My mother told me that she has lost her will to live, that she sees no sense in it anymore. I know she would not kill herself, but she hasn't been taking care of her health for example, which is also a way of dying slowly. I don't want her to feel that way but don't know how to help. Do you have any suggestions?
I don't know your mother and I don't know the circumstances that have led her to despair. But here are some thoughts that could apply to anyone.
We all need a reason to live. We all need to feel needed. We all need to have a sense of purpose. Having a purpose is far more important than having money or a comfortable life. It is even more important than our health. A life that is healthy but purposeless is like a blunt pencil. It has no point.
Purpose comes from serving others. When we know that we are giving, that we are contributing to the world, that we can make other people happy and help make their lives better, then life is worth living because we feel we need to be here.
Perhaps your mother already does a lot for others. Make sure she knows about it, that she feels appreciated. And if she isn't currently doing anything purposeful with her life, then you need to find avenues for her to be productive. You might have to be a bit sneaky here. Think of something that she is able to do to serve others, and if that need doesn't yet exist, create it.
If she is good with kids, give her more responsibility to look after kids. If she can drive a car, find an organization that needs volunteer drivers. If she can paint, let her share her talent in a way that helps other people. It is not enough for her to just indulge in painting. Perhaps she can donate her work to charity.
Maybe she doesn't have any of those skills. But one thing she does have is time. And that she can give. Find people with more serious health problems than hers, find people who are even more lonely than she is. And let her give her time to just be with them. Then she will very quickly find a reason to live.
My non-Jewish friends and colleagues often ask me: What is Judaism?
They are not looking for a complicated thesis, just a simple response. How would you sum up a 4000 year old culture in a few words?
'Judaism' and 'simple' are not often found in the same sentence. But to attempt to answer this, we first need to define what Jews are, then we can define what Judaism is.
The Jewish people can best be described as a spiritual family. We are connected by our souls, and every Jew is a part of this invisible web by virtue of our Jewishness. You can either be born into the family or join by choice. But once you are in, you are family, no matter what.
If Jews are a family, the Torah is the family rules. It recounts the family history, defines the family identity, and lays out the expectations of how members of the family should behave and the good they can contribute to the world.
Some of the Torah is universal, but much of it is about our particular family and its relationships - with our brothers and sisters, our ancestors, our homeland and the Head of the family - G-d.
If you break the rules, you are still a member, because family is family. But those who keep the rules keep the family together. Those who reject the rules usually find their children or grandchildren will drift away from the family entirely, not even knowing what they are leaving behind. But they can always come back. You can never really leave the Jewish family.
So if the Jewish people are a family, and the Torah is the family rules, what is Judaism?
Judaism is a story. The story of a family.
Every family has its story - its joys and its conflicts, its high moments and its not so high moments. Parents are sometimes proud of their kids or disappointed at them; children follow their parents' ways or rebel against them. But throughout the family dramas, they remain a family.
Judaism is our family story. But not a story to just read, a story to live. We are the characters of the story. The story is bigger than you or me or any one person. But it is about you and me and every individual Jew. Each one of us, through our relationship with G-d and the Jewish people, continues the story that is Judaism.
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Question of the Week:
Why don't we observe mourning customs for a stillborn? A friend recently lost her baby full term and was told there is no funeral, no Kaddish, no sitting shiva, no yorzheit. Are we supposed to pretend nothing happened? Why not acknowledge the loss and mourn as we would for any other death?
The loss of an unborn baby is a terrible tragedy, and of course it needs to be acknowledged. But it is not the same as losing a child (G-d forbid), and so it is not mourned in the same way.
Jewish mourning customs serve a dual purpose. They help the departed soul on its journey to the next world, and they help the mourners come to terms with their loss.
The soul of the departed has a difficult journey. After being in this physical world it has to now adjust to the other world, the world of souls. Similarly, the mourners have to adjust to a new reality, a life without a loved one who is no longer among us.
By sitting shiva, reciting the Kaddish prayer, studying Torah and observing the yorzheit every year, the mourner helps elevate the soul of the departed to higher places of rest, and helps himself, by channeling the void created by loss into positive action. It is a comfort to both the living and the dead.
None of this applies to a stillborn. Their soul never fully descended into this world, never truly entered the physical realm. A stillborn soul didn't make the crossover to this world, and so doesn't need our assistance to cross back.
So the first reason for the mourning customs, to help the departed soul, does not apply to a stillborn. Neither does the second reason, to help the mourners deal with the loss. It can't be called a loss, because we never had it in the first place. We were not given this soul, it never entered our realm. It is sad, it is hard, it will take time to heal. But it simply cannot be compared to the loss of a loved one.
This in no way negates the pain experienced by parents of a stillborn. Each individual has to deal with the tragedy in their own way. But they should not to feel guilty if they eventually move on. While it is proper and good to perpetuate the memory of a departed soul and keep their presence with us always, it may not be so for a soul that was never among us in the first place.
All souls come from heaven. Some never really leave heaven. Such souls don't need any assistance to get back home.