Shiva Shortened by Yom Tov
My father passed away two days before Rosh Hashana, and we only sat in mourning for two days rather than the customary seven. I never did get the straight story why is that? Apparently it has something to do with the joy of a festival, but if so, then why shouldn’t Shabbat also cancel out the remainder of shiva?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
I am sorry to hear of the loss of your father. All me to offer a few answers to your interesting question.
1) The great sage Chatam Sofer (YD 348) writes that a festival cancels the shiva because a festival annuls that phase of heavenly judgment on the soul of the deceased. These are deep kabbalistic matters that we do not fully understand.
2) On a more practical level, since the onset of Shabbat will always occur less than 7 days after the burial, Shabbat does not cancel the shiva because if it did, nobody would ever sit a 7-day shiva!
3) Here's another thought I'd like to share: Due to the joy of Shabbat, we do not practice any public mourning. But the joy of Yom Tov is qualitatively different.
Yom Tov is a time when the entire Jewish people would gather together in Jerusalem. The rule was that if someone was tame (ritually impure), that would be "waived" during the period of the festival. Otherwise, people would avoid contact with the tame person, thereby marring the joy of the festival for everyone. The joy of the festival and unity of the Jewish people were overriding considerations.
So I think the same idea applies here – the joy of the festival is so great that it overrides the imperative of mourning.
And what about the "therapy" for the bereaved that shiva provides?
I think the answer is found in the halacha that a kohen is restricted from attending funerals. (This is due to issues of ritual impurity, a separate discussion.) A regular kohen may attend the funeral of a close relative – spouse, parent, sibling, child. But the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) does not attend even the funeral of a close relative. On this, the 13th century "Sefer HaChinuch" asks your question: What about the therapy that mourning provides?
The answer is that the spiritual level of the Kohen Gadol is so high that it lifts him above these normal human emotions. In other words, he doesn't need the mourning, since a higher emotion has displaced the emotions usually associated with mourning.
If we understand how to properly tap into the power of Yom Tov, the same is true in that case as well. The joy of Yom Tov simply cannot coexist with mourning. That joy is so great that it "nullifies" the feelings of mourning.
To learn more about the power of Yom Tov, I suggest a beautiful, user-friendly volume called “Book of Our Heritage” by Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov (Feldheim.com).