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For the week ending 24 May 2014 / 24 Iyyar 5774

Graveside

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

From: Gary

Dear Rabbi,

Is there any benefit to visiting deceased people at their grave? Since if anything is accomplished, it’s spiritual, does it matter that one is physically present at the place of burial? Anyway, after time there are no remains of the body in the ground. Why should we go there?

Dear Gary,

These are all very good and relevant questions.

In Judaism, burial, and the burial site, are very important.

It is a Torah requirement to bury, and to make every effort to be buried. Except in the most extreme scenarios, it is strictly forbidden to dispose of a body in any other way.

Since burial is so important to G-d, it follows that the burial site is also very important. In fact, the Torah often makes reference to burial sites, emphasizing the significance of the site remaining until this day. One example of this is the burial site of Rachel, which is identified by the Torah as being on the way to Beit Lechem. This reveals that the actual physical location of the grave is also important.

In the case of Rachel, Scriptures and the Talmud explain why: When the Jews were exiled, they were led past the burial site of Rachel, who is described as weeping and wailing over the fate of her children, beseeching G-d to have mercy on them and return them to their Land, the Land of Israel. G-d is swayed by her supplications and assures Mother Rachel that her prayers will be answered.

Why did the Jews have to be brought before the burial site for this to happen? Rather, you see from here that there is a special connection made between the living and the deceased at the burial site itself.

The reason for this is that even though the body eventually decays, a component of the soul remains connected to the remains at that spot. It is through this residual aspect of soul that the soul fully returns to the body upon resurrection. And this is also why the Hebrew name should be engraved in stone at that place, which anchors the soul there. In fact, that stone is called “nefesh” – a term referring to the lowest level of soul, mostly connected with the body.

The soul-connection to the grave is not only a function of place. It’s also affected by time. At certain times the presence of the soul is greater than at others. For example, this is so on days of judgment or on the “yahrzeit” (the annually commemorated day of departing). These occasions are considered particularly conducive to connecting between the living and the departed, which is considered especially helpful for both at these times.

In addition to all that, just making the effort to be physically present at the grave demonstrates great respect for the deceased. It also usually engenders much more palpable recollections of the departed and our relationship with them, making our remembrance of them more moving and significant. Finally, since the soul of the deceased is actually there in some measure, particularly during certain special occasions, the actual soul-connection is much stronger than when we “visit” them from afar.

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