Halacha for Wednesday 3 Iyar 5779 May 8 2019

Honoring the Torah-The Philanthropist’s Burial

The Mishnah (Pirkei Avot, Chapter 4) states: “Rabbi Yose says: If one honors the Torah, one himself is honored by people.” This means that when one realizes the intrinsic value of the Torah and honors the Torah and its sages, one will likewise be respected by others.

An incident occurred approximately a year ago. A rabbi living in the New York area decided with his wife that they would not stay home for Rosh Hashanah that year and would travel to a different city. His wife told him that she tried to visit her parents’ graves every Erev Rosh Hashanah in nearby New Jersey and that instead, this year, she would try to do so sometime before Erev Rosh Hashanah.

Sometime during the month of Elul, this rabbi and his wife were in New Jersey and suddenly, the wife remembered that she wanted to visit her parents’ graves whenever she had the chance. They therefore took a detour to the cemetery where the wife’s parents were buried and stopped there to pray for a little while. When they were ready to leave, he saw a group of people gathered on the side of the cemetery. They beckoned him over and told him that they had come to bury a certain deceased individual who had no family and wanted to form a Minyan to say Kaddish for him. The rabbi agreed, as this was a great Mitzvah before the Day of Judgment. His wife waited for him while he joined the group and the member of the Chevra Kadisha (burial society) recited Kaddish for the deceased. They then lowered the deceased into the grave, but the rabbi was then astounded when he saw the members of the Chevra Kadisha were not covering the deceased with dirt and instead, they turned around to leave. The rabbi immediately asked them, “What are you doing? Why are you not burying the deceased?” They replied that a tractor would arrive in a few minutes and it would cover the deceased using its shovel. The rabbi was utterly shocked by what he heard as it was highly inappropriate to bury this poor Jew in such a manner. He therefore decided to remain there to see what would happen.

Several minutes later, a small tractor driven by a non-Jew pulls up. The rabbi turned to the driver and said, “Do you mind lending me your shovel so that I can cover the grave myself?” The driver said, “Sure. Take the shovel and do whatever you like.” The rabbi indeed spent the next half-hour digging and covering the grave all by himself. When he finished, he inserted the sign with the deceased’s name on it into the ground as is customary and turned to leave. When he joined his wife again, they could not get over the bizarre occurrence that had just come their way. They had not even planned on visiting the cemetery that day and they ended up paying final respects to this deceased individual. However, the rabbi was unable to find out any more information about the deceased.

Several days later, the rabbi called one of his own rabbis from the Yeshiva he attended in his youth (Yeshiva Ner Yisrael in Baltimore, Maryland) to wish him a Shana Tova. Within their conversation, this bizarre episode in the cemetery came up. When the rabbi mentioned the deceased’s name, his rabbi let out a shriek. He told his student, “When you were younger and you came to learn in Yeshiva, your parents refused to pay tuition for you. I therefore reached out to a certain man to help cover the cost of your tuition for the years you spent learning in the Yeshiva. He graciously agreed. That man never had a wife and children. His name was the one you just mentioned. Apparently, he was about to be buried in a most demeaning manner but Heaven would have things turn out differently. You had the merit of being able to repay some of the goodness you received from him by burying him honorably in the Jewish tradition.”

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