Praying at the Grave of a Tzadik

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Eretz Yisroel is full of many holy grave sites, and from time to time, during our many trips, we will be making stops at the kevorim of some of the very great tzaddikim. It is therefore of immense importance to properly understand the great value and purpose of these visits.

The Gemorah and Zohar are filled with countless stories pointing out the importance of being mispallel at the graves of great tzaddikim.

Our Chazal tell us that because Kolev stopped to daven at the Meoras HaMachpelah, he was saved from the terrible mistakes and tragic fate that befell the other ten spies.

The Medrash tells us that Yaakov Avinu buried Rochel on the road side of Beis Lechem, so that years later, when the Jews would be exiled by Nevuchadnetzar HaRasha, they would be able to pass by her grave and offer a prayer to G-D. It will be in the merit of Rochel interceding on our behalf, that we will merit the Final Redemption.

The Gemorah in Meseches Brochos investigates at length the question of whether the departed souls are aware and know what’s happening on this world. We find some interesting stories.

A chassid once found himself in a cemetery on the night of Rosh Hashana, and heard the spirits speaking to each other, revealing information on the weather conditions for the forthcoming year. He took advantage of their knowledge and plowed his field accordingly.

In Hebrew, a cemetery is called a Beis Ha’chayim for, as the Gemorah explains, tzaddikim even after their death are called living. In fact, the Gemorah in Yevomos explains that when we study the Torah which they taught, their lips move along with us in their graves. This is why it is a custom to study their sayings at their grave-site.

The Zohar explains that when we pour out our hearts to Hashem at these holy sites, these great tzaddikim intercede on our behalf in front of the Heavenly Throne. Therefore, our prayers at these sites should not be underestimated.

For centuries it has been the custom of Jews that on fast days, or in times of trouble, we go to the kevorim of great tzaddikim. Naturally, we must be sure not to pray to the tzaddikim themselves. This would constitute avodah zoroh. We pray only to G-D Himself. We only ask the tzaddikim to help pray for our needs and intercede on our behalf. Even in our daily tefillah, we ask Hashem to remember the kindness of our avos and in their merit to help us.

Here are a few short stories from Nach and Chazal that show the greatness of tzaddikim even after their passing from this world.

(Melachim 2:13) As a group of people were in midst of a funeral, they were suddenly attacked by enemy soldiers. In their haste to flee they dropped the dead body into the grave of Elisha HaNavi. As it touched his body, the man suddenly came back to life.

(Gemarah Bava Metzia) R’ Elozor, the son of Rabbi Shimon, asked his wife not to bury him when he dies, but to keep the body in the attic. The body remained there for more than 18 years. When people unaware of his parting would come to see him, she would put them behind a curtain and each would state his argument. They would hear his voice from behind the curtain answer their questions.

(Gemarah Kesubos) The great Rabbeinu HaKadosh, the compiler of the Mishna, would come every Friday night after his passing from this world and make kiddush for his family. One Friday night there was a knock at the door. “Sorry,” said the maid, “I can’t let you in just now because Rabbeinu HaKadosh is in the middle of kiddush.” From then on Rabbeinu HaKadosh stopped coming, since he did not want his coming to become public knowledge.

Even though the soul – called nefesh chaya – is invisible to ordinary mortals like us, we do find that the great giants, such as Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai were able to see these spirits. The Gemorah in Meseches Shabbos tells us that Rabbi Shimon marked the places on the road where people lie buried, so that kohanim would be able to walk down the streets.

The great Ari HaKadosh, who lived approximately 400 years ago, would go through the fields with his students, and from time to time he would stop and point out the burial places of many great tzaddikim. It was the Arizal HaKadosh who revealed these places as he traveled with his students throughout the land. Many of the places known to us at present have been handed down to us by the writings of his students.

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Apparently it’s all based on a misprint from something the Ari”ZL wrote. It was the Ari’s practice to visit R’ Shimon Bar Yochai’s grave, since it has been common practice to visit the graves of Tzaddikim for centuries. Now, when R’ Chaim Vital recorded the Ari”ZL’s writings, he kept them private.

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