Ki Tetzei: The Right To Grieve

By Ilana Grinblat

Published August 18, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

“I miss Gan Edna,” my three-year-old daughter told me this morning at breakfast. Gan Edna was the nursery school Hannah attended two years ago, but out of the blue, she decided she missed it. We spoke about it, and I assured her we could go back and visit it if she’d like. She loves her new school, and I was surprised to hear that after so long, she still missed her former school. As the new school year approaches, meeting new teachers and classmates and getting to know a new space will be exciting; but at the same time it also means a loss of past teachers, classmates and cherished space.

“I’m a little bit big,” Hannah explained. Becoming big inevitably entails the loss of being small.

In light of this experience, a troubling part from this week’s Torah portion resonated for me in a new way. This week’s parasha, Ki Tetzei (when you go out), begins with a difficult passage. The text stipulates: if you go out to war and see a beautiful woman among the war captives who you want to marry, you shall first bring her to your house and she shall shave her head, trim her nails, and sit in your house for a month so that she could cry for her father and mother. Only afterwards can you marry her.

The passage is disturbing. Why couldn’t it have simply said: you shall not marry war captives — or don’t take war captives in the first place.

Nonetheless, what struck me in reading this passage is how the Torah honors the most disempowered members of the community’s right to grieve.

The text asserts that mourning is essential to human dignity. Perhaps in the month of waiting, the soldier would get over his desire for the captive and release her, or maybe, seeing her in her distressed, disheveled state, he would come to care for her for who she is, rather than what she looks like. In any case, the Torah asserts that the right to grieve is integral to human self-worth.

Unfortunately, human life is chock-full of loss. The transitions of growing up entail a myriad of losses — from relinquishing a crib, diapers, or pacifiers, to saying goodbye to beloved teachers at the end of each school year. Some of these losses may seem trivial to adults but are profound for a child. Adulthood is likewise full of loss — from people we love to dreams that don’t materialize. For each of these losses, we need to give ourselves permission to mourn. This idea sounds simplistic but is extremely hard to do.

This past week, Mimi Strichard, a beloved member of my former congregation, passed away at the age of eighty-eight. Mimi was a rare, unique soul — sweet to the core with no edge whatsoever. She never said a harsh word about anyone and was the epitome of kindness. Her death was sudden; she had been in synagogue perfectly healthy a few days before her passing. I saw her close friend at the funeral. She said, “I’m okay; It was just such a shock.”

“You’re allowed to be not okay,” I responded gently. I remembered how difficult it has been for me to accept how not okay I’ve been in times of mourning.

From previous schools to dear friends and dreams, the losses of life are manifold and profound. This week’s portion teaches us to honor the sanctity of grief.

Rabbi Ilana Grinblat teaches biblical interpretation at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two young children.






Find us on Facebook!
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.