Do You Believe in Ghosts?
by Rabbi Aron Moss
Can you shed some light on the custom to cover the mirrors in a house of mourning? I was told that after the funeral of an immediate relative we cover all mirrors in the home for the seven days of mourning. One explanation offered is that we are not supposed to adorn ourselves while mourning. But I am looking for any deeper explanation you may have...
There is a more spooky reason for covering mirrors in a house of mourning. This may sound a bit way out, but on reflection it might not be so wacky.
The Kabbalists write that all types of evil spirits and demons come to visit a family in mourning. When a soul leaves this world, they leave a void, an emptiness that is prone to be filled by darker forces. This is because wherever there is a vacuum, negativity can creep in. And so the house of mourning, the place where the loss is felt the most, is a magnet for evil spirits.
These demons cannot be seen by the naked eye. But when looking in a mirror, you may catch a glimpse of their reflection in the background. And so we cover the mirrors in a house of mourning, because we don't want to be alarmed by seeing those demonic visitors.
As strange as it sounds, we should not be too quick to dismiss the above idea as mythical nonsense. Perhaps it can be understood in terms that are very practical and very real. The evil spirits could be interpreted on a psychological level as inner demons.
The ghosts that visit a mourner are regret, guilt and anger. When a grieving person takes a hard look at themselves in the mirror, they will often feel that they didn't do enough for the departed, or they didn't say all they wanted to say, or they left some loose ends unsettled. Even if this is not really the case, even if they were an exemplary son or daughter, parent or spouse or sibling, human nature plays a game with our mind, making us agonize over what could have been. These thoughts, although usually unwarranted, are the evil spirits in the background that haunt us and give us no rest.
So we cover the mirrors. We don't want to look at those dark figures lurking behind the man in the mirror. A time of such raw emotion, when the loss is fresh and the heart is volatile, is not the time for harsh self-judgment. If indeed there are real unresolved issues, there will be time to deal with them later. But in the week immediately following the loss, we focus on the loss itself, and don't allow those malevolent forces to take over.
The grieving process takes us on a bumpy journey of many mixed emotions. Each one needs to have its time. But in the midst of that bumpy ride, we are not in a position to judge ourselves fairly. Usually it's a good thing to take a long hard look at yourself in the mirror. But it has to be without the ghosts in the background.