Several years ago, Rabbi Moshe Haikins, founder and president of Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah, attended a federation-sponsored conference in New York about issues related to bikur cholim, since, unfortunately, bikur cholim is sometimes tied to nichum aveilim.
At one of these events Rabbi Haikins received a folder containing an assortment of information, including a DVD by renowned lecturer Rabbi Paysach Krohn about properly performing the mitzvah of bikur cholim. The DVD also aired interviews with other rabbis on the topic.
Impressed by what he had seen, Rabbi Haikins felt it would be beneficial to take the concept to the next level and “put together something about the mitzvah of nichum aveilim.” Thus To Comfort and Be Comforted was born.
Rabbi Haikins called Rabbi Krohn, who told him that he had actually been thinking of undertaking such a project. Ultimately, and to Rabbi Haikins’s gratification, Rabbi Krohn was one of the featured contributors to the DVD and the book that followed.
Rabbi Haikins also met with Rabbi Elchonon Zohn, head of the National Association of Chevra Kadisha (NASCK), and told him about the DVD. Rabbi Zohn told him that he had been approached about doing something similar in the past but, due to time constraints, was unable to see it through. Now, however, he was excited to be partnering with Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah in the creation of the DVD and bringing the concept to fruition.
“When we asked various speakers to participate, we left the topic open-ended, so that each person would give his own personal spin on the subject,” Rabbi Haikins explained. “After all, people speak most passionately about what is most dear to them. Rabbi Benzion Shafier of “The Shmuz” fame, for example, spoke about “the dos” of nichum aveilim. Rabbi Noach Isaac Oelbaum concentrated on halachic aspects. Mr. Charlie Harary, Esq., described what to focus on while speaking to aveilim. Rebbetzin Tehilla Jaeger spoke powerfully from the personal perspective of having lost a daughter. Rabbi David Pelcovitz shared a psychological perspective.”
Rabbi Haikins added, “Our goal in producing the DVD was to accomplish two things: prevent ona’as devarim in batei aveil and give chizuk to aveilim — in essence benefiting the aveilim doubly. But without even considering this outcome, we felt that just making the DVD was a worthwhile experience. We were really humbled by the speakers, the rabbis, the professionals; these people are in the trenches, day after day, making a difference.”
Individuals who watched the program were equally appreciative. Realizing the DVD’s tremendous impact and how it is filling an important need, Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah decided to make its content even more accessible. “Undoubtedly, the written word has a unique effectiveness when conveying information,” says Rabbi Haikins. “A book can be easily picked up again and again — whether for a glance at an encouraging paragraph or to share with others even in a busy shivah home. There is something to be said for a good old-fashioned book. Something that one can read and reference. Something that one can underline and jot down notes on the sides.”
It is with this in mind that Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah decided to transform the DVD into book format, with the aim of enabling even more people to gain guidance in the mitzvah of nichum aveilim. Despite all the material being readily available on the DVD, transforming it into a readable book format while retaining the flavor of each speaker presented a challenge. Rabbi Haikins credits a team of individuals for their meticulous attention to detail in this endeavor, including Rabbi Zohn, for giving his permission for making the DVD into a book; Mrs. Zahava Naumann, for transcribing the speeches; and Mrs. Rivkah Schachnow, “who edited the entire manuscript with the intention of retaining the flavor of each speaker, while maintaining readability of the text.”
Unlike most life-cycle-related mitzvos, the mitzvah of nichum aveilim can feel daunting and difficult to carry out. At the same time, performing nichum aveilim is an awesome responsibility, as well as a tremendous opportunity to be there for the mourners during their time of grief. With the appropriate guidance and proper understanding of this unique mitzvah, we can bring real comfort to those who are challenged by the loss of a loved one.
To Comfort and Be Comforted and the acclaimed audiovisual presentation with the same title bring together rabbanim, psychologists, laypeople who have experienced tragedy, and speakers of note, all of whom share their insights and messages for a multitude of circumstances. The authors offer halachic and hashkafic guidance to properly performing the mitzvah of nichum aveilim, as well as chizuk and perspective to the bereaved and those who care for them. Contributors to this volume recognize that no two people are the same, and thus the way we react to tragedy and loss covers a wide spectrum. Their words of wisdom and range of personal outlooks will leave readers with much food for thought, as well as practical tips for how to conduct oneself and what to do — and not to do — for the mourners.
Those sitting shivah for a loved one, as well as their spouses and families, are not only personally experiencing aveilus, but must also be there for one another. This book aims to fill a gap in existing literature by enabling all those whose lives have been affected by loss to be “a better shoulder” for the people around them. It will give them strength through adversity and loss and guide them to look forward to the future, difficult as this might seem during a time of great sorrow.
Readers of this book will surely find meaning and hope as they embark upon a journey toward a better understanding of themselves and those to whom they want to reach out.
Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah is a network of Torah scholars dedicated to bringing the unparalleled merits of prayer and Torah study to the greater Jewish public. To this end, Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah has initiated a variety of programs and services to benefit those in this world and those who have passed on.
Chevrah Lomdeh Mishnah’s Torah scholars offer Mishnah and Gemara study, as well as Kaddish and Yizkor recital. With the haskamah of today’s leading Torah luminaries and rabbinic leaders, they enable Torah learning on behalf of your loved one, from a single Torah-study session to the completion of the entire Talmud upon the yahrzeit of a loved one.
To Comfort and Be Comforted is one of Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah’s many publications and programs produced to assist those searching for meaning at a time of loss.
To Comfort and Be Comforted can be purchased at Judaica stores. For further information about any of Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah’s existing programs or ideas about future programs and services, or to purchase the book, please email info@ChevrahLomdeiMishnah.org or call 732-364-7029.
Rochelle Maruch Miller is a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times. She is a journalist, creative media consultant, lecturer, and educator, and writes for magazines, newspapers, websites, and private clients. She welcomes your comments at Rochellemiller04@aol.com.