As you know, February and March were difficult months for our kehillah as we experienced an unusual number of bereavements. From one funeral and shivah minyan to the next, CBD members came out to fulfill the mitzvot of k’vod hamet (honoring the deceased) and nichum aveilim (comforting the bereaved). Over the last eight weeks, I have been reminded of just how special a kehillah CBD is in responding to loss. Two bereaved members made a point of sharing with me their surprise at the shear number of members who showed up at their loved one’s funeral to help bury their fellow CBD member, as well as the overflowing abundance of comfort provided during shivah minyanim by fellow CBD members, many of whom they didn’t even personally know! These two mitzvot represent the best of what it means to live in sacred community and the beauty that can be found even in moments of loss, sadness, and grief.
The mitzvah of K’vod hamet reminds us that human bodies are sacred vessels, deserving of care and respect both while we are alive and in death. Our tradition compares the human body to a Torah scroll. Even when no longer fit for use, we are obliged to treat them both with the utmost reverence. From the ritual of taharah, the washing and dressing of the body, to shemirah, sitting with the body, to honoring the deceased with a proper funeral and burial, our kehillah has made the mitzvah of k’vod hamet a focal point and an area of growth.
For more than a decade, CBD members have lovingly sewn tachrichin (burial shrouds) for deceased members through Threads of Tradition. We also maintain a shemirah corp that sits with the bodies of our deceased members. Over the past year, a group of members has pursued casket making and are providing kosher caskets for deceased CBD members. We are also working with our preferred mortuary, Sinai memorial chapel, one of the few remaining independent, not-for-profit Jewish funeral homes in the country, to provide caskets for a limited number of indigent funerals. I frequently hear of the spiritual meaning our members receive in coming together to fulfill these various aspects of k’vod hamet and how grateful they feel afterward for having this type of mitzvah opportunity.
At the conclusion of a Jewish funeral, we transition from k’vod hamet to nichum aveilim, comforting the mourners. If you have never attended a shivah minyan before, it is a powerful experience. After a very brief service, we typically invite the mourners and friends of the deceased to share stories, thoughts, or a brief reflection before reciting kaddish. Often, you can feel the grief but also the incremental healing that is taking place in real-time at these minyanim. And of course, there are also the members of chevrat chesed, our caring committee, who arrange meals for mourners during shivah.
Inevitably, the vicissitudes of life dictate that we will all have an opportunity to engage in these mitzvoth in the near future. If you’ve never attended a shivah minyan, think about doing so next time. If you’d like to help care for a grieving family, sign up to be a part of chevrat chesed by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition, our committed members who perform acts of k’vod hamet are looking to expand their numbers, particularly Threads of Tradition for those who sew. If you are interested in joining in this sacred work, please contact me. I can put you in touch with the right people.
Jewish tradition considers the performance of k’vod hamet in all its facets to be chesed shel emet, true kindness. They are gestures that can never be reciprocated. While that is true, joining in our kehillah-wide effort to support fellow community members through both of these central mitzvot can also brings a sense of fulfillment and benefit to us all.
In moments of loss, may we continue to be present for one another through the performance of these two cornerstone commandments. Living in sacred community requires of us nothing less.