895. Visiting the Cemetery

128:12 Many are in the practice of fasting during the ten days of repentance. There are four days in this period when one may not fast – two days of Rosh Hashana, Shabbos, and the day before Yom Kippur – so they fast four other days during the pre-Rosh Hashana selichos period in lieu of these – the first day of selichos, the day before Rosh Hashana, and two other days between them. One should choose to do so on a Monday and a Thursday. If the meal of a mitzvah falls on one of these days, he may eat and fast on a different day. If one knows in advance that he will have such a meal, he should fast on the day before it to compensate. (One does not compensate for a missed fast if the meal of a mitzvah should fall during the ten days of repentance – Mishnah Brurah 568:17.)

128:13 The practice on the day before Rosh Hashana is to go to the cemetery after shacharis in order to pray at the graves of righteous people. We give charity to the poor there and recite many supplications in order that their righteousness should be considered on our behalf on the day of judgment. Since this is the burial site of the righteous, the place is considered holy and pure and our prayers are more readily received because they were uttered on holy ground. Then G-d will treat us kindly in the merit of the righteous. We absolutely may not direct our prayers towards the dead who are buried there as doing so would be dangerously close to violating the prohibition against inquiring of the dead (Deut. 18:11). Instead, we must ask G-d to have mercy on us in the merit of the righteous buried there.

Upon entering a cemetery, if one has not seen graves within thirty days, he recites the bracha “Asher yatzar eschem badin,” (“Who created you in judgment”). Upon reaching the grave, one says, “May it be G-d’s will that the rest of so-and-so buried here be honorable and that his merit assist me.” When placing one’s hand on the headstone, one should use his left hand rather than his right. He then recites the verse “G-d will guide you always, will satisfy your soul in drought and will make your bones strong. You will be like a watered garden and a spring of water, whose waters do not fail” (Isaiah 58:11). He then prays, “May you lie down in peace and sleep in peace until the coming of the comforter, who will proclaim peace.” As he places his hand, one should keep in mind that the aforementioned verse has fifteen words in the original Hebrew, corresponding to the joints of the hand. One should not visit the same grave twice in one day. Reading an inscription on a tombstone that has protruding letters was considered injurious to one’s memory. One would rectify this by reciting “Ahavah rabbah…” from the blessings before Shema.