional process that a person should
go through when a loved one dies. Until the burial, a person has the status, from
the Torah, of an onen. The first day of aveilus, after the burial,
is according to some also min haTorah. After that, essentially the rabbis
added another six days. The first three days are designated for crying; the remaining
four days of shiva are less intense. After shiva comes the shloshim
period, which is even less intense. After that, for parents, twelve months.
The halachic process reflects the decreasing intensity of mourning.
In America, outside the frum community, there is a denial of
death. Nobody ever goes and sees anybody buried. They go on with life as usual.
And because they never sat and cried and dealt with it, it remains within them for
In the funeral homes, they see the guy fixed up with cosmetics.
Once when I was a kid, I was at a levaya where there was a viewing of the
niftar, and I’ll never forget it. There was a woman in front of me who looked
into the casket and said, “He looks better now than when he was alive.” Then some
anonymous gravediggers haul him away and bury him without anyone from the family
being there. Or, at best, you go to the cemetery, and they have this fake lawn there,
and everybody leaves, because they don’t want to see the actual burial. But the
truth is that it’s the best thing to see the burial, because that makes it final,
you can't deny it, and then you have to deal with it, and once you’ve done that
you can really get on with life.
When I first became a rav in Miami, I got an invitation to a
symposium on death and dying. There were Catholic and Protestant clergymen, and
nuns and doctors from all over Miami. I was the only rabbi of any kind to attend.
It was great, and I really learned a lot. When we left, I was in the elevator; their
backs were to me, and they didn’t see me. I heard them saying: “You know, from all
the kinds of mourning that exist, the Jews really have the best. Because the Jews
face up to it, that there’s death, there’s a chance to ventilate it in shiva
and kaddish, and it has us beat hands down.”
The laws of The Three Weeks parallel the laws of mourning-except
that everything is in reverse order. We begin with the lighter laws of mourning
on the 17th of Tammuz, work our way up to the 9 Days, and the week of
Tisha B’Av. Then, on Tisha B’Av itself, one is supposed to feel “as if his dead
is lying before him.” This is the most intense time.
Why the inverted order? Because you can’t mourn over the Churban
the same way as you do over a loved one. Mourning for the Beis HaMikdash
might be compared to hearing that your great-great-grandfather died three hundred
years ago. You never saw him. Never knew him. You are not going to immediately go
into an intense mourning. I never saw the Beis HaMikdash. I can’t possibly
miss it even if it happened last year, let alone if it happened 2,000 years ago!
Therefore, it works the opposite way. First, you have to get yourself psyched up
intellectually, that something’s missing. By the end of three weeks, when Tisha
B’Av finally comes, you may actually feel some emotion. But you have to build up
There’s another answer, too: The tragedies occurred in this order.
HaShem did not bring the Churban all of a sudden. He brought us into it gradually.
First was the Tenth of Teves, the siege of Jerusalem. Then, after a time, on the
Seventeenth of Tammuz, they broke through the walls. Then it took twenty-one days
to get to the Beis HaMikdash. He brought these tragedies in stages in order
to awaken us and give us an opportunity to do teshuvah. HaShem doesn’t bring
these tragedies upon us just in order to hurt us. He wants us to do teshuvah,
so that He won’t have to destroy anything.
Every year we go through that same experience because the same
reasons that caused its destruction still exist and prevent its rebuilding. We still
have to do teshuvah in order to rebuild it. And we undergo that same process
of tragedy in stages in order to awaken ourselves to do teshuvah. We start
with Seventeenth of Tammuz, and if we would do what is incumbent upon us, we wouldn’t
have to go until Tisha B’Av; Mashiach would come before that.