The Hebrew word for “mourning” is introduced in Vayeishev to describe Yaakov’s response to the apparent death of his son Yosef: “Vayis’abel (Beraishis 37:34).
The word “eivel” — “mourning” — is composed of the same letters, in the same order, as the word “aval” — “however.”
“However” bespeaks an interruption of a thought. And mourning — the facing of mortality forced by the death of someone close — is an interruption of life, of living, as we all do, without constantly thinking about death.
It’s interesting to note that the parsha includes not only the interruption of Yaakov’s life by Yosef’s disappearance – his aveilus – but a striking interruption of the narrative flow of the parsha itself, in the form of the account of Yehudah and Tamar.
And that narrative also presents yet another interruption, this one, of Yehudah’s life. He is suddenly, unexpectedly, forced to confront the reality of his role in Tamar’s pregnancy. Yes, Tamar tells him when he seeks to punish her, you seem innocent and I seem guilty. However, she continues, please recognize these personal items… (38:25). That, for Yehudah, is an aval moment too.
© 2020 Rabbi Avi Shafran