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Praying at the grave of a Tzaddik

Sh'lom dear Director Dr. Schulman and Academy Rabbis,

Binding oneself to a true Tzaddik is an essential part of the chassidic approach, I have following question:
If one prays at the grave of a Sage or sends a letter with some request or as an expression of gratitude at the grave of a particular departed Tzaddik, how should one correctly formulate his prayer in order to avoid possible mistakes, especially praying to the Tzaddik himself instead of to The One True G-d (Heaven forbid) nevertheless mentioning the hope that the Tzaddik intervene on his behalf?

Best regards
The Talmud relates that when the righteous man Caleb was on his way with the group of spies who Moses sent into the Promised Land, Caleb separated from the others who had become rebellious (except for Joshua). Caleb went to the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron, to visit the graves of the Tzaddikim - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. At their graves, he prayed to G-d, and he asked the souls of these Tzaddikim to please arouse G-d's mercy, so that G-d would save him from becoming embroiled in the rebellion that would be led by the other spies. (Why didn't the righteous man Joshua also visit the graves of these Tzaddikim to ask them for this? Because Joshua had received a blessing from Moses, but Caleb did not.) See Rashi's explanation on Numbers 13:16-22.

The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) encourages people to visit the holy graves of Tzaddikim (men and women who were exceedingly righteous, i.e. exceedingly Torah-observant and spiritually refined) on the day before to Rosh Hashanah (the annual Day of Divine Judgment) to pray there to G-d for a good new year. The Shulchan Aruch states this is "because the resting places of the Tzaddikim are holy and spiritually pure, and prayers said there are very potent."

So we see from these and numerous other sources in Torah, and from the living examples and directives of Tzaddikim throughout the generations, that the Torah tradition encourages (but does not require) the following things:
1) asking for and receiving a blessing from a Tzaddik (a "blessing" is the Tzaddik's prayer to G-d on a person's behalf), either during or after the Tzaddik's physical lifetime;
2) specifically visiting the grave of a Tzaddik, and in that holy place asking for a blessing from the Tzaddik;
3) specifically visiting the grave of a Tzaddik, and in that holy place saying one's prayers to G-d.

In the Torah literature, great Rabbis composed texts that can be read at the graves of Tzaddikim, containing both prayers to G-d, and requests for blessings from the soul of the Tzaddik whose body is resting there (i.e. that the soul of the Tzaddik should please pray to G-d on the person's behalf). Of course, instead of reading from those classical texts, a person can do the same in his or her own words.

If a person is speaking in his own words, his requests for the Tzaddik's blessings (i.e. that the Tzaddik will pray to G-d on the person's behalf) should be made just as one would make such a request to a Tzaddik during the Tzaddik's physical lifetime. Obviously that is not equivalent to praying to the Tzaddik, G-d forbid, because asking for a Tzaddik's blessing during his lifetime or at his grave is encouraged by Torah, but praying to a Tzaddik, or to anyone or anything else other than G-d, is forbidden by Torah Law.

It may help a person to organize his thoughts and words by writing them down on paper and then reading them. If a person does this, the classical texts specify to leave the paper in pieces on the Tzaddik's holy resting place.
Shalom Dear Rabbis and dr. Schulman Smile
Could someone pray and seek help from Tsaddikim if she or he is not able to visit to holy graves? Would that be effective as well?
First you asked about prayer. A person can pray to G-d in any place, as long as he/she is following the guidelines for proper prayer (for example, that one is not in a restroom or a house of idol worship, or near any filth or bad smell, etc.) On the other hand, there is a principle that some places are especially fitting for prayer:
- a place that you designate for your prayers, and you regularly pray there
- an Orthodox synagogue
- the graves of Tzaddikim
- holy sites in the Land of Israel, like the Western Wall, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, Rachel's Tomb, the Tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, etc.

If a person wishes to visit the holy grave or tomb of a Tzaddik but is not able to, he/she should remember that the soul of a Tzaddik is eternal and spiritual, and once it is freed from its limitation in a physical body, it is no longer limited by physical space. So for example, your request for a blessing can be written down and read from a piece of paper, and then placed into a book of Torah, wherever you might be.

You may have heard of the ancient custom that people write down prayers on a piece of paper and place them into a crack in the holy Western Wall on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It is now available to send a written message to an office at the Western Wall by postal service, fax or email, and someone will insert it into the Wall for you, as a free service.

Likewise with a letter that you wish to read at the holy grave or tomb of a Tzaddik. You could send the letter to an agent near that location by postal service, fax or email, and the agent could place it there for you.

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