The laws and customs of Jewish burial are designed to help the soul in its passage and transition to the next world and find forgiveness. They reflect the fundamental Jewish belief that G‑d will one day resurrect the dead and we will all be reunited with our loved ones.

The custom of placing some earth from Israel in the coffin helps the soul find some measure of forgiveness and is related to the resurrection of the dead.1 This is one reason why many Jews request to be buried in the land of Israel.2

In the Torah we find that both Jacob and Joseph made an extra effort to be buried in the Land of Israel. According to the Talmud, being buried in the Land of Israel brings a certain measure of atonement for sins:

Rav Anan said, “Anyone buried in the Land of Israel is considered as if he was buried beneath the altar; it is written here,‘An altar of earth (adamah) you shall make for me,’ and it is written there, ‘His land (admato) will atone for His people.’ ”3

The Jerusalem Talmud discusses whether this applies to everyone buried in the Holy Land, or only to those who lived there :

Rabbi bar Kiri and Rabbi Elazar were strolling in Istrina, and they saw coffins arriving in the Land of Israel from the Diaspora.

Rabbi bar Kiri said to Rabbi Elazar, “What are they achieving? I apply to them the verse, ‘You make My inheritance desolate [in your lives], and you came and defiled My land [in your deaths].’ ”

Replied Rabbi Elazar, “When they arrive in the Land of Israel, a clod of earth is placed in the coffin, as it is written, ‘His land will atone for His people.’ ”4

The halachah follows the opinion of Rabbi Elazar that being buried in Israel helps even one who never lived there.

Returning to the Source

The Zohar tells us that the very earth from Israel is more spiritually refined.

When G‑d created man out of the earth, He specifically used earth from the Land of Israel. Thus, when we use some earth from Israel in the burial, we are returning the body not to mere earth, but to its holy source. This earth, which has a level of holiness to it, is more conducive to getting rid of any lingering negative spiritual energies that are attached to the body, aiding the deceased in their passage to heaven and the afterlife.5

Exported Earth

Although the Talmud was speaking about actually being buried in the Land of Israel, we can extrapolate from Jewish agricultural laws. There are opinions that at times, produce grown with the earth that merely came from Israel may have a similar law to that which was actually grown in the Land of Israel. Even if produce grown in the earth from Israel doesn’t technically have the same halachic status as produce grown in Israel, All agree however, that the actual earth which originated in Israel still retains some level of its holinesses.6

As such, even if one is not actually buried in Israel, having some earth from Israel in the coffin can accomplish, at least to some degree, the same thing as being in the land itself.

Resurrection

One of the fundamental tenets of the Jewish faith is that the dead will come to life once again in the era of Moshiach.7 The Talmud explains that all the dead will be resurrected in the Land of Israel. The bodies of those who are buried outside of Israel will burrow through the earth until they reach Israel, and there their souls will be reinstated in their bodies.8

According to some, being buried with earth from Israel is as if one was actually buried in the Land of Israel, thus obviating the need to burrow beneath the earth.9

Others explain that even if it isn’t the same thing, being buried with some earth from Israel hastens the final redemption and resurrection of the dead, as the verse in Psalms tells us, “You will rise, You will have mercy on Zion for there is a time to favor it, for the appointed season has arrived. For Your servants desired its stones and favored its dust.”10

May we merit the day when G‑d will wipe away our tears and we will finally be reunited with our loved ones, with the coming of the Moshiach and the resurrection of the dead!