As Jews, we believe it is our duty to accompany the deceased to the cemetery for burial, as the Hebrew word for funeral is “levaya,” which literally means “escorting.” Burying the dead is one of the biggest mitzvahs that we can complete, because we know that there is no way for that person to ever repay us for this act. But have you ever wondered why we sometimes make several brief stops while carrying the casket from the hearse to the grave?
We’ve reached out to a couple of local Rabbis to ask what their take on this tradition is. Rabbi Chai Posner, of Beth Tfiloh Congregation, believes that – much like using the back of the shovel to place earth in the grave – it shows reluctance. Rabbi Posner is quoted saying, “It shows that we are hesitant. It is a balance between a mitzvah and hesitation that we don’t want to be burying them. It makes what we are doing very intentional – just like using the back of the shovel.” We also reached out to Rabbi Susan Grossman of Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia, who had a another approach to this sacred act. Rabbi Grossman says, “We stop seven times, one for each day of the week, to represent creation. We honor the deceased by stopping seven times because each individual represents the full potential of creation.”
Both of these explanations provide a deep insight to the Jewish views of death and burial, meant to give mourners some comfort during a very difficult time. Of course, like anything else in Judaism, we have heard several other explanations throughout the years, and we always recommend that you reach out to your own rabbi to see what their beliefs are.