The common custom when visiting a cemetery is to place a stone upon the grave. Several explanations exist… Moses carves the tablets from stone, a stone is a metaphor for the eternal God, and Jacob’s ladder arises from a stone. The Zohar teaches us tzur hei haolamim, the soul arises from the stone of the mountain. It is a two-fold ritual. The grave symbolizing the soul that left, and the stone we leave symbolizing our own soul, bound together by our deeds.
This Shabbat, we read the Haftarah in the melody of Eicha, Lamentations. We literally cry due to the prophetic doom of Isaiah’s message- Jerusalem our holy city will be in ruins. When you walk in that exact place today, you find stones, tiny ones and giant ones. Yet, those stones have remained, telling the story of our journey in exile, and at the same time, our return to the Promised Land.
Yet, a small simple stone on the eternal resting place of a loved one can tell the same story. Each opportunity I have to stand at my brother’s grave in Philadelphia, I fulfill this custom by placing a stone on the tomb. Yet, over the past two years, we have created a family ritual that tells a different story. As we travel through our own lives, we gather stones; one from Los Angeles, another one while hiking in Zion, a shell at the Santa Monica beach. The stones are the pages of my book, connecting with a loved one whose physical presence I will eternally miss. But Isaiah concludes with the words Tzion bmishpat tipadeh, one day Zion will be redeemed. Stone by stone, story by story, soul by soul.