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SisterSchmooze: Grave Matters

Marcia Stark Meth / Emmy Stark Zitter / Miriam Stark Zakon

There’s a little-known ancient custom to visit cemeteries, especially the kevarim of the Avos and tzaddikim, on Tishah B’Av afternoon. Join the sisters

Wednesday, August 03, 2016


I'm rarely at a loss for words, but I’d said all I had planned to say and didn’t know what to add. So there I stood, sefer Tehillim in hand, in front of the grave of my father, Nachum Stark z”l, wondering what to say after I’d said my last words. 

There’s a special power to prayers said at a parent’s kever. Perhaps the memory of our earthly father, who helped give us life and fulfilled many of our needs, reminds us of the Heavenly Father Who truly gives us life and fulfills all our needs. Maybe it’s our feeling that our parent’s neshamah can intercede for us from its lofty place in Shamayim. Or it might simply be the memory of the times we came crying to our father, to Daddy, with a skinned knee or a failed test, and he somehow made it better. 

I was already living in Israel, and every trip to America included the three-hour drive to my father’s grave on Long Island. I said the pirkei Tehillim one reads at a cemetery and the chapters for that day of the month, and also read the beautiful words of the pirkei Shir Hamaalos. I poured my heart out to Daddy, updated him, so to speak, on family news. As always, I ended with a silent prayer to Hashem that I would return to my father’s kever with news of simchahs, and then I walked away. 

Moments later, I walked back.

My father had died 15 years before. My oldest child, Nachum, born three months after my father’s petirah, was named for him. Nachum has my father’s tall and thin physique, his bright blue eyes, his easygoing personality. 

Now, standing in this quiet place, it suddenly hit me: In just a few years, Nachum would be a soldier. Like many Israeli mothers, I had managed to quash that thought and lived in happy denial. But walking away from my father’s kever, I realized that this might be the last time I could say a special prayer for my son’s safety before Nachum began his army service. I didn’t know when I would visit America next, and I desperately wanted the power of a prayer said at a father’s grave to accompany my son as he went to war. 

But what should I say? I’d covered all the usual pirkei Tehillim, said my last words. I decided to pick a chapter at random. 

When it comes to Tehillim — and to our lives generally — there is no random. 

The sefer opened to Chapter 144. “L’Dovid, Blessed is Hashem, my Rock, Who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war.” In case I didn’t get the message, the chapter went on to ask Hashem to give His protection to our sons and our daughters… I read the words, closed my eyes, and felt my father’s comforting presence.

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