“And You Shall Live By Them”In the original, וחי בהם ; Vayikra 18:5.

The Jewish way of life is oriented in the present, in the here-and-now. Hence our Torah is referred to as Toras Chayim,2 “the Torah of life.” Certainly, Judaism concerns itself with matters of the afterlife, with the existence of souls in spiritual worlds, and the eventual resurrection. To be sure, however, these concerns are significant insofar as they serve to advance the ultimate purpose of existence — to live our lives to the fullest by uplifting and transforming this world into a G‑dly abode.

As such, the cemetery does not assume a central place in our Jewish experience. Yet, by an ancient and venerated tradition, prayer at the graves of the righteous is a common practice, one that is explored and sanctioned in both Torah law and its esoteric sources.

Our Mother’s Tears

Our sages ask:3 “Why did Jacob bury Rachel on the way to Efras, rather than carry her body to the ancestral plot in the Cave of Machpelah?” They explain that Jacob had a prophetic vision of the Jewish people passing Rachel’s burial place as they were exiled from Jerusalem and led to Babylon. Whereupon Rachel would intercede on their behalf and her prayers would be heard4 :

A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter wailing, Rachel weeping for her children…. Thus says G‑d: “Withhold your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears. Your work will be rewarded…. There is hope for your future…, your children will return from the land of the enemy.”

Similarly, on his way with the spies to Israel, Caleb paused in Hebron to pray at the Caves of the Patriarchs.5 These prayers saved him from becoming embroiled in the unfortunate plot of the spies.

To this day, people make their way to pray at Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, at the burial place of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in the Machpela Cave in Hebron, and at King David’s Tomb on Mt. Zion. Indeed, until the recapture of the Western Wall in 1967, it was at King David’s Tomb that Jewish pilgrims to Jerusalem would choose to pray.

Similarly, the graves of other righteous men and women, both in Eretz Yisrael and in the world at large, in both Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities, have served as places of prayer for our people.

Why Pray at the Graves of the Righteous?

Our sages enumerate several reasons for this custom:6

a. Visiting a gravesite elicits feelings of mourning, subdues one’s material inclinations, and inspires one to turn to G‑d7 in teshuvah.8

b. On the day prior to Rosh HaShanah, it is customary to visit the cemetery,9 for “as the resting place of the righteous, it is a holy place where prayers are more likely to be accepted. [A person] should ask G‑d for mercy in the merit of the tzaddikim who repose in the dust.”10

c. Visiting the resting place of one’s parents or others with whom one had a close bond, stirs the emotions and opens the heart, evoking deep feelings of yearning and remorse. When experienced at the graveside of a tzaddik, one can be motivated to complete teshuvah.

d. Visiting the gravesite of a tzaddik with whom one had a personal connection is akin to a yechidus, a personal encounter of souls that takes place when the chasid comes to the Rebbe, seeking counsel and guidance. In the presence of the tzaddik’s G‑dliness, one’s self-consciousness quickly dissipates. The experience is similar when visiting the tzaddik’s resting place, for11 “the righteous are greater after death than in their lifetime,” and there is a residual influence of the soul which remains associated with the body in the grave, as the AriZal explains in Likkutei Torah.12

What These Prayers Are

Maaneh Lashon is a series of prayers and psalms structured to be recited at the graves of tzaddikim. It also includes a passage from the Zohar which explains the significance of such prayers.

The title Maaneh Lashon is borrowed from the verse,13 לאדם
מערכי לב ומה׳ מענה לשון
— “The arrangement of thoughts belongs to man, but the gift of speech comes from G‑d.” The verse is quoted in the Mussaf prayers of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, and also paraphrased: אשאלה ממנו מענה לשון — “I ask Him to grant me the gift of speech.”14

Maaneh Lashon was compiled by R. Yaakov ben R. Avraham Shlomo Shinna, who also published original Talmudic commentaries and derushim. A glimpse at its printing history gives one some conception of its universal acceptance and appeal. It was first published in Prague soon after the year 5370 [1610], was reprinted there in 5375 [1615], and then appeared (with occasional modification) in communities as diverse as Cracow, Amsterdam, Sulzbach, Vienna, Lvov and Vilna, as well as in scores of other cities. Dozens of its editions included both the Hebrew original and a Yiddish translation, and by the year 5610 [1850], 19 editions had appeared in Yiddish alone.

The Hebrew text to follow is structured according to the custom established by Rabbi DovBer, second Rebbe of Lubavitch, to be recited at the resting place of his father, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, founder of Chabad-Lubavitch.

The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneersohn, published the Maaneh Lashon in 5672 (1912), for recitation in Haditz. After the passing of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, in 1950, the Rebbe reprinted this edition with the name change that appears in the Yehi Ratzon15 recited at the conclusion.

This translation was prepared by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger and edited by Uri Kaploun.16

An Address to Turn To

Had the translation of this text been completed before Tammuz 3, 5754 [1994], this Foreword would have ended at this point. But from that date on, praying at the Ohel17 has taken on a new significance.

In his lifetime, the Rebbe was receptive to every Jew, regardless of background, education, or degree of religious involvement. All who approached the Rebbe beheld his penetrating insight into their particular condition, and found solace in his purposeful words of blessing and advice.

This is still true. Although we cannot see the Rebbe physically, his is still the address to which we turn in times of crisis, or when a blessing is particularly called for. At the Ohel, thousands of men and women from all walks of life pour their hearts out to G‑d, and ask that the Rebbe intercede on their behalf.

After the passing of his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, the Rebbe urged his followers to keep writing to him for blessings. “He will find a way,” the Rebbe explained, “to communicate his answer.” Surely this applies to the Rebbe as well.

Proceeding Together

It would, however, be inappropriate to perceive of the Rebbe as an address to turn to only in times of need. As the paradigmatic Jewish leader, the Rebbe infused our lives with inspiration, meaning, vitality and direction.

These are not things of the past.

During 1988, in the year which followed the passing of his wife, Rebbitzin Chaya Moussia, of blessed memory, the Rebbe repeatedly referred to the Biblical phrase,18 “And the living should take it to heart.” Now is the time for all those whose lives were touched by the Rebbe to take his message to heart, apply it in their daily lives, and share it with their families and friends.

The Rebbe’s vision of a perfected world redeemed by the coming of Moshiach resonates in all of his activities, teachings and discourses. Praying at his resting place enables us to internalize this vision and to make his goals and values real and active principles in our lives.

May the Almighty hasten the fulfillment of the ultimate promise,19 “You who repose in the dust: Awaken and sing joyful praises!”

Kehot Publication Society

Yud Shvat, 5756 [1996]