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Tuesday, January 24, 2006



Those who grew up in frum, close knit Jewish communities know how many meshugassen (follies, strange customs) there are.
Some have a basis in Halacha (Jewish law), and some were generated many years ago, based on circumstances, superstitions and customs adopted by various Rabbis.
Some I find funny and enjoyable, some I find strange at best and ridiculous at worst and some can just not be fathomed by my pragmatic mindset.

We all know the grass is greener by the neighbor, but there’s an insightful mussar story (story with a moral), that envisions everyone throwing his pack of t’zures (troubles) into one big container, and then choose another one.
When selecting another pack , most people will want to pick up the one their threw in originally rather than any other, teaching that everybody is given the challenges that fit their level of strengths, and that the tribulations of others, which are not always known or visible, will seem much harder to bear.

Since exchanging is not an option, Jews will resort to prayer and beg H’Ashem for help, for the tiniest insignificant worry to matters of life and death, a Siddur (prayer book) and a Tehillim (psalms book) is always within reach
And so it’s a common occurrence that a text message is being passed from one person to the next with a request to pray for someone, usually a person the receiver of the text message doesn’t know, but that does not matter.
Praying has almost scientifically been proven to be effective and many wonderful stories can attest to the fact that prayer, recited by oneself or by others on one's behalf, helped them, physically, psychologically and metaphysically.

Besides praying, many Jews, especially Chassidim, finding themselves in dire situations will appeal to a Rabbi to pray on their behalf.
It is believed that a righteous person’s prayer is more powerful, and that their blessing can bring about salvation to any predicaments.
Some people go to a Rabbi to ask for a blessing or for advice in all matters. Naming a child, moving to another house or country, which material to learn etc…
Others will visit the Rabbi’s only in situations of need, such as illness and the like.

In recent years a trend has developed to visit graves of Tzadikkim(righteous ones) of the old days, whether it’s in Poland or in Russia, or in Israel. Often these trips are coupled with visits to concentration camps. Long time readers know how I feel about these.
People will drive for hours and fly miles to visit a grave, pray at its sight and leave.
Some particular graves are renowned to help in specific cases, one is great when you need a Shidduch, another one is great for a Refuah Shelemah (getting healthy) etc..
Unfortunately, praying at a grave is no guarantee for anything, and many having spend money and energy, come only to feel their last hopes are now crushed.

Personally I don’t participate in these travels.
I’m not saying I don’t believe it is of any use, but I can’t help but think it’s sort of unreal.
Prayer is available to all, and if one does have the belief that a righteous person’s prayer is more effective, then there are plenty of live ones where one can appeal.
Visiting graves, as a tourist-thing-to-do beats all the other meshugassen I know.
Visiting them in such hostile countries as Poland for the purposes of praying less so, because I understand the visitors are often driven there by despair.
Yet I’m still of the opinion that deceased people are in another world, hopefully better one, and that prayer is to be directed to H’Ashem and not inadvertently to Tzadikim that are no longer with us.

What is your opinion? Do you visit gravesides to pray and invoke the merit of the deceased? Do you feel it’s useful to pray at gravesides or is H’ashem just as close in our homes and Shuls as he is by the Kevorims and in countries where Judaism hasn't been practiced for the last 40 years?

I think you are the one & only, the undisputed World Champion Pragmatician, hehe.
Erica-Thanks I like that title, too bad there isn't a contest!
I go to graves to remember I'm alive. Isn't there some movie like this with a teenager and some old lady that both go to graves...the teen because s/he wants to be dead and the old lady because she wants to be alive? I forget the name of it.
I personally haven't been to these kevorim you refer to, or even closer ones geographically. Part of it is laziness I guess, but part of it is being in the type of yeshivos and having the type of Rebbeim who aren't so into "segulos" and like you, emphasize your own Torah and tefilla.

That said, there definitely are miraculous stories of these things apparently working. And if I happen to be in a place like Tzfas I'll certainly daven by the kevorim there. It could be some of the people going are being lazy in their own way and substituting it for their own hishtadlus, but perhaps many have indeed tried everything else and it's a matter of last resort.

Also, nobody davens TO the Rabbi (whether dead or alive), but rather the m'kubalim tell us that the niftar's holy neshama is present there in some way and we ask in the merit of our coming to visit and honor their memory that they should intercede with Hashem on our behalf and He should have mercy on us and our loved ones. Which is itself also controversial, as many don't say the "machnisei rachamim" in selichos for this reason.

