Graveside

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 is the burial site of Rachel (Gen. 38:19-20), “And Rachel died, and she was buried on the road to Ephrat, which is Bethlehem. And Jacob erected a monument on her grave; that is the tombstone of Rachel until this day”. This reveals that the actual physical location of the grave is also important.

In the case of Rachel, Scriptures (Jer. 31:14) explains, “So says the L-rd: A voice is heard on high, lamentation, bitter weeping, Rachel is weeping for her children, she refuses to be comforted for her children for they are not.” 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 to 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, “So says the Lord: Refrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for there is reward for your work…they shall come back from the land of the enemy…and the children shall return to their own border” (ibid 15-16).

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 that spot. It is through this residual aspect of soul that it 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, the gravestone itself 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, 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 deceased, 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 dead. 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 when we “visit” them “on location”.

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