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A Gravely Prayer

Rabbi Yehoshua Alt

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R’ Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. R’ Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.


Fascinating Insights—The Sefer (in English)

A Gravely Prayer

The Gemara[1] relates that Reish Lakish would mark the boundaries of where the Rabbis were buried. The simple meaning, Rashi explains, is so that Kohanim would not inadvertently walk over them, thereby contracting Tumah.[2] R’ Yaakov Emden explains that Reish Lakish identified those graves so that people who wanted to daven by the graves of Tzadikim would know where to find them.


We find this idea in connection with Kalev. To be saved from being persuaded by the עצת מרגלים, designs of the Meraglim, Kalev davened over the קברי אבות, graves of the patriarchs.[3]


The Gemara[4] says that one reason for going to a cemetery[5] is כדי שיבקשו עלינו מתים רחמים, so that the deceased who are buried there should beg for mercy on our behalf. This can’t mean that we are allowed to daven to the dead to ask them to help us as that is forbidden because of לא יהיה לך…, you shall not recognize the gods of others in My presence[6] and maybe also because of ודרש אל המתים, one who consults the dead.[7] So what does it mean? Some[8] hold it means that it is permitted to speak directly to the dead to ask them to daven to Hashem on our behalf. This is similar to the Tefillos we find that are addressed to Malachim, as they are merely Hashem’s messengers and they don’t possess the ability to do anything on their own accord. So it is permitted to address the dead directly and ask them to intercede on our behalf. Others[9] disagree and say that addressing a dead person is a violation of ודרש אל המתים. “Asking the dead to pray for mercy on our behalf” means that we daven directly to Hashem that in the merit of the dead, He should have mercy on us. We visit the graves only to remind Hashem of the merits of the Tzadikim who are buried there. Most of the classical Poskim, including the Be’er Heitev, Chayei Adam, Mateh Efraim and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, rule in accordance with the second view. The Mishna Brura[10] writes that we visit graves because a cemetery where Tzadikim are interred is a place where Tefillos are more readily answered. However, one shouldn’t put his trust in the dead rather he should just ask Hashem to have mercy on him in the merit of the Tzadikim who are buried there. Other Poskim rule that it is permitted to talk to the dead [or to Malachim] to intercede on our behalf. The Minchas Elazar[11] proves from a host of sources throughout the Gemara and Zohar that not only is this permitted but it is a Mitzva to do so. So, the most that is permitted [according to the lenient views] is to ask them to act as our emissaries to Hashem so that Hashem will look favorably and mercifully upon us.

[1] Baba Metzia 85b.

[2] In this way, Rashi explains, the righteous wouldn’t be a cause of harm to others (s.v. מציין). This seems difficult to grasp since for Kohanim any grave would be a problem, not just that of Tzadikim. R’ Yaakov Emden therefore offers his explanation.

[3] Bamidbar 13:22, Rashi, Sota 34b. See Zohar, Acharei Mos 70b-71b.

[4] Taanis 16a.

[5] In that Gemara, it is speaking of going on certain fast days which was customary back then.

[6] Shemos 20:3. See Gesher Hachaim 2:26.

[7] Devarim 18:11. See Eliyahu Rabbah 581:4.

[8] See the Shela quoted by Elef Hamagen 581:113, Pri Megadim, Orach Chaim 581:16 and Maharam Shick, Orach Chaim 293.

[9] See the Bach and Shach, Yoreh Deah 179:15. See also Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim 5:43-6.

[10] 581:27. Also Be’er Heitev, Orach Chaim 581:17.

[11] 1:68. See also the Gesher Hachaim 2:26 and Minchas Yitzchak 8:53.

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