Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik
by R. Aharon Ziegler
Many people have wondered why aveilut for a parent is twelve months while for a child is only thirty days. After all, the loss of a dear and loving parent is a natural phenomenon of life, and it is anticipated, yet here the Halacha requires twelve months of mourning. But one who is subjected to the loss of a child, which is unnatural and extremely traumatic for the surviving parents, is told by Chazal that one month of aveilut is enough. How do we justify it?
Rav Pinchus Teitz from Elizabeth, New Jersey suggested that a parental loss is in a category of its own. Parents are unique. More children and siblings may be acquired. But there is only one mother and one father. The added mourning is to manifest this uniqueness.
According to Rav Soloveitchik, when parents become old a role reversal takes place. The parent, who cared for and sustained the child, is no longer physically capable of doing so. The parent now needs a support system. The child takes on the parental role of caring, sustaining and protecting the parent. In the latter stages of illness the parent is cared for almost like a child. Chazal imposed a longer mourning process to overcome the image of the child-like invalid parent in order to remember and vividly recall the parent not as viewed in the end of life but rather, as he/she appeared as a strong, vigorous caring parent. This process requires a considerable longer period of time.
On a simpler level, the Rav commented, the aveilut for parents is longer than for children because for parents it’s a mitzvah of Kibbud Av and Kibbud Eim.