What is behind the Jewish custom to bury someone almost immediately after they pass away? Other religions wait a few days or sometimes weeks before laying their dead to rest, yet we seem in a hurry to get them buried, often within 24 hours of death. What is the rush?
A speedy burial has benefits for the living and for the dead. And delaying a funeral unnecessarily is no good for either.
Between death and burial, the soul of the departed is in limbo between two worlds, neither fully on earth nor ready to be admitted into heaven. The soul no longer inhabits the body after death, but until the body is laid to rest, the soul cannot fully leave the body either. So it hovers around the body, in a state of disorientation at its sudden expulsion from the body that was its home for a lifetime.
Once the body returns to the dust from whence it came, the soul can return to heaven from whence it came. And so only after the burial does the soul begin its climb to higher realms. The soul's onward journey can't begin until the body is interred. We do not want to delay this process, so we hasten the funeral to the earliest opportunity.
This is not just for the good of the departed soul. It is also for the benefit of the mourners.
Just as the soul is in a state of confusion after death, so too the bereaved family go through a stage of uncertainty immediately after the death, as they grapple to absorb what has happened. For many who experience loss, it just doesn't seem real. They feel that they are dreaming, that the person is about to walk in the door, as if nothing happened.
But reality hits at the funeral. That painful sound of dirt hitting the coffin evokes the raw pain of bereavement like nothing else can. It hurts, but it is needed. Just as the soul cannot start moving upwards before burial, so too the mourners cannot start their long journey from grief to consolation until the grave is filled in.
This pain cannot be avoided. Only after we have allowed ourselves to grieve can we allow ourselves to heal. Only when the finality of the body's death is accepted, can the eternality of the soul be experienced. The body returns to dust, the soul returns to