Better a House of Mourning
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein | November 2, 2015
It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
the living should take this to heart. Ecclesiastes 7:2
In the Jewish tradition, we have a practice of visiting graves. We don’t just visit our loved ones, but we visit the grave-sites of the righteous, tombs of the patriarchs and matriarchs, as well as many great Jewish sages and rabbis throughout history. Some Jews even make special trips to foreign countries where renowned Torah scholars have been buried, just for the privilege of praying there.
Why do we do that?
The answer is simply that while we do not pray to the dead, our prayers are different when in their presence, fueled by the passion and fire of those great individuals. Their extraordinary lives inspire us to live more powerfully.
I once heard it said that the only thing separating the year of birth and the year of death on a gravestone is one small dash. That short line represents an entire life. The question is what are we doing between the bookends of our lives? When we stand at a grave-site, we are reminded that our lives that short dash have a beginning and an end. Understanding that lends a sense of urgency and wakes us from the dangerous spiritual slumber that can literally shorten the span of our meaningful years.
In Ecclesiastes 7:2 we read: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” Sure, it’s more fun to go to a wedding than a funeral, but a funeral is far more likely to inspire us to live better lives. There are gems of wisdom in every eulogy that we can all take to heart so that they influence how we live.
A few verses after Ecclesiastes 7:2 we read, “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning . . .” (v.4). This Scripture teaches us that while we need not spend our days going to funerals, visiting the dead, or listening to eulogies, our hearts can symbolically reside in a house of mourning. In other words, if we are wise, we will live each day with the clarity and purpose that comes from contemplating a life. We will live every day to the fullest, and ultimately, a complete and meaningful life.
I invite us all to greet every morning with a sense of gratitude for another day and with passionate motivation to make this day count. Just as every day has an end, so does every life. If we make the most of our days, we will have done the most with our lives. Someday, someone might stand at our final resting place and be inspired to live better.