Thanks for your comments on my blog - glad you enjoy it!
Parsha, you pulled the words out of my mouth.

Nobody prays to the tzadik, its just that the tzadik knows how things work up there, so he is able to help us out, also there is the inyan from kabala of tzadik goyzer vihakadosh baruch hu mikayem.

There are many stories of people being saved and helped thru visiting the graves of tzadikim.

The sad part is that today there are no real tzadkim alive, at least not that I know of, so I go to the graves.
I always thought it was more like enlisting help. If you have a friend whos a bigshot at a company you are desperately trying to get a job at, of course your gonna ask him if he can help you at. I think thats why people pray at graves. They are asking the Rabbi's whom they pray before to use their significant pull and please appeal to Hashem for whatever it is you need praying for. In a sense you ARE davening to the Rabbi... only its so that he will daven for you.
I don't daven at any grave except ones that I knew the person in life.

I trust myself to be able to include the merit of this tzaddik while still adressing except G-d.

It's only when I can say,
"Hey, G-d, this really impressive person here, that's my great grandmother, that's my teacher... for thier sake will You will give their child...."

okay, well most of the time, except for amuka and kever rachel and chevron, but only the first really counts.
I think makom affects mentality. Every Tisha B'Av I go to the local cemetery, specifically to the grave of a tzaddik I knew and a couple of friends who died young. It's very emotional. I could go there any day, but on that day in that place I have emotions that surpass almost everything else.

I've never been on one of those tours you mentioned, but I can understand their appeal.
For me Hashem is very very close and I don´t feel the need to visit graves of Tzadikim. I once went to Tzfat with a religious friend of mine and I felt a very special atmosphere, she travels every couple of months from Jerusalem to Tzfat to pray. For me this was a very special experience, but I don´t feel the urge to repeat it. If I get to go again one day, I would be happy, but I can´t imagine to travel to Poland for this reason. I´ve been to Poland and I might go back one day with my children, but for other reasons. I also don´t ask other people to pray for me as I feel that I have special relationship with Hashem and my words are strong and are/will be heard.
(Maybe I have to add here that I am not religious)
pp - I WISH that were the case. Have you ever heard of lubavitch?
I hate to plug my site on prag's but back in November I wrote a long post about this.
Yakki- I don’t know this movie, but in both cases just visiting graves is going to be of little help.

Parsha potpourri-I didn’t know there were yeshivas like that anymore, segulos are so overhyped nowadays, it’s refreshing to see some Rebeim don’t get into these things so much.
If you’re somewhere anyway, why not stop by and say a few kapitlers, but it’s the traveling specifically for, that I find unreal.

The real- I’m afraid that some uninformed people pray directly to the Tzaddik, which happens to be a form of avodah zarah.
You can’t stop yeridas hadoros but I think saying “no real tzaddikim’ is exaggerating.

Xvi-ny- It’s a good example, and I guess even the name of a deceased person can have an effect sometimes.
But we’re not talking about graves of great-grandfathers we’re talking about graves of total strangers, whom we only know from stories and seforim.

Masmida- If you feel close to H’ashem and ask Him stuff in the merit of…then why not.
When you were at Kever Rochel where there any incidents? I’ve heard it not always safe around there.

Me & my yetzer- Their appeal is the promise of all your troubles solving themselves afterwards. You cant’ have a better marketing slogan.
I may be wrong here but it seems to me that on Tisha Be’av you’re not supposed to say Tehillim.

Mia-Non religious people pray too, it’s not a shocking revelation. I’ve read on many blogs that prayer is important to them.
If I may ask, do you pray the traditional prayers from a Siddur?

A Frum- I remember that post, I hope you’re not seeing this as plagiarism; it’s just my view on the subject minus Lubavitch
I believe if prayers will be answered it doesn’t matter where that prayer took place. Insofar as going to kevurim – graves, for me it’s purely for its historical value.

About that story you mentioned, I always used to say, that I would just throw my pekel tzuris into the container and run, I wouldn’t pick mine or any other pekel… if only.
Also a- Well in the story that would be impossible, from the moment you would throw your pack in, you'd be paralyzed until you'd pick up another one.
Glad to see you share my view about koach ha'tefilloh. When I mention something like that to my friends I'm either crazy or don't understand anything.
I went to the rebbes ohel when i was in Ny
by the way you wrote some heavy stuff on Eshets site
develop it into a post
Datingmaster-that's an idea. I think I'll do that
thanks for the advice.
prag - re your response to yakki - i beg to differ.
i've been told (need to check sources) that anyone who leaves a cemetery without having been changed/affected in some way, has a problem. The idea is that you should come away with a feeling of your own mortality and whatever that implies - i.e. teshuvah, using your time wisely, etc.
I need to research this a little more.

