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    Rachel’s Tomb – Vayyishlach

    When Rachel died on the way to Efrat, Jacob was shattered. He “erected a tombstone over her grave, which is the tombstone of Rachel to this day”.

    From this example we derive the rule that a person’s burial place has to be identified by a tombstone.

    Not that early rabbinic literature has a great deal to say on the subject, and Rabban Shimon ben Gamli’el warned that more important than a tombstone is the memory of the righteous deeds a person performed.

    Maybe what the sages found difficult was the inscription which recorded the facts of the person’s life. There was certainly a stone to mark the grave, but trying to sum a person up with a few phrases or verses was not considered essential or important.

    The problematic nature of inscriptions becomes evident from even a cursory walk through a cemetery. The names and dates are usually embroidered by Biblical phrases that more or less all say the same thing about everyone in the cemetery – that they were honoured, esteemed and loved, and they performed deeds of righteousness.

    In a sense what would mean much more would be a description of the bereaved family. If they lived by the highest of ideals that would be the best possible tribute to the parent or other person who taught them how to live.

    Unfortunately the reality is that in many cases the family are no paragons and some of them are mean, selfish and unkind. The best tribute that can be paid to the deceased is to uphold their example.

    The rabbis say of Joseph that when he was tempted to sin he thought of his father and he knew what to do. That is more important than all the eloquent inscriptions in the cemetery.

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