Question: Should one comfort a mourner when he enters shul on Friday night?
Short Answer: There is a custom for the minyan to comfort the mourner when he arrives in shul before the onset of Shabbos on Friday night. Some even allow such comforting on Shabbos itself.
I. Shabbos Comforting – The Source
The Gemara (Shabbos 12a) sets forth a machlokes between Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel whether one can perform nichum aveilim on Shabbos. Beis Shamai says it is forbidden, while Beis Hillel says it is permitted. Rashi explains that Beis Shamai says it is forbidden because it will cause the comforters to be sad (along with the mourners), which is forbidden on Shabbos.
The Gemara (ibid, 12b) further notes that “b’koshi hitiru” – they reluctantly permitted – comforting mourners on Shabbos. Rashi explains again here that this leniency stems from the tremendous pain that the mourners experience.
While Rashi appears to understand that the problem with comforting mourners on Shabbos is a lack of oneg Shabbos (because of the sadness that a shiv’ah visit engenders), Rabbeinu Chananel notes a different prohibition. According to Rabbeinu Chananel, the prohibition is the resultant “bakashah” (i.e., request/beseeching) to Hashem that comes with a shiv’ah visit. This bakashah is forbidden on Shabbos.
II. Shabbos Comforting – In Practice
Practically, the Rambam (Shabbos 24:5) and the Rif (Shabbos ibid) simply cite the machlokes between Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel, without a mention of the reluctant leniency that follows in the Gemara. Similarly, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 287:1) codifies the leniency without any hesitancy, writing that it is permitted to comfort mourners on Shabbos. [Notably, the Shulchan Aruch does employ the language “y’cholin” – “you are able” – instead of the standard “you are permitted”].
The Magen Avraham (287), however, does cite the latter part of the Gemara and notes that it is not a positive development that comforters wait until Shabbos in order to pay a shiv’ah visit, as this was a reluctant leniency. The Mishnah B’rurah likewise cites the Magen Avraham almost verbatim.
On the other hand, the B’Tzeil HaChochmah (2:44) notes a longstanding custom to specifically comfort mourners on Shabbos. For example, the Seder HaYom (cited ibid) writes that the custom was for people to pay shiv’ah visits on the way home from shul on Shabbos morning. He provides two reasons for this custom: (i) people have more time on Shabbos (because there is no work) and thus do not need to cut this important mitzvah short; and (ii) because people are dressed properly and relaxed, the mitzvah can be performed with the proper mindset.
While the B’Tzeil HaChochmah does note that the Ya’avetz expressly attacks the Seder HaYom based on the ruling of the Gemara that we only reluctantly allowed shiv’ah visits on Shabbos, the B’Tzeil HaChochmah rules that the Seder HaYom has strong precedent in many Rishonim who imply that the custom was to pay shiv’ah visits on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Moreover, once the Gemara “reluctantly permitted” paying shiv’ah visits on Shabbos, it is permitted, and one may ideally pay such visits on Shabbos, but should try to minimize the pain so as not to ruin oneg Shabbos.
Indeed, the Nishmas Yisrael (p. 491) likewise questions our current custom not to pay shiv’ah visits on Shabbos, but concludes that regardless, the minhag is not to pay such visits on Shabbos. Mourning in Halachah (ArtScroll, p. 194) rules that “[o]ne may console mourners on the Sabbath, but it is better to perform the mitzvah only on an ordinary weekday.”
III. What To Say
If comforters do pay a shiv’ah visit on Shabbos, what should they say to the mourner? Is the same weekday phrase of “HaMakom y’nacheim eschem...” also recited on Shabbos, or do we change the nusach and say “Shabbos hi mei’linchom...” as by bikur cholim on Shabbos (see Gemara Shabbos ibid)?
The Mishnah B’rurah (287:3) cites a machlokes between the P’rishah (as followed by the Magen Avraham) and the Taz on this issue. According to the P’rishah, the regular phrase of “HaMakom y’nacheim eschem...” is recited. The Machatzis HaShekel explains that there is no need to change the nusach, because the regular nusach does not invoke extra sadness, as by davening for a choleh on Shabbos, as the deceased has already died. [As an aside, this explanation comports with the reason of Rashi, that one should not pay shiv’ah visits on Shabbos because of the pain that it engenders and ruins oneg Shabbos. See HaMaor Journal, 5774, Kislev, p. 43]
The Taz, however, who holds that a different phrase – “Shabbos hi mei’linchom...” should be recited. [Perhaps this is like the reason of Rabbeinu Chananel, that comforters do not pay shiv’ah visits on Shabbos because it will lead to “bakashah” – beseeching Hashem, which is improper on Shabbos.]
IV. Friday Night Shul Entrance
The Be’er HaGolah (Yoreh Dei’ah 393) notes the custom that the aveil attends shul Friday night “before Maariv” and upon entering the shul walks through two rows of people who comfort him. It is unclear whether the aveil, according to the Be’er HaGolah enters shul before or after Kabalas Shabbos.
The P’ri M’gadim (cited in the Mishnah B’rurah 287:3) records a similar custom, that the aveil enters shul on Friday night, and if he enters before Mizmor Shir (acceptance of Shabbos), then the gabbai announces the aveil’s presence (presumably for everyone to comfort him). The Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Dei’ah 400:5) also mentions the custom for the aveil to enter shul right before Kabalas Shabbos and for everyone to walk towards him (presumably to comfort him).
However, the P’ri M’gadim (and the Mishnah B’rurah) add that if he enters after Mizmor Shir, the gabbai makes no public announcement but is permitted to acknowledge the aveil with the words “Shabbos hi mei’linchom....” It thus appears that the custom, as cited in the Pri M’gadim and the Mishnah B’rurah, was to even comfort the mourner after the onset of Shabbos, although it is not done publicly.
The Sh’miras Shabbos K’Hilchasah (65, n. 90 and 94) questions our minhag to publicly be m’nacheim the aveil before Mizmor Shir, because the Mishnah B’rurah previously ruled that we accept Shabbos by “bo’i kallah” at the end of L’chah Dodi. He further questions how we can even be m’nacheim the aveil before L’chah Dodi where it is recited after sh’kiah (as is the custom in many places). The Sh’miras Shabbos K’Hilchasah thus explains that perhaps we are relying on the strict letter of the law that one can really pay shiv’ah visits on Shabbos itself. See also Kol Torah Journal (5769, Vol. 46, p. 142).
The T’shuvos V’Hanhagos (Vol. 4, p. 339), however, rules that the mourner should only be comforted if he enters shul before Kabalas Shabbos and before sh’kiah. He further notes that some shuls abolished this custom completely, even where the aveil enters before sh’kiah, as it is a time where Shabbos could start (i.e., tosefes Shabbos).
The Nit’ei Gavriel (1:115:2) cites a compromise position. While one can comfort the mourner entering after Shabbos, it is much more preferable to have him enter before sh’kiah and Kabalas Shabbos.
Next Week’s Topic: May an aveil attend his regular Daf Yomi shiur on Shabbos during shiv’ah?