Marking someone’s burial place with a tombstone is considered a continuation of the hesed sheel emet mitzvah (commandment of true love).
From this obligation comes the custom of placing pebbles on the grave by visitors to cemeteries. By laying a pebble, we perform a mitzvah of marking the tomb by adding our little pebbles to the existing large stone.
In ancient times, stones protected a corpse laid in a tomb from being desecrated by animals. The whitening of the stones was a sign to avoid the tomb, as the person in contact with the corpse became unclean.
Decorating Jewish graves with flowers was considered a pagan custom (chukkat ha-goj), because it does not serve the deceased and is done to emphasize the wealth of his living family. No flowers were laid on the graves of Orthodox Jews and no ornamental shrubs were planted. Other views were represented by Reform Judaism, which believed that flowers were made in memory of the dead.
Some leave on the graves god-fearing rabbis or tzadikim – Kwiatlech. These are scraps of paper, small pieces of paper on which are written the mother’s name and hers along with a request to God.
Placing a pebble, a candle or a flower is a disinterested goodness because there is no way that the one to whom it is shown can
I’m reminded of the Protestant Pastor Niemoller’s words:
- First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
- Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.
- Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
- Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
—Martin Niemöller :”Every occupied country had its collaborators in crime: Hungary, France, Netherlands, Poland… among them. Antisemitism is an age-old virus infecting many with various rationales or even mone except the infection called hatred. “Many” does not mean a majority of the citizens but enough to call shame upon all even those who tried to rescue and even those sympathetic to the victims, who prayed (not preyed) for their neighbors but were helpless to prevent the taking of the innocent. Those, known and unknown, are praised and cited as being the Righteous Among the Nations, and rightly so.”
Niemoller himself was arrested and hauled off to a camp for something like 7 years. His crime? Protesting against others, fellow Priests especially, for their silence as the German government acted in such beastly ways.