As my husband was sitting shiva this week for his father, two new aspects of the power of shiva struck me. One was the tremendous kindness of others, the tremendous desire of people to give comfort, in whatever way they could, large or small. Not only were meals sent but I could sense the disappointment when I told someone there was no longer any need. They desperately wanted to give, to participate even if just a little.

Relative strangers came to participate in the daily minyanim, motivated not by a relationship with us but by the call of a fellow Jew in need. Others went out to find those participants, eager to assist in yet another fashion. And there’s even an organization, staffed by volunteers, who rushed over with everything you could need – a low chair for the mourner, folding chairs for the visitors, a Torah and prayer books for services. You name it; no need was left unmet. Even needs we didn’t know we had were satisfied! (Of course our children were amazing too but I guess we take that for granted! And a shout out to our sons-in-law and grandsons who graciously rearranged their schedules in order to participate.)

The other was something completely unanticipated. Since many of the visitors were people we didn’t know well, people my husband has seen at shul but hasn’t really had a chance to get to know, the shiva provided not just an opportunity to talk about my father-in-law a”h, but also to get to know our neighbors.

I don’t mean that it was a community bonding experience (although I suppose it was) but that we really got to learn about them. In the quiet of the shiva, in the privacy of the moment, many felt free to share their own stories, their own life experiences, their own triumphs and challenges. It was powerful. It was moving. It touched us deeply.

It was a lovely gift that we didn't anticipate. No one overstepped their bounds or focused the conversation inappropriately on themselves but when we asked they answered. And getting to know them, deepening those relationships actually fulfilled two of the many purposes of the week of shiva. It was a comfort to my husband. He felt embraced by the community and more connected to the individuals who we got to know better.

And all these beautiful experiences, all these moments of kindness and connection were surely a merit for my father-in-law’s soul.