Mourn for relatives

The Literal Commandment

"But Aaron spoke to Moses, 'Behold, this very day they presented their sin offering and their burnt offering before the LORD. When things like these happened to me, if I had eaten a sin offering today, would it have been good in the sight of the LORD?" (Leviticus 10:19)

 

Although this specific verse may seem obscure and disconnected from the commandment, the context enables us to see the connection.  Two of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, offered "strange fire before the Lord" and were killed by G-d's consuming presence (Leviticus 10:1-2).  Under normal circumstances, Aaron would have mourned the death of his sons by uncovering his head and tearing his clothes (Leviticus 10:6), however, he and his other sons were still in the middle of their consecration ceremony ("the LORD’S anointing oil is upon you"- Leviticus 10:7).  In this unique situation, Aaron was not permitted to eat the goat of the sin offering so it burned up (Leviticus 10:16).  Aaron's response in verse 19 reflects the fact that he should have mourned the death of his sons but was unable to fully do so given that he was in the middle of the consecration ceremony.  It would not have been good in the sight of the Lord had he done so.

The literal commandment is that we should mourn our relatives but, in mourning, not violate our greater duty to serve G-d.

 

Messiah Says

Messiah implicitly affirmed this commandment when He spoke about the Law:

"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19)

 

Messiah also explicitly affirmed this commandment:

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

 

 

Pictures of Messiah

Scripture tells us that sin leads to death (e.g. Genesis 2:17, Romans 6:23).  When we rebel and sin against G-d, we know that His Holy Spirit is grieved (Isaiah 63:10).  Paul cautions us to avoid sin and not grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30).  When we mourn the death of our relatives, we are pointed to the Messiah who was a man well acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).

 

How Messiah Fulfilled

Messiah mourned His relatives including His kinsmen among the nation of Israel (e.g. John 11:35).

 

Traditional Observance

This commandment is observed in a literal fashion: mourning a deceased close relative.  The Sefer HaChinuch provides an explanation:

The kohanim should become defiled by the [deceased] relatives mentioned in the Torah; as it is stated, for her she shall defile himself (Leviticus 21:3), and this is a positive precept—for so was the explanation given for it.  And so it is taught in the Midrash Sifra; "for her he shall defile himself"—it is a religious duty [emphasis added]; if one does not wish to become ritually unclean, he is defiled against his will.1

 

Because it is considered one's duty to mourn relatives, Scripture places restrictions on when the priests should/must perform that duty.

 

In the Apostolic Writings

As He was going to be executed, women were mourning and lamenting Him (Luke 23:27).  After His death, we find the disciples mourning and weeping (Mark 16:10) as well. 

 

James, the brother of the Master, instructs us about being in the presence of the Lord:

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.   Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. (James 4:8-10)

 

We should mourn and weep for our relatives and our nation.  Because of our individual and collective sin, surely we deserve death!

But if we genuinely humble ourselves in the presence of the Lord, He will lift us up.

 

When Messiah returns and death has been ended...

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.  (Revelation 21:4)

 

Although we should mourn our relatives, there will no longer be death... and therefore no longer a need to mourn.

 

Other Notes

We are able to fulfill this commandment today and we should mourn the death of our relatives.

 

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Footnotes

1. Charles Wengrove, trans., Sefer HaChinuch (Jerusalem:Feldheim Publishers, 1984), vol 5, p103 [back]


Commandment Details

  • Mishneh Torah # 587
  • Mishneh Torah Book # 14
  • Mishneh Torah Book Judges
  • Mishneh Torah Category 76- Mourning
  • Reference Leviticus 10:19
  • Scripture Book Leviticus
  • Chapter 10
  • Verse 19
  • English But Aaron spoke to Moses, 'Behold, this very day they presented their sin offering and their burnt offering before the LORD. When things like these happened to me, if I had eaten a sin offering today, would it have been good in the sight of the LORD?
  • Hebrew יט וַיְדַבֵּר אַהֲרֹן אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, הֵן הַיּוֹם הִקְרִיבוּ אֶת-חַטָּאתָם וְאֶת-עֹלָתָם לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, וַתִּקְרֶאנָה אֹתִי, כָּאֵלֶּה; וְאָכַלְתִּי חַטָּאת הַיּוֹם, הַיִּיטַב בְּעֵינֵי יְהוָה.
  • Greek 19 καὶ ἐλάλησεν Ααρων πρὸς Μωυσῆν λέγων Εἰ σήμερον προσαγειόχασιν τὰ περὶ τῆς ἁμαρτίας αὐτῶν καὶ τὰ ὁλοκαυτώματα αὐτῶν ἔναντι κυρίου, καὶ συμβέβηκέν μοι ταῦτα· καὶ φάγομαι τὰ περὶ τῆς ἁμαρτίας σήμερον, μὴ ἀρεστὸν ἔσται κυρίῳ;
  • Parashah 26- Shemini
  • Positive/Negative Positive
  • Sefer Hachinuch # 264
  • Sef. Hach. Reference Leviticus 21:4
  • Sef. Hach. Command That a kohen should defile himself, and a Jew should mourn, for a deceased close relative
  • Category Marriage and Family
  • We can fullfill today Yes

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