Every year between Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) I pay an emotional visit to my mother’s grave in the northern Israeli city of Haifa. During this holiday season, many Israelis visit the graves of their deceased relatives to pay their respects and, in a spiritual way, to wish them a happy and sweet new year.
I know it might sound bizarre to wish someone who has passed on from this physical world a happy new year, but I truly believe that the spiritual world is in tune to the holidays that take place here in this physical realm. God created the world with certain seasons and holidays – and our heartfelt prayers during these celebrations certainly penetrate the heavens.
Jewish sages teach us that when people pass away from the physical world their offspring have the potential to assist them in the heavens through prayer and good deeds. According to Jewish tradition, a person can no longer earn reward for their service of God once they have passed on from this physical world, so their living offspring are their vehicle here on earth to elevate them up in heaven. Therefore the sages described the living offspring of deceased parents as their “legs” in the world, in that they give them a standing or a way to earn continuous reward long after they have died. Suddenly, with this teaching, Proverbs 22:6 – “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” – has a whole new meaning.
The first thing I do when I arrive at my mother’s grave is light a candle in her name. Afterwards, I light candles by the graves of my grandparents – which are just a few feet from where my mother rests – and with their names on my lips, I begin to recite psalms.
There is an ancient saying that “If you don’t know where you come from, you can’t know where you’re going,” and that is why I love learning about my family’s lineage. My mother’s father came from a line of priests, which means that during the time of the Temple, their job – or more accurately, their life – would have been centered around the Temple service.
As I stood by my grandfather’s grave, I closed my eyes and tried to picture him as I last saw him. I thought, too, about what he might have looked like in the ancient past, and envisioned a scenario: He was wearing the priestly garments, and I, along with my wife and kids, were meeting him in the Temple courtyard to offer him our tithes. He took our offering of a lamb up the altar as a thanksgiving sacrifice before God.
This picture gave me a feeling of peace; it became very vivid to me, and was difficult to abandon, especially because I knew that, when I opened my eyes, I would be opening them to a world full of struggle and divisiveness. However, as I stood by the graves of my ancestors, I felt as though my mother was sending me a message of hope that one day soon God will reveal His Glory, and all of humanity will join as one to live in peace and to serve and praise Him. Amen!