Dear Friends,

Warm regards from the holy city of Jerusalem, where I am celebrating the wedding of my youngest brother. What a great joy reuniting with my parents and all of my siblings after over 3 years. Thank you Hashem!

Wishing you all Simches and happy occasions in your families,

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Chaim

PS. and of course a fresh photo from the wedding; my parents and their 10 children kein ayin hara
Mazal Tov
Mazal Tov to Gary and Judith Gast on the birth of their great-grandson.
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Ask the Rabbi / Learn something new every week
Why the Notes at the Kotel (and Gravesites)?
Jews pray virtually in every place and at every time. Yet we often make the special effort to do so at holy places, where G‑d’s Presence is felt even more strongly. These places include the Kotel, a remnant of the Holy Temple complex in Jerusalem, and the resting places of our nation’s righteous leaders and Torah scholars.

When doing so, many have the custom to leave (or send) a note that includes the person's name and a prayer.

There are several reasons for this ancient custom.

History: From Stone to Paper

The 12th-century Jewish traveler Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela (1130–1173) records the custom that Jews would etch their names into the stones of the Kotel or Rachel’s Tomb.

Over the years, perhaps due to paper becoming more available and the impracticality of engraving into stone, people stopped etching their names and instead began leaving notes.

In this photo of women praying at the Kotel at the turn of the 20th century one can see names etched (or inked) onto the stones, as per ancient custom.
In this photo of women praying at the Kotel at the turn of the 20th century one can see names etched (or inked) onto the stones, as per ancient custom.
Thus, for example, Rabbi Chaim ibn Atar, known as the Ohr Hachaim (1696–1743), instructed a poverty-stricken student to place a note into the crevices of the Kotel.

Now, before we address why there is a custom of specifically writing notes, we need to address another component: praying at the graves of the righteous in general.

Why We Pray at the Graves of the Righteous

Praying at the gravesites of the righteous is an ancient Jewish custom dating back to biblical times. When Moses dispatched 12 spies to reconnoiter the land, Caleb, one of the spies, made a personal detour to Hebron. The Talmud explains that he did so to pray at the cave where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah are buried.

Why pray by the resting places of those who have passed on?

As explained in the article Is it okay to ask a deceased tzaddik to pray on my behalf? When a person passes away, it is merely his physical body that dies—the soul lives on. For the righteous, whose lives were more soul-oriented than body-oriented, “even in their death, they are called living.”

So just as it is customary to give or send a note to the tzaddik while he or she is physically alive, we continue to do so at the gravesite, to which the soul retains a lingering connection, signifying our faith that the tzaddik continues to live.

In fact, this very expression of faith in the everlastingness of the soul helps bring about the salvation and blessings we are praying for.
Women writing their notes before entering the Ohel (Photo: Bassie Vorovitch).

Expressing Ourselves

We can now return to our original question: Why do we write notes to the righteous?

On a very basic level, when we have a private audience with a rebbe or tzaddik, we write out our requests beforehand in case, due to the emotional intensity of the moment, we are unable to collect our thoughts and express ourselves properly. And we continue doing so at their gravesites, for the righteous “even in death are called living.”

Tying to the Physical

But there is another aspect to it.

The Rebbe once explained that one of the reasons for leaving a note at the grave of the righteous is that it is something tangible, and we wish to draw down the spiritual blessings into this physical world.

Similarly, Rabbi Yehudah Loew, the Maharal of Prague (1520–1609), explains that divine decrees and blessings often remain in a potential state in the supernal worlds until we do a physical act to concretize these decrees.

This is also why the prophets sometimes performed a physical action to concretize their prophecy. For example, Elisha had King Joash shoot an arrow toward the land of Aram, the enemy of the Jews at the time, and take an arrow and strike the ground, explaining that the number of blows would determine the force of Israel’s victory over Aram.

Indelible Writing

In a somewhat different vein, Rabbi Chaim Elazar Schapira, known as the Minchat Elazar (1868–1937), explains that the general custom to specifically write down prayer requests is hinted at in the Talmudic commentary on Megillat Esther.

When King Achashverosh couldn’t fall asleep, he had his scribe read from his book of chronicles, where it was written that Mordechai had saved the king but was never rewarded. The wording in Scripture indicates not that the record had been written in the past, but it was being written at that very time.

How was this possible? Shimshai, the king’s scribe, who hated the Jews, did not wish to read to the king about Mordechai’s good deed and therefore erased it from the book, only to have Angel Gabriel write it again.

The Talmud points out that if physical words in favor of the Jewish people cannot be erased, spiritual decrees in heaven in our favor are certainly not erasable.

Thus, Rabbi Schapira explains that we specifically write the prayer requests so that the tzaddik will read and pray that what is written “down here” will be written in the “the upper worlds” and not be “erased.”

Of course, when it comes to drawing down spiritual blessings into the physical world, the Rebbe would often explain that this is best accomplished by resolving (and in our case, including it in the note) to take upon oneself a new mitzvah or be more careful in one that you are already doing.

Through doing this, one opens new channels for blessings both in the physical and spiritual aspects of one’s life.

The weekly Parasha (EN / DE)

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