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What is the Hineni Learning Tool?

Hineni is a unique, interactive, web-based tool that gives users a simple, ergonomic, and fast way to get information about Jewish death practices. The word, Hineni, is the transliteration of a Hebrew phrase used in the Torah, meaning "Here I am." It was chosen to indicate this tool is here to give succinct, direct answers to everyone quickly and easily. Hineni is intended to be used by various audiences, starting with (1) with those who directly serve families (funeral directors, cemetery workers, hospice personnel, Jewish clergy, chaplains, death doulas, and hospital personnel, who want to learn more to be better able to serve Jewish families and who want to assist families in making end-of-life decisions), and (2) families facing death of a loved one who wish to learn more about our traditions. We also envision community leaders using this tool as they prepare drashot for services, lectures, or classes, along with Chevrah Kadisha workers who want to expand their abilities to share these practices with their community. Additional possible users could include bnei mitzvot classes and their teachers, chevrah leaders, chevrah volunteers, local education champions,  Jewish community lay leaders, Jewish and non-Jewish clergy, JADE helpline responders, and synagogue caring committee members. Acknowledgements The Hineni tool was developed by the JADE staff as a part of ongoing community educational efforts to find the best ways to disseminate and share knowledge about Jewish end-of-life practices, rites, customs, and traditions. An acknowledgement of the contribution of our staff is shown below.
Concept:
Rick Light
Prototype:
Rick Light
Coordination:
Isabel Knight
Content:
HollyBlue Hawkins, Rick Light
Editing:
Rick Light, David Zinner
Marketing
Isabel Knight, Susan Kramer
Implementation:

Shmirah – Soul Comfort

A Deeper Understanding


Shmirah is the unconditional kindness of comforting the deceased by guarding the body and accompanying the soul from the moment of death until burial.

Introduction


After death and before burial, the soul stays near to the body with which it has had an intimate relationship for its whole lifetime. The soul is naturally “concerned” about the welfare of its body. Before burial, the soul is thought to have an awareness of what is happening to its body.

Shomrim are the people who watch over and guard the body.  Traditionally, this is done by reading Psalms in the presence of the deceased, but some also read poetry, quietly speak to the deceased, or sing nigunnim (wordless melodies) as a way to comfort the departing soul. Periods of silent contemplation and meditation are also appropriate.  Some speak words of comfort to the deceased. Just being present is considered comforting, so periods of silent contemplation and meditation are also appropriate. The focus is on bringing consolation to the disembodied soul as well as to the family who appreciate that their loved one is not alone.

The body is guarded by a shomer (male) or shomeret (female). The shomrim (plural) are  “sitting shmirah” when they keep the body company. Shmirah comes from the Hebrew meaning “guarding.” It is customary to provide shomrim with the Hebrew name and biography of the deceased so they can connect more fully.

Sitting shmirah does not require touching the deceased or even being in the same room with them. However, shomrim are often within sight of the refrigerator or the casket, where the dead await burial.

Physical guarding protects the body. Originally, this was to protect the body from animals, body thieves, or others who might try to violate the body in some way. During Covid we learned that, even when we could not be physically present with our beloved, we could still “hold space” remotely in their honor, recite prayers, and focus loving attention, all to the benefit of their memory and easing their transition. Thus, the physical presence of shomrim may not always be possible. A virtual shmirah allows a larger community to participate and enables us to honor our dead even when we cannot be near them.

For some, spiritual accompaniment is as important as the physical presence. Spiritual guarding is keeping the soul of the deceased company.

Details


Shmirah often includes many people, over a number of days, as burial may not always be immediate, and may be delayed in order for family members to assemble from distant locations. Usually, shomrim will sit for a few hours, and then be replaced by others. Sometimes, shomrim sit in pairs, especially if one or both are new to the task.

Shmirah has profound emotional implications and impact, not just for the departing soul, but also for the shomrim who seek to comfort it. Though primarily designed to ease the disorientation of the departing soul, there is something  powerful in knowing that one is performing an act for which there can be no thanks, since the deceased can no longer give thanks. That is why it is called “Chesed Shel Emet” – true loving kindness.

Shmirah can serve as an antidote to our natural fear of death, and helps us to understand this journey as another part of life. New shomrim are often surprised to find that despite their initial trepidation, performing shmirah proved to be an emotionally uplifting experience. Many shomrim have reported that it was a gift to experience the holiness that is felt in this liminal time and space, and the appreciation of life they felt afterwards.

When shomrim perform this mitzvah in pairs, a meaningful bond is created between them with the added bonus of serving as a powerful community building tool.

Shomrim are often volunteers but not always. Shmirah can offer consolation and comfort to the mourners. Those who do shmirah are usually not the primary mourners (although they can be). Sometimes shomrim are grandchildren, community members, friends, or others who understand how loving this practice is.

In some communities, teens are matched with adults. Sometimes non-Jews do shmirah along with Jews. Shmirah can be a good way for out-of-town relatives to re-connect with the deceased and the mourning process, especially when an online virtual shmirah arrangement has been set up.

Some communities have a “shmirah box” filled with various readings and books of Psalms which can be shared with different locations. Other communities have such resources available at the funeral home or online.

Resources to Learn More


 

In keeping with the historical practice of protecting the dead between death and burial, today family or community members read Psalms and other texts in the presence of the deceased. 


Click on icons below to learn about this topic from different perspectives.

Practical

Textual

Emotional

Spiritual

Shmirah from the Practical / Physical Perspective

Shmirah is both a physical guarding and a spiritual accompaniment, traditionally accomplished by reading Psalms in the presence of the deceased. Physical guarding is designed to protect the body. Originally, this was protection from animals, body thieves, and others who might try to violate the body in some way. Most of these concerns are not as relevant today, but shmirah continues. The practice of shmirah keeps the disembodied soul company since it says close to its body until burial.

Shmirah from the Intellectual / Textual Perspective

The tradition of shmirah comes from the Book of Samuel, in which Rizpah guards her dead sons. Today, most shomrim honor this tradition by reading or chanting Psalms, poems, songs, or other relevant texts that might bring comfort. Some will speak gently to the newly departed soul, who is believed to be hovering near the body.  Just being present is comforting, so periods of silent contemplation and meditation are appropriate.  Many Chevrah Kadisha teams or funeral homes provide a 'shmirah box' or cabinet containing a variety of reading materials for the hours spent sitting shmirah.

Shmirah from the Emotional / Feelings Perspective

Shmirah has profound emotional implications and impact, not just for the departing soul, but also for the shomrim who seek to comfort it.  After death, the soul, now separated from the body which housed it, hovers nearby and has an awareness of what happens near its body. During this liminal time, after death and before burial, Jews demonstrate kindness by accompanying the soul and comforting it through reading Psalms and other Jewish texts.

Shmirah from the Spiritual / Soul Perspective

Reading of Psalms during the time of shmirah is designed to help the soul on its journey after death. Shmirah is a form of 'comforting' as we endeavor to help the soul not feel alone during this time in which it is adjusting to not having a body. Shmirah may also include 'the art of soul guiding,' a task that requires trusting intuition and one's inner voices, listening inwardly for a response and being attentive to a meaningful experience.

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Deeper Understanding

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