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Shmira, A Unique Path to Fulfillment

10/25/2018 08:20:34 PM


Doug Sparks

Doug Sparks, our congregant, shares his reflections on sitting shmira — accompanying a deceased person from the moment of death until burial — one of the most honourable traditions in Judaism. If his experience inspires you to learn more or to assist the Boulder Chevra Kadisha, please contact Doug at 303-883-6295 or  We thank those who serve in this holy capacity, showing kindness and honoring our loved ones and their families.

This ancient Jewish ritual, sitting with the deceased after death and prior to burial, is traditionally a physical and spiritual guarding. 

  • Physical to protect the deceased with one’s presence 

  • Spiritual to help ‘guide’ the soul on its journey after departing the body 

  • As such, it is called the greatest mitzvah as the deceased cannot reciprocate  

For Reform Jews the purpose is often to honor the deceased’s life and also the corpus, our physical form in this world.  One may or may not believe in the soul and this aspect may be mythic for some. 

The Boulder Chevra Kadisha, Holy Society or Burial Society, oversees this ritual as well as its associated ritual, Taharah, the ritual purification of the body prior to burial. I have done Shmira a number of times and would like to share my experiences. 

Sitting with the deceased for 1 or 2 hours is ever changing. But I always feel peacefulness and calm that seems to derive from respect for the deceased and awareness of my mortality.

I say the Shema, try to read the Psalms or books about death and spirituality in Judaism. Sometimes I cannot read and try to meditate or just sit quietly. Believing in the soul, I try to experience something of what that may mean.   

I always think of my death and my need to have someone with me in the room when the time comes.    

And I relate to the generations before us who performed Shmira as a profound act of love and respect for those who went before.

Afterwards I may retain some extraordinary feeling of connectedness for an hour or a day. But soon I have lost it and am back to my ordinary self, living but struggling to connect with the Infinite. Shmira has become for me a path to a degree of fulfillment I have not found elsewhere. 

Thu, December 7 2023 24 Kislev 5784