In Judaism, often good deeds done in memory of a dead person are designated as an "ILUI NESHAMA" – an elevation of the soul or spirit. It is believed that the prayers of "ILUI NESHAMA" help elevate the deceased's soul to paradise.
According to the Talmud this concept is in many places, among them in tractate Shabbat (152b-153a): “For twelve months the body still persists, and the soul ascends and descends; after twelve months, the body is nullified and the soul ascends and from then on never descends”.
In the Sephardic tradition (Jews of Spanish-Portuguese origin), during the "Mishmara", also referred to as "Arayat" (for Jews of Eastern European origin referred to as "Yahrzeit") it is customary for visitors to say a short prayer for "ILUI NESHAMA" - elevation of the soul (or spirit) of the deceased when they eat something. This is done during the week of Shiva, in the 30 days memorial after burial, after the 11 months period of mourning - for the memorial of the first year of the death, and during each subsequent yearly "Mishmara" ("Arayat" each yearly anniversary of the death | memorial),
The impact of a person’s acts may not always be evident until after their passing. A person may during their lifetime inspire other people to study Torah, engage in acts of kindness, and so on; there is no question that the deceased will receive a reward. But sometimes the acts done during the deceased’s lifetime continues to inspire others after their passing. That is why a person’s achievements continue to be re-evaluated even after their departure from this world.
The Zohar identifies the various stages of the journey of the soul with a series of judgments (Vayakhel, II:199). At various times after death, a new judgment is done to re-evaluate a person’s impact on the world of the living, and with each re-evaluation the deceased's soul continues to ascend more and more.
Some scholars have written that each "Mishmara" ("Arayat", anniversary of the death) is a day of judgment; thus it is a natural time for the family, friends or other people who were influenced by the deceased to demonstrate the continuing positive impact of the deceased's life and deeds, by continuing their legacy of kindness and good deeds in the deceased's honour and precious memory.
Pondering the concept of the "ILUI NESHAMA" should induce us to reflect on the lives of the deceased loved ones and consider how their personal example can continue to inspire us to continue to do good deeds.
Sephardic customs during "AVEILUT" (mourning), and "SHIVA" (the 7 days of mourning)
Some of Mona's friends have asked about the traditional Jewish practices about Shiva, the mourning period. Below is a simple explanation.
In Judaism, after death, a person is supposed to be buried immediately, on the same day of death. The body of the deceased is washed and "dressed" (wrapped with a white sheet) with great respect and care by volunteers of the "Hevra Kadisha" (the Sacred Burial Society). Until the funeral, an immediate family member of the deceased is referred to as an "Onen" (literally "someone in between"). The words "Barukh Dayan HaEmet" (Blessed is the True Judge) are said. The funeral may take place in a funeral home, in a synagogue or at the graveside. Mourners and others participate in covering the casket with dirt.
After the burial, mourners return home from the cemetery (or to the home of the deceased) to sit "Shiva" (Hebrew word for seven) for a period of seven days. the word 'Shiva" is also used to designate a person in mourning; one month or one year depending on the degree of relation to the deceased. In Judaism family members are required to observe "Shiva" for seven relatives: father or mother, sister or brother, son or daughter, and spouse.
Mourning takes place in several periods, each successively less intense. It starts with "Shiva", seven days during which mourners are visited at home by family and community, and participate in prayer services held at home; "Shloshim", the first 30 days of mourning, after which mourners return to their normal routine but refrain from many customary pleasurable activities; and, for those who have lost a parent, 11months of "Aveilut" (mourning), during which "Kaddish" (mourners' prayer) is recited daily. During the "Shiva" | "Aveilut" period, mourners also do not participate in parties, concerts, shows, movies, or similar events that are celebratory in nature.
Among most Sephardic (Jews of Spanish-Portuguese origin) communities, "Kriah" (Hebrew for tearing a the garment mourners will wear during the 7 days of "Shiva") is performed as soon as the mourners return home from the cemetery. Sometimes, due to extenuating circumstances the "Kriah" is performed in the cemetery; mourners sit on the ground and the tearing of the garment is performed. "Shiva", the 7 day mourning starts immediately after the "Kriah".
The traditional meal of condolence is prepared by the burial society or family and friends. Mourners start to sit "Shiva", and visitors come to offer their condolences (pay respect). During the week of "Shiva", mourners are expected to remain at home. Some mourners sit on the floor, or on pillows, or on low stools. According to some scholars this is intended to reinforce the mourners’ inner emotions. In English, sometimes, the “feeling low,” is a synonym for depression; in Judaism, the "depression" is acted out literally. Daily services are usually held at home and the "Zohar" (a mystical commentary on the Torah and other works) is studied throughout the week. It is customary for close family member and friends to serve them food.
In the Jewish Syrian community, while not obligatory, it is common to offer breakfast after the mourning prayers to visitors, and food and beverages to visitors throughout the day until night. Usually it is not the custom for visitors to bring flowers or gifts to the mourners. In addition, a unique tradition that is followed stipulates a visitor make either one or three condolence call(s) during shiva; a third visit would indicate that the second visit was only to further offer support to the family. When they eat something, visitors are supposed to say the short prayer "ILUI NESHAMA" to help elevate the deceased's soul to paradise, . Before leaving the house of mourning visitors are supposed to say, “Min HaShamayim Tenuhamu“ (May you be comforted from Heaven).
At the end of the 1 week of Shiva, a special meal and study session, called a "Mishmara" also referred to as "Arayat" (for Jews of Eastern European origin referred to as "Yahrzeit"), is held and the deceased is again eulogized. It is customary for mourners to immediately begin a period of strict religious observance: 1 year for parents, 1 month for children, 1 month for siblings, 1 month for spouses.
A 2nd "Mishmara" ("Arayat"), is held on the 30th day following the burial, and finally a 3rd "Mishmara" ("Arayat") is held at the end of the year (11 months in the Judaic calendar) following the burial. Subsequently, on the anniversary of death a "Mishmara" ("Arayat") is observed each year. The deceased is also remembered several times annually, on certain holidays, during "Yizkor" services (Hebrew word for to remember).
The "Mishmara" ("Arayat") during the week of "Shiva" is usually held in the synagogue. The mourners are then allowed to leave home to come to the synagogue and are joined by friends, relatives and other visitors. The rabbi will offer words of Torah, and a eulogy about the deceased is given. It is customary to first read Tehilim (the Psalms), followed by the Minha | Arbit prayers, then speeches, after which food and beverages are served. The 30 days "Mishmara" ("Arayat"), and the 1 year the "Mishmara" ("Arayat") are usually held in the synagogue as well.
Mona Daniella was a sensitive, gentle, kind, and caring person. She epitomized "Chessed", Loving-Kindness. She fought extremely hard. In a 2014 email I wrote to her that she was the bravest, the brightest, the most determined and the most resilient. Indeed she was. And much more.