I make a special effort to attend shiva services. If I have a friend who has suffered a loss, I try very hard to make at least one Shiva service, even if at times I have to cancel meetings or be away from my family for the evening. My wife says that I prioritize shiva over the family. Is she right? What is the best approach to take to attending shiva services?
This is a complex question, and I definitely feel for you. I mean, if you have to go sit with someone who just lost a close relative, which can be awkward and uncomfortable, and then go home to a disgruntled wife, that’s a bad night all around. However, if you choose to be home with your wife and family instead of going to the shiva, you feel badly that you not only missed out on comforting your friend, but you also missed out on an important mitzvah.
The mitzvah of menachem avel (comforting a mourner) is a biggie. In fact, it is considered one of the greatest mitzvot because it is one of the ways we mere mortals can emulate Hashem, as he himself comforted Yitzchak after Yitzchak lost his father (Sota 14a).
There are many factors to consider. Is this a very close friend? Is this someone for whom your wife would like you to be a shaliach (proxy) for her if she can’t go herself to this shiva house? How often do you find yourself missing evenings at home for other things that aren’t exactly top priority right now? Meaning, an extra shiva may just be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back.
Prioritizing your wife, your ezer kenegdo, is a central tenet of Judaism. Listen to what she is saying. Is she trying to tell you that you prioritize shiva over family, or that you prioritize shiva plus other things over family? My husband sometimes takes me with him on a shiva call, also is obsessive about going to shivas, which serves as an albeit somewhat maudlin date from time to time. I’m sure your wife isn’t anti-shiva; she may just be feeling like she needs and wants you around more, and by giving to every mourner you come across you are taking away valuable time at home.
It’s great to go to be menachem avel when you can, but your family needing you is a valid excuse for missing the occasional shiva (and other non-mandatory activities). Call the avel, send a nice note with a story about their loved one if you knew the person, and go to the shivas that fit in with your schedule and don’t cause a rift in your (important above all else) shalom bayit. Good for you for being such a good friend, but remember, keeping your wife happy— that’s number one. As Tony Soprano said, “Happy wife, happy life.”
Best of luck,