Yesterday our family gathered at the New Montefiore Cemetery on Long Island for the hakomos hamatziva (unveiling) for my mother a”h. The ceremony included recitation of Tehilim (Psalms), El Moleh (prayer for the departed soul), kaddish and a eulogy.
The following are some of the thoughts which I shared yesterday with those assembled.
In Tanach (the Bible) and in Chazal a tombstone is referred to with one of three different nouns – Zion, a marker; Nefesh, a soul; and Mazteiva, a monument. Each represents a different aspect or purpose for what we call a “tombstone”.
A Zion is a marker which identifies the location of a burial plot so that those who are in a state of holiness can avoid the area and not become defiled.
Nefesh refers to the presence of the soul of the departed as it hovers over the grave. During the weekdays the soul resides in this world and returns to the heavens above on Shabbos. In this way it learns of the needs and suffering of the living and is thus able to pray for those in need.
A Mazteiva is a monument. Its purpose is reminds us of the departed, to inspire one to reflect upon and learn from the life of the departed, and to inculcate into one’s being the good qualities of the departed.
Among my mother’s many good qualities two stand out as exceptional. The first I discussed in my eulogy at the funeral last May. She exhibited incredible respect for and commitment to her parents and particularly, for her mother (my grandmother) who was widowed in her early fifties. After the sudden and untimely death of my grandfather (after whom I am named) my grandmother lived with my parents for virtually the entirety of their married life.
The second exceptional quality which I discussed yesterday was my mother’s unconditional love for and devotion to my father. Their relationship was nothing less than extraordinary – a relationship based upon love, respect and devotion.
I have trouble remembering what my mother was like before my father died nearly thirty years ago. My father’s death was a cataclysmic event in my mother’s life; a tragedy from which she never fully recovered. But I do vividly recall the total devotion that my parents had one for the other and the abounding love and genuine respect with which they treated in each other.
Without a doubt the side by side metzivahs of my parents serve as a poignant reminder and lesson of what a marriage should and can be; of how mutual respect, love and devotion create an everlasting bond. A quality for of each us – her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to strive to emulate.