Why do We Place Earth in the Grave?

Have you ever wondered why it is Jewish tradition to fill in the graves of our loved ones? To some it may seem like a painful process and, truthfully, it is. But our Jewish faith teaches us to care for one another, and that doesn’t stop after death. In fact, the guiding Jewish principal after someone dies is “Kavod HaMet” or honoring the dead. According to chabad.org, “Burial is the last physical act of kindness that we do for our departed loved ones. We have cared for them in their lifetimes, and now we care for them in their passing by ensuring they have a proper Jewish burial.”  Many rabbis even say that it is the highest mitzvah that you can do, as it is truly selfless, since you know that the deceased will never be able to repay you for this act of kindness.

The more traditional Jewish burials involve filling the grave entirely with large shovels, while Reform or Conservative burials may involve ceremonial earth with small hand shovels. Some families have a tradition somewhere in between that requires ensuring the top of the casket is covered before departing the cemetery. You may have noticed some people using the back of the shovel for at least one of the scoops. Using the back of the shovel shows our reluctance in burying our loved one, that we are differentiating the act from a standard use of a shovel, and that it is not an easy task. Finally, as we place the earth into the grave, we might hear the rabbi recite the words Al mekomo yavo veshalom (for a man) or Al mekomah tavo veshalom (for a woman). This translates to may ________ go to his/her place in peace.

It is so important to care for each other in death as we care for each other in life. The tradition of burying our own is one of healing, and the beginning of a long process of mourning our loved ones. It symbolizes closure, allowing us to move forward into the shiva period and navigate a new world without the deceased. Knowing that we did everything we could to help our loved one transition on to what is next hopefully brings at least a small feeling of comfort.  

Why Do We Place Stones At A Grave?

The Symbol of the Stone at the Grave

Have you ever wondered why Jews leave stones at the graves of their loved ones? Our Jewish faith teaches us to respect, mourn, remember, and care for the dead. Leaving stones at your loved one’s grave is a way of doing just that, for long after they have left this world.

StonesFrom the moment someone passes away, we go to great lengths to care for them. Not only in memory, by planning a respectful funeral that reflects the kind of life they lived, but also physically – as some opt for the ritual ceremony of Taharah (please see our previous blog post here) – and spiritually, by having a Shomer sit with them, ensuring they are never left alone. Visiting a loved one’s grave offers you time to reflect, meditate, and remember them. Leaving stones there commemorates those you’ve lost, as well as your visits.

So, why do we leave stones rather than flowers that you may see in a secular cemetery? There are two reasons for this. The first one being that the stone symbolizes permanence. We wish for our loved one’s soul to live eternally in the world to come. Flowers may be beautiful, but they do not last – their beauty fades, and petals fall – while a stone remains sturdy even against the elements. The second reason being that in life, flowers symbolize luxury, a prize or even status. Judaism tells us that in death, like in birth, we are all equal. We are all rocks against the elements to stand the test of time.