Prayer at Graves of Righteous.
I often receive emails from different organizations offering that a rabbi will pray for me at this or that great rabbi’s grave. Does it really make a difference where one prays? Isn't praying to a dead rabbi for salvation practically idolatry?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
It’s a very important question. The notion of praying at the graves of the righteous is well-established. The Talmud tells us that Caleb, one of the spies sent to inspect the Holy Land, separated from the rest of the group to visit the Cave of the Patriarchs (ma’arat ha’machpailah) in Hebron. He prostrated himself before the cave and said to them “My fathers, plead for mercy for me that I be saved from the evil designs of the spies” (Sotah 34b).
Elsewhere the Talmud mentions a custom to visit a cemetery during times of calamity, such as a drought. The reason, according to one opinion in the Talmud, is so that the dead will ask for mercy for us in Heaven (Ta’anit 16a).
It has likewise been a Jewish custom all throughout the ages to consider the graves of the righteous (kivrei tzaddikim) places of pilgrimage, and to visit there and recite Psalms and prayers. Hassidim even leave notes (kvitlach) by their Rebbe’s grave.
As you point out, though, this must be understood correctly. Praying to a deceased person rather than God is idolatry. He cannot help you, no matter how great he was in his lifetime. What he might be able to do is intercede in heaven on your behalf. Thus, when a person prays at a grave, he should either have in mind that the righteous person (tzaddik) help bring his prayers to God, or even better, he should pray directly to God that He help him in the merit of the tzaddik buried here (Mishna Berurah 559:41, 581:27).
That being said, it may well be more effective to openly and sincerely pray to God for your needs yourself, rather than asking some great rabbi to do it for you. God gives us challenges and hardships in life so that we’ll turn to Him and improve ourselves – rather than that we find a great person to take them away for us.