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August 26, 1988 - Image 142

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-08-26

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(tie° Repent
At Cemetery

zi S17 2



By Rabbi Chaim M. Bergstein

It is a custom in many
communities to go to the cemeteries
on the day before Rosh Hashanah
and pray fervently (for a good year).
It is also customary to give
tzedakah for the poor at the
gravesite, preferably before one's
prayers. This ancient custom dates
back to times of the Talmud when
prayers were said at the gravesites
in times of trouble such as when
there was a drought and a public
fast was decreed. Apparently, the
Days of Awe, the High Holy Days,
because of their nature of
determining one's fate for the year,
became occasions for such visits as
well. Going to the graves of our
parents and the righteous people
there, before the day of Rosh
Hashanah, is reflective of the idea
of preventing any harsh decrees
from on High on the day of Rosh
Why does one go to the
cemetery to pray? There are several
reasons. First, it is to arouse us to
repent, for we see that life is
temporary. We never know when
our time will come to give an
account of ourselves to our Creator.
Second, it is a holy place. For
where there are righteous people
buried, there is holiness and our
prayers are more easily received in
a holy place. We also say to the
Almighty, "Help us in the merit of
the great people who served you on
behalf of the Jewish people."
Furthermore, we place ourselves at
God's mercy, saying, "without You
we, are helpless as the dead, so
please have compassion"
A matter of controversy
surrounds the concept of the status
of the departed soul itself. Is the
soul asked to intercede on behalf of
the visitor, especially if the visitor
gives tzedakah in merit of the
righteous soul resting there? Most
rabbinic authorities hold that the
deceased are asked to pray on



20300 Civic Center Drive
Suite 240
Southfield, Michigan 48076
August 26, 1988
Associate Publisher Arthur M. Horwitz
News Editor Heidi Press
Jewish Experiences for Families
Advisor Harlene W. Appleman
Illustrator Neil Beckman




" N"'


L. V

behalf of the visitor to the grave and
plead for mercy.
Our Midrash and liturgy is filled
with the pleadings of the patriarchs
and the prophets on behalf of their
children and flock. Indeed, the most
powerful evidence for this concept
is found in Jeremiah's vision where
the "Voice on high is heard —
Rachel cries for her children." Every
child is taught that Jacob
specifically buried his beloved wife
Rachel before they entered Beth
Lechem, so that the children of
Israel who would be exiled at the
time of the destruction of the First
Temple could pray there on the way
to exile in Babylon. Her prayers
were answered and Jeremiah
"hears in heaven" that her
supplication bore fruit. Our people
would be returned after only 70
years of exile. It is now accepted by
most great Jewish authorities on
prayer and the Kabbalah that the
dead are asked to intercede for the
Among the many customs of
going to the cemetery is that we
circle the gravesite. The giving of
tzedakah should precede the
prayers we say there. Symbolically,
many people light a lamp in honor
of the memory of the deceased
before the prayers as well. In many
communities special texts called
"Maineh Lashon" are read. The text

includes selected psalms, the
Nishmat prayer added on the
Sabbath and a dramatic prayer
addressing the righteous, praising
their deeds and the request that
they plead on our behalf. Many read
a special note or "kvittel" after
chanting this prayer and leave the
note, torn up or otherwise, at the
grave, similar to the notes left at the
Western Wall. Some have the
custom of leaving a pebble on the
site or tear some grass nearby to
indicate that they were there.

. . . the gravesite of
Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair
has a wall surrounding it
in which millions of
pebbles have created a
large mound, over the

Apparently, it is in honor of the
departed that the living remember
them and show that their resting
place is visited. In the old cemetery
of Safed, the gravesite of Rabbi
Pinchas Ben Yair has a wall
surrounding it in which millions of
pebbles have created a large
mound over the years.
Before entering the cemetery
one says a special blessing,
accepting God's judgement in giving
the dead their lives and then taking

them away. The blessing ends with
the belief in the resurrection of the
dead that the departed will rise
again. At the gravesite prior to our
prayers we ask God that "the
resting of the deceased be
distinguished with honor and may
his/her merit be of support to me."
This all reinforces our belief in the
eternity of soul and its goodness
and the folly of pursuing a purely
material life.
It is customary not to visit the
same grave twice in one day. One
should refrain from disrespectful
behavior at the cemetery and
should prepare for the visit with
good deeds and modest conduct.
Once a woman whose child
was ill ran in the Temple and
circumscribed the floor of the
Temple in prayer. This is the source
for circling the grave in time of
trouble. After facing the grave stone,
one should turn right first and go
around while always facing the
grave and turning to the right. This
is similar to the way the Kohanim
went around the Altar.
It is clear the cemetery is a
special place, similar to the Holy
Temple, a place of comfort, of
prayer and of love between all

Rabbi Bergstein is the spiritual
leader of Congregation Bais Chabao
of Farmington Hills.

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