The experience of loss arouses several emotions. On the one hand, death is a tragedy. A loved one is lost to their family and friends, who are left feeling a profound sense of separation and distance that seems beyond repair. For this reason, we observe a seven day intense mourning period, during which the family sits at home and feels the pain and loss, followed by a year of mourning. This helps them slowly accept the new reality; that their loved on has passed on.
But often, the mourners feel that it isn’t really true, it didn’t really happen, they haven’t really gone. This is not just denial. In a way they are right. Death is not the end. Our souls existed before we were born, and they continue to exist after we die. The souls that have passed on are still with us. We can’t see them, but we sense they are there. We can’t hear them, but we know that they hear us. On the surface, we are apart. On a deeper level, nothing can separate us.
So we tear our garments. This has a dual symbolism. We are recognizing the loss, accepting the reality, our hearts are torn, and there is a hole in our lives that can never be healed. But that is only true on the bodily level. The loss is a physical one. But the soul lives on.
The body is no more than a garment that the soul wears. Death is when we strip one uniform and take on another. The garment may be torn, but the essence of the person, the soul, is still intact.
From our worldly perspective death is indeed a tragedy, and the sorrow experienced by the mourners is real. But as they tear their garments we hope that within their pain they can sense a glimmer of a deeper truth; that souls never die.
Rabbi Mendel Bluming serves as rabbi of the Chabad Shul of Potomac since 2003. Among his communal roles, Menachem Mendel Bluming assists community members through this Jewish mourning period. Credits to Rabbi Moss.