Friday, June 4, 2021

Praying by the Graves of the Righteous


by Rabbi Benjy Simons

As an individual is taking leave of the cemetery after visiting his dearly departed mother, his attention is diverted to another man in the distance. The man seems to be praying with profound intensity and keeps repeating, “Why did you have to die? Why did you have to die?” 
The first man approaches him and says, “Sir, I do not wish to interfere with your private grief, but this demonstration of pain is more than I’ve ever seen before. Who are you mourning? A child? A parent?”

The mourner takes a moment to collect himself, then replies, “My wife’s first husband.” 

In this week’s Parsha the incident of the spies is told over in great length, and we have the first historical record of the concept of praying by a grave site. Rashi mentions that Calev who was the representative of the Tribe of Yehuda goes to Chevron to pray by the graves of the Patriarchs, which later became included in the tribal portion of Yehuda. He was concerned that he may be enticed by his colleagues who wished to disparage the Land of Israel, and unlike Yehoshua who received a name change and specific prayers from Moshe, Calev needed to draw down his own blessings for strength and fortitude (see Sotah 34b). 

While the Halachic commentators debate what exactly is permissible when interceding with those who have passed on, the Gemara (Ta’anis 16a) records the custom to go out on fast days to (Jewish) cemeteries and have those who have passed on to pray on our behalf. The Midrash (Sefer HaYashar Vayeishev Ch. 8) also records that Yosef prayed by his mother Rachel’s tomb when being brought down to Egypt in chains and that Ya’akov himself buried Rachel on the road to Bethlehem to enable her to pray on behalf of her children who would go into exile after the destruction of the First Temple (see Rashi to Bereishis 48:7). The Arizal writes that there exists a special energy at the grave of a Tzaddik and the Chasam Sofer equates the sanctity of a Kever with that of a Shule. 

The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (128:13) writes in the context of the custom of visiting a cemetery on Erev Rosh Hashanah, that it is important that we not direct our prayers to the deceased, but rather may it be in their merit that we receive blessings and success. He writes that were one to pray to the deceased directly, one may be in violation of the prohibition of ‘inquiring of the dead’, and perhaps connected to why we do not know were Moshe is buried today, due to the concern that it would become a shrine and potentially likened to necromancy. 

The Zohar (Vayikra 70b) writes that when the world needs mercy and we are dwelling in pain, we go and notify those sleeping in Chevron and Hashem will do their desire and have mercy on the world. May we merit that all our prayers are answered and those who have passed on intercede on our behalf.

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Anonymous said...

I always 'understood' that when praying at one's loved one or a tzadik's gravesite, that it is only that he/she (tzadik/loved one) 'intercede' on behalf of the one praying. No Jew should ever think that praying 'to' someone is right; it goes against everything that our Torah commands. We pray at the gravesites of tzadikim because we feel they have the 'merit' to intercede on our behalf. As far as at the gravesites of our loved ones, this applies also; that they 'intercede' on our behalf because of their love and connection to the mourner/relative. This is what we mean by a 'meilitz yosher', a righteous interceder',

Devorah said...

Yes, we do not pray to the deceased, we pray to Hashem, of course.
Thank you for mentioning this.

Hannah said...

There is at least one exception: at kever Rachel Imenou, one can directly pray and daven to Rachel

Anonymous said...

Yes, because Rochel Imenu is the one who is always praying for her children, Yisrael and that is precisely what Yaakov Avinu had in mind when he buried her along the roadside so on their way to captivity in Bavel and for all times, until Moshiac tzdkeinu redeems us all, her children can come to pray to her and that she will always intercede for us for it was Hashem who chose her from all our holy ancestors to be the intercessor (Rochel cries for her children).