She returned from the cemetery on Friday afternoon, Erev Sukkot, just before sundown, after bidding him a final farewell. She took off her shoes and sat down on the living room floor. Then she got right back up again. She went to the table and lit the yahrzeit candle, the Yom Tov candles, and the Shabbat candles. She welcomed Yom Tov and Shabbat. On Monday, Chol HaMoed Sukkot, she dragged herself to work. She missed him terribly. And she missed the shiva.
Shiva is the seven-day mourning period immediately following the burial of a relative, during which one stays at home, sits on a low chair, wears no shoes, and is comforted by a stream of visitors. After the shiva one goes to work. A second period of mourning sets in for 23 days. This period is called the shloshim, during which time certain restrictions observed during the shiva continue to apply, including not shaving, not cutting one’s hair, and not attending celebrations.
The arrival of Yom Tov terminates the shiva a relative had begun observing before Yom Tov. Similarly, the arrival of Yom Tov terminates the period of shloshim a relative had begun observing before Yom Tov. In a situation where the deceased died on Erev Yom Tov, shiva may last for only a few short moments before Yom Tov and there will be no continuation of the shiva following Yom Tov. Similarly, if Yom Tov arrives after the relative began to observe the shloshim, there is no continuation of the shloshim after Yom Tov unless the deceased was a parent.
The arrival of Shabbat however, does not cancel the shiva or the shloshim. If Shabbat could cancel the shiva, there would never be a shiva. On Shabbat the mourner may leave his house to attend synagogue and mourning is conducted in private. Although Yom Tov has the power to cut short the shiva and the shloshim, it does not have the power to cancelthem entirely so that they are never experienced at all. One must have observed shiva or shloshim even for only a moment in order for Yom Tov to cut them short. If, however, there was no opportunity to observe even a moment of shiva or shloshim before the arrival of Yom Tov (for example, if the relative died during Yom Tov), the full shiva and shloshim are observed after Yom Tov and the shloshim is counted from the day of the burial.
Why does Yom Tov cut short shiva and shloshim?
According to Rabbi Eliezer, it is because the eight days of Sukkot and Pesach overlap the days of the shiva. Where, however, Yom Tov lasts for fewer than seven days, as in the case of Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur, Rabbi Eliezer rules the shiva is not cut short but resumes after Yom Tov.
Rabbi Gamliel disagrees. The power of Yom Tov to cut short the shiva has nothing to do with the overlap of days. It is more fundamental. On Yom Tov, explains Rabbi Gamliel, we are commanded to celebrate – vesamachta bechagecha.” Celebration and mourning are incompatible. Although people have been known to laugh and cry at the same time, one cannot be commanded to do so. Not only would this be an impossible task, it would also be disrespectful to the deceased. Therefore, since we are required to celebrate all the Yamim Tovim and since all the Jewish festivals are called “moadim,” they all have the power to cut short the shiva, irrespective of whether they are seven-day or one-day festivals. Accordingly, the arrival of Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot cut short the shiva.