The Month of Elul
13. It is customary to go to the cemetery after the morning service on the
day preceding Rosh HaShanah and pray at the graves of righteous people
("tzaddikim"). While there, we give charity to the poor and recite many
supplications to arouse the holy tzaddikim who are buried there to
intercede on our behalf on the day of judgment. Furthermore, since
tzaddikim are buried there, the place is holy and pure, and prayers recited
there are received more favorably because they were recited on holy ground.
The Holy One, blessed be He, will surely deal graciously with us in the
merit of the tzaddikim. We, however, should not direct our prayers to the
dead who are buried there, since doing so is close to being included in the
prohibition against "inquiring of the dead" (1). Instead, one should
implore G-d, blessed be His Name, to have mercy upon us in the merit of the
tzaddikim who lie in the dust.
A person who has not seen a cemetery within thirty days should recite the
blessing "Asher yotzar es'chem ba'din"(see Chapter 60, Law 11) when he
comes to the cemetery. When he reaches a particular grave [of a tzaddik],
he should say, "May the rest ("menucha") of so and so (the name of the
person) buried here be honorable, and may his merit assist me."
When he places his hand on a Tzaddik's gravestone, he should place his left
hand and not his right. At that time, he should recite the following verse
[from Isaiah 58:11, which describes the rewards for sincere repentance and
"May G-d always guide you, satisfy your soul in drought, and make your
bones strong. May you be like a watered garden and a spring of water, whose
waters do not fail."
[He then adds the following prayer for the deceased]: "May you lie in peace
("shalom") and sleep in peace until the coming of the comforter
("menachem," that is, the Messiah) who will proclaim peace.
(As one is placing one's hand on the gravestone, one should have in mind
that the aforementioned verse beginning "May G-d guide you..." contains
fifteen Hebrew words, corresponding to the fifteen joints of the hand).
One should not go to the same grave twice on the same day. If the
inscription on a tombstone is engraved in a way that makes the letters
protrude, reading that inscription harms one's memory. One can remedy
[these negative influences] by reciting the blessing that begins with the
words "Ahavah Rabbah" until the words "ul'yachedcho b'ahavah."
(1) See Deut.18:11