I took my kids to the cemetary where my grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents are buried this past fall, just before Yom Kippur. I don't know if we get any special z'chut for the tehillim we recited there, but I'd like to believe that my progenitors got some nachas.

As for Kever Rachel, I've heard very persuasive acheological arguments that the Beit Lechem where Rachel Imeinu is buried is actually a completely different site, north of Jerusalem rather than south of it. In which case, the miracles attributed to praying at "Kever Rachel" just go to show that it's not where you are or what you are facing, but "U'bilvad sheyikaven libo la'shamayim".
Well..the Ruach of the deceased is always at the gravesite..so when we go to a kever of Tzaddikim...we're in a way..visiting the Tzaddik himself.

What I don't like is..this new trend of adopting Rebbes that arent alive anymore (read..Lubavitch..Breslov)
That goes against everything a Rebbe is supposed to do. Imagine being able to go to a Rebbe without any fear of rebuke...?
Pragmatician, to answer your question, I say ´Shma´ everyday When I go to the synagogue (sometimes on Shabbat morning)I usually arrive when they take out the Torah and then I daven also the Amida, Ashrei and the rest. I try to read Tehilim everyday. I always say ´tfilat haderech´if I am travelling and otherwise I just ´talk´to Hashem. Quite a lot now that I am writing it down. I grew up in a very traditional house with Hashem always present. I went to religious school for 6 years (unfortunately there is no Jewish highschool in Zurich). Just to give you some background info.
Mata- What you heard makes sense, visiting a cemetery is a very conducive place to inspire a person to do Teshuvah.
The issue at hand though is not so much visiting the local Jewish cemetery as it is to travel for the sole purpose of visiting a cemetery.

Tuesdaywishes- It is common to visit cemeteries erev Yom Kippur, mostly as Mata Hari mentioned, to be inspired to make Teshuvah. And reciting Tehillim is always good, if it was at a cemetery hen so be it, at the very least it was a lesson for your children.
I hadn’t heard about what you said on the Kever Rochel, but I’m most intrigued.
If this turns out to be a fact, it would give my post a serious boost of credibility.
Thanks for sharing this info.

David- Good point, I hadn’t even thought of it, the question is why, if they knew they would have supporters even after their death, didn’t they train and appoint a successor.

Mia- That sound pretty much what the average orthodox woman prays, aside from personal supplication that everyone has.
Some Kevarim like Nachmun from Breslev or Amuka... hold a segula for things. If a Rav made a commitment to daven on behalf of the person visiting his grave, then yes why wouldnt someone go there if they needed something badly? Hashem is close to us everywhere but sometimes we need a helping hand. If I had opportunity to go to Russia or wherever, I would visit those graves. Also, its important to go back to the old european cemeteries, make sure they are maintained and... remember where you came from. Our history defines us.
For me the kevar has to have some personal connection. Some real basis for claiming a right to this person's merit.

Otherwise, who am I to this person that I should claim benefits from their work.
For me the kevar has to have some personal connection. Some real basis for claiming a right to this person's merit.

Otherwise, who am I to this person that I should claim benefits from their work.
Well I don't believe in leaving physical articles on the graves of tazdikkim or anything like that; but I may say a special tefillah to commemorate the work that they did/what they represent. I don't expect to get anything out of it however.
Frum- These segulos are very esoteric and while many nissim have occurred as a result of davening at the kever of a Godol, many haven’t and that’s where the danger lies, assuming it’s an infallible trick to have H’Asheml listen to our prayers.

Masmida- Intelligent reasoning. The idea I think is that a Godol feels as all Klal Yisrael are his kids, so in a way you may claim some benefit from his hard work.

Misshona –I don’t think it’s very common to leave things at a grave,
please go to www.begratefull.blogspot.com

it is important.
Excellent post.

I went to my father's grave site when my daughter was ill, and prayed. I also find myself asking those more religious than myself to pray in dire times of need, coming to the conclusion that somehow they are closer to God.

