Recessional from the Gravesite (Nichum Aveilim)

The purpose of the recessional is to redirect our sympathies and concerns from the deceased to the mourners. It marks the transition from aninut to avelut, the new state of mourning which now commences. The theme changes from honoring of the dead to comforting the survivors. To act out this transition, those present form parallel lines, facing one another. The mourners solemnly pass through as they come away from the site of their bereavement. As the mourners walk by, those present recite words of comfort:

Ha'makom yenachem et'chem b'toch she'ar avelei tziyon veerushalayim

"May the Lord comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem."

If no mourners are present, the parallel lines are dispensed with, as words of comfort are obviously out of place. A beautiful Israeli custom has the mourners place a stone on the covered grave and ask forgiveness for any injustice they may have committed against the deceased.

Washing of the Hands

After the funeral, those in attendance wash their hands. This is symbolic of the ancient custom of purification, performed after contact with the dead. It emphasizes the Jew's constant concern with life, its value and dignity, rather than over-zealous attention to, and worship of, the dead. The washing is done upon returning from the cemetery, before entering the home, or, if this is not feasible, at the cemetery office itself. It is performed with a cup of water poured alternately on both hands. No blessing is recited. As with the shovel, at the filling of the grave, the cup is not passed from hand to hand.