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Why do we have a SEVEN day period of intense mourning for a deceased family member?

by Rabbi Shlomo Chein

  

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The concept of a seven-day mourning period was instituted by Moses.1 While the Torah does not mandate a seven-day mourning period (it is considered a rabbinic ordinance, Moses being the Rabbi in this case), there are numerous references in the Torah for seven days of mourning.

1. G-d mysteriously waited for seven days just before starting the flood.2 According to some opinions He was mourning the death of the righteous Methuselah, and according to others he was mourning the forthcoming "death" of the world that would be brought on by the flood. Our sages in the Jerusalem Talmud tell us that G-d was setting an example of mourning for us to follow when we experience loss.3

2. We find that Joseph established a seven day mourning period for his father Jacob.4

3. G-d told the Prophet Amos "And I will turn your holidays into mourning".5 The sages of the Talmud inferred from here just as the holidays (Passover and Sukkot) are seven days, so too are the days of mourning.6

May we merit the coming of Moshiach and the resurrection of the dead when G-d will remove death forever and days of mourning will be turned into days of rejoicing.

See also What is special about the number seven?

Footnotes

  • 1. Maimonidies Mishneh Torah Laws of Mourning 1:1
  • 2. Genesis 7:10
  • 3. Talmud Yerushalmi, Moed Katan 3:5 page 15a. See there for additional references.
  • 4. Genesis 50:10
  • 5. Amos 8:10
  • 6. Moed Katan 20a

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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Moshiach
The Messiah. Moshiach is the person who will usher in an era of peace and tranquility for all of humanity when there will be no jealousy or hate, wars or famine. This is a fundamental Jewish belief.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Passover
A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Sukkot
A seven day autumn festival commemorating the miracle of the Heavenly Clouds which enveloped the Jews while traveling in the desert for forty years. On this holiday we dwell in makeshift booths and shake the Four Species.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Jacob
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Jerusalem
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
Joseph
Firstborn son of Rachel and Jacob. Because he was Jacob's favorite son, his brothers conspired against him and sold him into slavery He ended up in Egypt where he became viceroy of the land, and eventually brought his entire family to Egypt. Died in 1451 BCE.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.