By: Kaufmann Kohler
Comfort; alleviation of sorrow (); relief from grief (from , meaning in pi'el form "to remove grief"); words of sympathy and encouragement offered to persons in distress (Gen. xxxvii. 35; II Sam. xii. 24; Job xvi. 2; Ps. cxix. 50, 82). After the burial of the dead, mourners were offered "consolation" by the friends, who made them partake of the mourners' meal and the cup of consolation (see Jer. xvi. 7; compare Ps. lxix. 20; Job xlii. 11). These friends, called "comforters," are frequently mentioned in the Bible (see Lam. i. 2 et seq.; Eccl. iv. 1; II Sam. x. 2; Job xvi. 2; Ps. lxix. 20; Nahum iii. 7), and the act of consolation is alluded to in Job xxix. 25, and especially in Isa. lvii. 18 et seq., Hebr.: "I will restore comforts unto him and to his mourners—food for the refreshment of the lips" (the last Hebrew words, "bore nib sefatayim," have been strangely misinterpreted by the commentators, A. V. giving, "I create the fruit of the lips"; see Luzzatto ad loc.). Isa. lxvi. 10 et seq., Hebr.: "All ye that mourn over her that ye may suck and be satisfied with the overflow of her consolation," also contains an allusion to this custom (compare Ps. xciv. 19, "thy comforts," and Job xv. 11). Also the interpretation of the name of Noah as the one who shall "comfort" men for their hard toil because of the curse of the earth (Gen. v. 29, ), alludes to the wine of which he was the first producer (Gen. ix. 20; see Gunkel, commentary, ad loc., and Prov. xxxi. 6). Consolation was especially promised by the prophets of the Exile to the people mourning over Jerusalem (Isa. xl. 1; xlix. 13; li. 3, 12; lii. 9; lxi. 2 et seq.; lxvi. 10-13; Jer. xxxi. 12 et seq.; Zech. i. 13, 17). Hence the name "Neḥamah" or "Neḥamata" (consolation) given to the prophetic literature as offering comfort to the mourners over Jerusalem by the promise of the advent of "the comforter," either "the Messiah" (see "Menahem" as name of the Messiah, Sanh. 98b) or the "messenger of glad tidings" (see Paraclete; B. B. 14b; Ber. 31b; Yer. Ber. v. 8d).—In Rabbinical Literature:
"The consolation of Jerusalem" (see above) is mentioned in the prayer recited at meals (see Grace at Meals); also by the Karaites in the wedding eulogy (see Müller, "Masseket Soferim," p. 273), before the reading of the Hafṭarah (see "Massek. Soferim," xiii. 12), and particularly in the benedictions recited over the cup of consolation at the mourners' meal. The consolation of Jerusalem is thus brought into connection with that of the mourners over the dead (see Ket. 8b; Siddur R. Amram, i. 55; Ṭur Yoreh De'ah, 379; Shulḥan 'Aruk, 2).
There were two gates in the Temple at Jerusalem, believed to have been built by King Solomon, through one of which bridegrooms marched, through the other mourners and anathematized persons; the former to receive the congratulations, the latter the consolations, of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who gathered before these gates for the purpose of showing their sympathy. After the destruction of the Temple the synagogue became the place where bridegrooms received the congratulations and mourners the condolences of the people (Soferim, xix. 12; compare Pirḳe R. El. xiii.). Formerly the mourners stood still, and the people offering consolation passed by them; later on, in consequence of rivalry between families claiming rights of precedence on account of higher rank, the people were ranged in lines, and the mourners passed them, receiving consolation (Sanh. 19a). Ten men were necessary to form such a line (Sanh. ib.). Where there were no mourners to receive consolation, a congregation of ten men paid the honors to the dead (Shab. 152a, b). If the king was a mourner, the people said to him: "May we be thine atonement!" that is, May we suffer for thy sin! And he rejoined: "May ye be blessed from the Lord!" (Sanh. ii. 1). To the priest in the Temple who was in mourning or in misfortune, the friends standing to the right said: "May He who dwells in this house be thy Comforter!" (Middot ii. 2).
The friends who offered consolation sat down on the ground with the mourners and waited for the latter to speak first (Yer. M. Ḳ. iii. 83a). When Johanan ben Zakkai lost his son his disciples came to offer him consolation. R. Eliezer said: "The first man lost his son Abel, and was comforted; so should you be comforted." R. Joshua said: "Job had many sons and daughters, and lost them all on one day, and was comforted; so should you be comforted." R. Jose referred to Aaron the high priest, who lost his two sons on the day of the dedication of theSanctuary, and was comforted; R. Simeon referred to King David, who lost a son and was comforted. But R. Johanan ben Zakkai rejoined: "Your consolations only awaken grief, inasmuch as they recall the evil destiny which befell all these men." Then R. Eleazar b. 'Arak began: "A king gave a precious boon in trust to a man; and, behold, the man was in constant dread lest he might have it damaged or lost; and only when he had returned it safely did he feel at ease. The King of the world gave to thee a son who became a devotee of the Law; and then, having become familiar with all branches of learning, he departed this world free from sins; oughtst thou not be thankful that thou couldst return the treasure to God in such blameless shape?" Whereupon R. Johanan b. Zakkai replied: "Truly, thou, R. Eleazar, hast comforted me" (Ab. R. N. xiv.; compare Beruriah). Judah bar Naḥmani, the meturgeman of Resh Laḳish, spoke at the death of a child to the mourners: "Ye brethren who are afflicted by this loss, ponder upon this bitter lot of man foreordained from the days of creation; many have drunk of this cup, and many will yet drink of it. May the Lord of Consolation console you! Blessed be the Comforter of the Mourners!" To the friends who had come to condole with the bereft he said: "Brethren who practise benevolence, sons of practisers of benevolence, adhering to the covenant of Abraham our father, may the Lord of Recompense recompense you! Blessed be He who recompenseth good deeds!" (Ket. 8b).
In Midrashic literature God Himself is regarded as giving men an example of the "consolation of mourners" (Soṭah 14a, with reference to Gen. xxv. 11: "After the death of Abraham God blessed Isaac"). It is said of consolation that "it is one of those things which bring happiness to man" (Ab. R. N., A., xxx., ed. Schechter, p. 89); and it is declared that "wine has only been created for the cup of consolation" ('Er. 65a, with reference to Prov. xxxi. 6). Regarding the mourners' meal see Funeral Rites and Mourning Customs.