Dear Rabanit Cohen,
I was pondering the words we recite when we visit those who are sitting shiva, “Ha’makom Yenachem etchem b’toch she’ar avlei Tzion vi’Yerushalayim – may G-d comfort you among the mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim.” What exactly is the comfort in these words? How is comparing the loss of a loved one to the destruction of Yerushalayim by the Romans two thousand years ago supposed to make me feel any better?
Thank you very much for writing and asking such an important question. Actually, there are a few parallels between the fall of Yerushalayim and the passing away of a neshamah that can provide the mourner with a bit of comfort.
The first lesson and parallel is that although the destruction of Yerushalayim would have directly affected those who lived there the most, nevertheless it was a national tragedy. Every Jew, including the one who lived far from Yerushalayim was deeply pained at the loss of the holy city. Knowing that Jews across the globe were feeling the pain of the Jews in Yerushalayim gave strength and courage to the Jews in Yerushalayim. They felt they were not alone in their suffering. So too, although it is the family that is mourning for the loss of the deceased, the entire Jewish people share in their sorrow at the passing of one of our own. There is comfort in knowing that your sorrow is being shared by your people.
In addition following two thousand years we still mourn the loss of Yerushalayim, but the Jewish people have never lost hope that one soon it will be rebuilt. In the same way, we mourn the loss of our loved ones, but we have faith that one day in the near future we will be reunited with them. The Neviim promised us that the deceased will be resurrected during the messianic era. There is comfort in knowing that the separation, as painful as it is, is only temporary. It is not forever.
One more point to bear in mind is that while the Romans were able to destroy the buildings of Yerushalayim, its spirit and inner kedushah were beyond their reach. No enemy can destroy the soul of Yerushalayim, and even today it remains a holy city. Death can only take away the physical persona, but the neshamah lives on. Even a loved one passes on from this world, he is with us in spirit. The neshamah strengthen us when we face challenges; it smiles with us when we rejoice and celebrate. While we can no longer see the deceased, we can sense their presence. There is comfort in knowing that we are never really apart.
Please understand that none of these answers diminishes the pain and sorrow that we feel when we lose a loved one. It may however provide us with a reason to hope as we come to realize that just as Yerushalayim, the neshamah has eternal powers that even death cannot conquer. The ones we love who have ascended to the greatest levels in shamayim become the pillars and backbone of our families. They will always be with us when we need them.