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Keep Calm With A Hammer & Nail

12/01/2017 09:28:58 AM


Eliezer Wolf

There is a not-so-well-known custom about how to conclude the ‘shiva’, the week of mourning after the passing of a loved one.

The mourner bangs a nail into the place where they sat shiva and grieved their loss.

The source for this custom is obscure. Here is one of the possible explanations:

How does one rediscover happiness after experiencing a painful tragedy? Many will carry the pain with them for the rest of their lives. Bearing such a weight on one’s shoulders, and in one’s heart, makes it seem like it is impossible to ever let go and experience true happiness once again. Sometimes one may even feel guilty for trying to erase the pain and forget the plight of their loved one.

But here’s a different way to look at it:

We are usually a composite of past, present and future. Past memories, present experiences and future plans influence our thoughts and feelings. But it is important to learn how to sometimes experience the present moments in their entireness.

Of course, ignoring, denying or forgetting one’s past is irresponsible, as is being blind, and advancing mindlessly, towards one’s potential future.

But learning how to put aside a memory, even for a few moments, is actually essential. Putting aside a memory isn’t an attempt to forget it, it’s simply compartmentalizing it. There is a time and place for everything, including our thoughts, feelings and memories.

When a moment arrives that is becomes appropriate to experience pure joy, such as at a simcha, or being with a loved one or a close friend, or even when there is no real cause other than the importance of frequently being happy, try telling this to your painful memory: “Dear memory, please know that I always treat you with the utmost respect. You are an important part of my life. However, in an effort to enjoy some happiness time, I am packing you into a box and placing you on the back shelf. Just for a short while. I will never forget you, nor ignore you, and I will bring you back out soon. But for now, I need to connect with the present moment in its purity.”

Try it. I am confident the memory will gladly agree.

And that’s why we hammer the nail after the shiva. It symbolizes, and recognizes, that even though we will always remember the loss of a loved one, nonetheless there will be times that we will need to store it away temporarily.

And that’s an okay thing. A good thing. You will learn to experience true happiness again, and the memory will be very happy for you too.

Shabbat Shalom!

Fri, December 3 2021 29 Kislev 5782