Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 9 May 2015 / 20 Iyyar 5775

In Their Merit

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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Around this time of year many visit the resting place of the holy Tana Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Countless stories of the great miracles people testify having experienced after praying there are well known. However, one may wonder what is so special about praying at the grave of a tzaddik (righteous person)? Doesn’t G-d hear all prayers from wherever a person may be?

The Talmud relates that Rabbi Chama asked, “Why was Moshe’s grave hidden from mankind?” He answered that it was known to G-d that the Temple would one day be destroyed and that the Jews would be exiled from their Land. If the location of Moshe’s grave was known, then the Jews of that time would be able to go to his burial place and cry and plead with Moshe, “Moshe our teacher, please stand in prayer for our sake.” Moshe would then stand in prayer and cancel the Heavenly decree of exile. The Talmud continues, “The righteous are dearer to G-d in their death than in their lifetime.”

The obvious question must be asked: “Why can’t the Jewish People ask Moshe to pray for the exile to end without actually being at his burial place? The answer is that there is a special connection between the soul of a tzaddik and the place where he is buried. In fact, the nefesh, the lowest part of the soul, actually stays attached to the body even after it has decomposed. (Arizal)

Thus, when one goes to the grave of a tzaddik, according to Jewish law one is permitted to request that the soul of the tzaddik pray on his behalf. In the case of tzaddikim like Rabbi Shimon, Rabbi Meir and the like, just as we see that their prayers and blessings bore fruit in their lifetimes, so too in their death their prayers continue to bear fruit. When visiting the grave of the righteous one should also make sure to remember to be focused on strengthening his faith in G-d and to do teshuva. He should also beseech G-d to answer his prayers in the merit of the righteous who were perfect in their Divine service. The merit of the holy resting place, together with the prayers of the souls buried there, as well as the teshuva and repentance of the individual, can cause great miracles to be manifest.

Based on the above we can understand why so many people visit the gravesites of the righteous, in particular that of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. The Zohar singles him out from all of the righteous, commenting that on his day of celebration (“hillula”) all should gather together and join in the festivities.

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