With regard to the concept of prostrating oneself at the graves of tzaddikim, there is a kuntres by the Mitteler Rebbe, a work by the Tzemach Tzedek, and statements from the later Rebbeim. All of these concepts have been published, so there is no need to review them. I would like to introduce an even higher conception of visiting the grave of a tzaddik.

The importance of such visits is highlighted by the fact that the later halachic authorities — see the responsa written by the Alter Rebbe’s brother, R. Yehudah Leib1 — seek leniencies to enable kohanim to visit the graves of tzaddikim despite the fact that they are Scripturally prohibited to come in contact with an ordinary grave.2

Speaking to G‑d Face to Face

The uniqueness of praying at a tzaddik’s grave can be understood in the context of the requirement to pray facing Eretz Yisrael — and more particularly, Jerusalem, the Beis HaMikdash, and the Holy of Holies.3 For one should make requests of G‑d in a place of which it is said,4 “My eyes and My heart will be there forever.”

In general, this promise reflects the uniqueness of Eretz Yisrael, “the land upon which the eyes of G‑d are focused from the beginning of the year until the end of the year.”5 G‑d’s providence is overtly manifest in Eretz Yisrael. In the Diaspora, by contrast, He expresses His influence through the medium of the 70 archangels.

True, they are nothing more than “an ax in the hand of the chopper”6 and a Jew is forbidden Jew to worship them.7 Nevertheless, as G‑d conveys His influence to this material world, it passes through them and they color it. In contrast, “G‑d’s eyes” are “upon Eretz Yisrael.” The influence of the intermediaries is less and G‑dliness is more apparent.

When Foxes Roam Among the Ruins

This concept applied in the era of the Beis HaMikdash when G‑d’s presence was overtly apparent. In the time of exile, by contrast, this superiority of Eretz Yisrael is not perceptible.8 Indeed, G‑d’s hand is more concealed there than in the Diaspora. To illustrate by analogy: when a wall falls, the stone that is highest falls furthest away and is damaged most severely.9

In the Diaspora, the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash had only a spiritual effect. There was no radical change in the material nature of the land. In Eretz Yisrael, by contrast, the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash changed the land in a very tangible way. In the era of the Beis HaMikdash, it was a land flowing with milk and honey;10 prosperity poured forth from it to the entire world. At present, by contrast, it must receive sustenance from the Diaspora. As Ramban writes,11 the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash is more sorely felt in Eretz Yisrael than in the Diaspora and in Eretz Yisrael itself, the destruction is more sorely felt in the holiest places.

Where No Interruption is Possible

Nevertheless, destruction can only have an effect on G‑d’s manifestation within the Seder Hishtalshelus, the chainlike stages of existence through which G‑dly energy descends until our world is brought into being. In this framework, sin separates man from G‑d, causing destruction and exile. When, by contrast, one focuses on G‑d’s Essence and the essence of man’s soul, there is no separation. Nothing can ever intervene between the essential spark of the Jewish soul and G‑d’s Essence. It is even inappropriate to speak of their connection being weakened.

In this vein, we can understand a statement of R. Aizik of Homil in the name of the Alter Rebbe,. As cited in Pelach HaRimon, Shmos, p. 7. that for lofty souls, it is as if the Beis HaMikdash was never destroyed.

To give an example of this concept from human experience: When a person withstands a challenge of faith, the essence of his soul shines within all of his conscious powers. His self-sacrifice affects his speech and his action, even though he has not transformed his nature and may be on a low spiritual level.

To a greater extent, this motif applies with regard to the lofty souls mentioned above. At the very essence of their souls, there is no concept of destruction. In contrast to people at large, their essential Jewish spark permeates their entire being.12 Thus, for them, the destruction has no effect at all.

With No Thought of Self

The connection these souls share with G‑d is not restricted to them personally. On the contrary, they are comprehensive souls who care for the entire people. In that vein, we can understand Yaakov’s response after Esav invited him to Mount Seir:13 “I am responsible for the nursing flocks.... [Therefore,] I will make my way at a slow pace.” Yaakov was the nasi;. The leader of the Jewish people. See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 31,, p. 148, which explains the connection between that title and the concept of a comprehensive soul. for him, there was no possibility of “destruction,” the separation and distance from G‑d that lesser souls may experience. And this refers not only to his own personal level of refinement, but also as he exists in relation to the people at large. For the spiritual level of the people at large will affect their leader to a certain degree. Since he must assist them in their self-refinement, their underdeveloped characters have an effect on him.14 Nevertheless, Yaakov had already perfected that dimension of his spiritual personality as well. From his own perspective, Mashiach had already come. In his inner world, he was ready for “saviors... to judge the Mount of Esav,”15 for “the sovereignty will be G‑d’s.”15

But Yaakov thought far beyond his own inner world — “I am responsible for the nursing flocks.” Among the Jewish people, there are souls who are on the level of sheep.16 Because of these souls whose appreciation of G‑dliness is lacking, Yaakov had to tarry. Were he to rush them, “they would die,”12 i.e., they would be exposed to a level of G‑dliness too powerful for them to internalize and their souls would expire.17

Yaakov was willing to remain in exile for his sheep, for these lowly souls.18

The first Jewish leader Moshe manifested the same motif. His body was not brought into Eretz Yisrael, but instead, has remained in the desert for 3000 years. Had he been concerned with himself alone, he could have entered Eretz Yisrael. He was, however, devoted to his people and remains in the desert with them until the coming of Mashiach, when together with them, he will enter the Holy Land.

A Bond of Light

In every generation, the nesiim have done the same: they have put their own personal, and even, spiritual, concerns aside and devoted themselves to their flock. They have remained in the Diaspora to serve as a medium that enables the Jews to connect to G‑d — to enable a Jew to bond the essence of his soul to G‑d’s essence and have that connection permeate the totality of his being.

To relate this concept to the opening theme: In simple terms, when one visits the grave of a nasi, there is a connection from yechidah19 to yechidah which continues to shine in the days that follow. It affects one’s thought, speech, and action, inspiring one’s Divine service.

P’nimiyus HaTorah, the Torah’s mystic dimension, sees a visit to the grave of a nasi in this light. There is an allusion to this concept in Torah Law as well, for our Sages state20 that the Resurrection will take place only in Eretz Yisrael. Nevertheless, the righteous men buried in the Diaspora will also merit resurrection for their bodies will be taken to Eretz Yisrael through underground channels.21

Thus the graves of the righteous are connected to Eretz Yisrael. Just as G‑d’s presence rests in that holy land in an overt manner, it rests at the grave of a tzaddik and that is why prayers and requests are recited there. For in that place, the essence of one’s soul is connected to the Essence of G‑d. Like in the Beis HaMikdash, “My eyes and My heart will be there forever.” In such a place, the 70 archangels have no dominion.

There is an added dimension to praying at the grave of the nasi that causes one’s requests to be fulfilled. For the desire of the nesiim was — and remains — for their influence to be felt in one’s day-to-day life, in thought, speech, and action. In this way, their shlichus can be carried out without obstacles and with abundant success in material and spiritual matters.