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Apparently, the Torah is suggesting that the experience of child loss is unique.
Remarkably, the descriptions that we find in these verses reflect the way parents still describe this kind of bereavement – a pain that never leaves.
In all the years I studied and taught the story of Jacob and Joseph, I never saw it in this light until, I, tragically, experienced the sudden death of my own four-year-old son, Elisha Chanina z”l.
As I now continuously search the Torah and our holy books for insight and wisdom in confronting my aching loss, I have found comfort in discovering that the Torah treats child loss in way that is honest and real.
As I have learned over the three years and nine months since my son’s passing, every individual experiences grief differently.
But there are some general recommendations as to how one can be a source of strength for those who have suffered this kind of tragedy.
Jacob’s family and friends try to comfort him for his loss, says the Torah “…but he refused to be comforted” ().
Jacob lives 22 years with the belief that Joseph, then his teenage son, has tragically died.
Although this portion of the Torah is not usually read in this light, we have a snapshot of how a parent mourns a child’s death. This is the first time a Jew rends his garment, a ritual incorporated into halacha, Jewish law, and we continue to observe it on the death of a parent, spouse or sibling.
Perhaps this is because the culture does not perceive the loss of a child to be any different than any other death.
Shakhul is often simply translated as “bereaved,” which does not capture its true meaning.