Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch wrote beautifully, in the 43rd chapter of Horeb, about the way that a Yom Tov’s national celebration overrides the private mourning of avelut.
I don’t have that text near me at the moment, but I do have Hirsch’s commentary to the chumash (Vayyikra 10:6), where he rhapsodizes on a related issue: the way that the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) is not permitted to mourn normally.
He wrote of the Kohen Gadol who “represents before Gd the ideal Jew, the ideal of the Immortal Nation; for him, the idea of Gd, and the idea of the Nation, is to drive into the background the feelings of his own wounded self. For before Gd, there is no such thing as Death, and the one who has been called away has only changed the scene of his existence; the Nation too knows no Death, אין צבור מת, in it, all past generations live on, and out of it all the coming ones blossom; in it, at all times past and future are present…”
I love reading R’ Hirsch, and this post is in no way meant to knock him. His logic is always impeccable, and his writing is always beautiful. I wish I had time to learn German just to be able to read Hirsch in the original.
But, to be blunt, all of the florid poetry in the world, and all of the sound argumentation, are useless to me at the moment.
We suffered a loss in the community this morning, and someone mentioned the rule that mourning (even if a burial would occur on chol hamoed) is pushed off until after Yom Tov. That called to mind the well-known stories of sages and scholars who overrode their personal grief for the sake of Yom Tov celebrations, Simchas Torah dancing, etc.
I know those stories, and I know the halachah as well as its logic, but it doesn’t change a thing. Grief is hot, burning, and it cannot be cooled by logic and it cannot be soothed by poetry. That certain individuals have managed to overcome it does not diminish the size of the task; just the opposite, the fact that these stories fascinate us testifies to its near-impossibility.
Tonight there is a new widow, and tomorrow (well, today by now) there will be a funeral, and then will come Shabbos and shivah and shloshim. The same scene will be enacted, many times over, elsewhere, today and tomorrow and the next. It’s the most natural thing in the world, and I ought to be used to it by now.
But it still hurts, and the poetry is just that: words on a page, far less real, at the moment, than the person who was breathing just yesterday.