These last couple of months, my ideas about prayer and what they mean have changed a bit. Some of us, when we pray, focus on pleasing God, and not wanting or needing for ourselves. This is what I have been doing lately, since to pray with the hope that an expectation can or cannot be met puts us in a bind with God, and makes at least me question, where is God in times of need. Have you read the book, WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE by Rabbi Kushner? It is an excellent book, and puts life and prayer into perspective. Today, I pray for hope and courage, strength, not so much for a desired end. Otherwise, I am left to ask, where is God? Where was He during the Holocaust? Where was He during these last elections in Israel? If the focus of my prayer is to praise God, and ask for strength, these questions evaporate, or at least diminish to a great extent.
Well, it can never be infallable... Hashem is the one who decides. You are right, as long as people remember that they are davening to HAshem at these kevorim and hoping for intervention as opposed to davening to these gedolim to intervene... and that it wont necessarily help...
I've been to my rebbes grave...on more than one occasion. I've also gone to see tzaddiks for brochos. I think it's a good feeling to have when you feel someone so riteous is praying for you.
hashem is all over, but when u go daven at the kvorim of deceased people, u arent going there to daven to get closer to hashem. u go there to invoke the merits (zchusim) of the deceased so that they intercede and plead w/ hashem on ur behalf.
check out my blog for other thought provoking subjects.
hi great carrot kugel recipe in the comments section of my latest fantasy post-do you like carrot kugel
you know the custom I always wondered about...I know it's not holocha...fingernails. I mean, if you break a finger nail and drop it. My mother would go crazy when I was little and tell me I had to flush fingernails down the toilet. I believe it was something about either I won't ever have children if someone steps on it, or if a prenant lady steps on it she'll miscarry. Funny thing is...I still always flush them. Adn, well...so does everyone else I know.
Hi I deleted that post about intimacy now I have a post about women and hormones
got any thoughts?
I think it's easier for us (in the physical plane to concentrate in prayer) when we are certain that the intended is close by, and listening. I think that's why the catholics have so many patron saints.

Whether the dead persons are really hanging around their graves probably isn't important. The fact that the live person's proximity to old bones makes him feel safer, is probably what becomes important.

Sometimes I think that there are parts of our brain that just don't work unless we totally believe in something.

I keep my husband's ashes in my home, in a simple ironstone urn with elk and bears painted on its sides. I talk to him all the time. His presence comforts me.

I think if his ashes were scattered or placed in some cold niche at the cemetary, I wouldn't feel nearly so comforted.

When I die, my daughter is instructed to scatter our ashes together. But if she decides to keep us in her home, I will understand. And I'll try to stay close by, no matter her decision.
I read your post about the Holocaust, Prag. My husband agrees with you completely. Maybe it is something about women, mothers, in particular, who have more of an affinity towards the subject. I respect both your feelings.
I once went to Amuka in the Galilee
if you go there you are guaranteeed to get married within a year and it really happened to me
rebecca-I like your psychological perspective on this.
I forgot visiting graveyards is not only a spiritual reinforcement but equally a psycho-emotional one.
Thanks for sharing your view on the subject.
I was watching the film (forgot what its called) - a documentary on Orthodox homosexuality, where the guy is saying, about writing a letter to people about how he wishes he can be frum and queer, whatever. Point is he put it at gravesites too. He says he heard more from the dead than he heard from the living...
No one knows anything about the fingernails???
Shevy- I heard about that film, but didn’t see it, the concept seems a little odd.

Eshet- Hey, yes I know about it and I cut them accordingly, although no hysterics if one falls to the grounds or is flushed separately.
I usually just put a large tissue in the bathroom think and let the nails falls on it, then I close the tissue and flush it down.
You’re also supposed to skip one finger each time. Never cut the fingernail that’s right next to the previous one you cut. This is due to the fact that dead people’s nails are cut one after the other. It’s a very mysterious minhag and I wonder sometimes if it’s basis is not superstition, but it’s not particularly difficult to keep so what the he…
I agree that prayer is available to all, any time, anywhere but different people require different atmospheres, different environments to allow them to have the kavana, the right frame of mind for the intensity they require to feel that they have connected. gravesites may be one of those places.
personally, i thought that praying at a gravesite in memory of a person was to elevate the soul even more. yet, again, that can be done away from the actual place of burial.
if visiting gravesites, praying there, is something that give a person strength, so be it. as long as it is halachically acceptable of course.
visiting gravesites may also make history seem real as opposed to simply a story.
(thanx pragmatician for your comment on my blog)
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