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  • Writer's pictureDavid McNitzky

More Than Words

The story is told of a very famous rabbi who lived in New York City and died almost thirty years ago. He had literally hundreds of disciples locally and also had thousands of followers around the world. One of his disciples told of the time the rabbi found out that a colleague had died in Boston. The rabbi insisted that he and the disciple board a train and go to Boston immediately (a trip that even today takes almost five hours). When they arrived at the home of the colleague, the rabbi hugged the widow and children; then he sat quietly for several hours with the grieving family. Finally he got up in silence, left and returned to New York. The disciple was amazed that the great and famous rabbi never spoke a word to the family. Reflecting on the event years later, the disciple realized that he learned an important lesson that day: in times of grief our presence is often more important than our words.

It made me think of Job’s three friends in the Bible. They get rebuked by God and criticized by many of us for their failure to comfort Job as well as for their placing of blame on Job for his struggles. However, we should note that before they did that they first grieved and wept with him and sat with him for seven days without speaking. Jews today call that “sitting Shiva” - a seven day period of mourning to provide time for spiritual and emotional healing. Sadly, Job’s friends could not let that be enough. They had to start trying to explain the losses and to make sense of them.

The pandemic has given us plenty of opportunities to grieve and console those who are grieving around the loss of lives, livelihoods, relationships and dreams. As you seek to provide comfort to others, don’t be discouraged if you don’t have the right words to say. Remember, often our presence will speak louder than our words.


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