Elevation of the Soul
What is the purpose of doing things for the elevation of the soul and whether these activities have any meaning?
If you visit the burial place of your dear ones from time to time this means that there is within your heart a deep recognition that man is different from animal and even if the life of the body has ended, the soul lives on and it is in its honor that the burial place is visited and prayers are recited at it. And since the soul, being spiritual is something that cannot be perceived by the five senses, and hence its location is also not confined to something physical and hence prayers, charity and Torah study on its behalf will be beneficial to the soul, irrespective of the location where these are carried out.
Does the soul desire and anticipate that something be done for its elevation or are these activities some kind of an added bonus?
Our Sages state that just like a human body is daily in need of food, and lack of it for a day is acutely felt (as is the common experience during the Yom Kippur fast) and the more so if a person is in a desert and has nothing to eat or drink for days and he gradually expires from hunger and thirst, and the torment of such a death is indescribable, so is precisely the state of the soul in the Higher World. If the soul did not prepare sufficient nourishment in this world, meaning study of Torah and performance of mitzvos and charitable deeds it suffers there from a kind of hunger the misery of which is beyond description.
And whereas in this world suffering ends at some stage, this is not so in the Eternal World, and this for two reasons. First, because time there does not end and second because the sensation of hunger there is much deeper than in this world, because the suffering is spiritual. As an example, a person who was hit, even if it hurts him very much it is very far from the pain of the soul at the loss of a loved one. This is because the suffering of the soul, being that it is spiritual, hurts more than physical pain. Hence if we wish to describe the hunger pains of a soul in the Higher World and delve deeply into it, we shall understand its severity.
Just like in our world when a person goes out on a month-long excursion to a place where there is no food, he takes along a large quantity of food out of fear that he may run out of it and die; this applies even more to the Higher World the excursion to which has no deadline. There everything is eternal. One should definitely take along a large supply of mitzvos and good deeds in order that the nourishment for his soul should not run out.
True, if one’s offspring are observant and conform to the religious way of life they bring satisfaction to the parents and grandparents and elevate their souls. But if the children do not behave in this manner, because nobody taught them how, or they are not in a position to do so, they should at least ensure that others should study Torah, pray and say Kaddish for the elevation of the soul of their parents, something that is a part of their obligation of the commandment of parental respect. They should imagine that their parents are prostrated in front of them and beg them that they should give them a piece of spiritual bread in order to avoid expiring from hunger. Those who are in the habit to study works of our Sages, that are known to be heavenly inspired, know that this is not an exaggeration, that people who left this world are helpless and only those alive are capable of saving them and giving them life. This is also an obligation of expressing one’s gratitude to parents who have given their lives and possessions to their offspring. This even applies to the case when the departed person was of a high spiritual standing and the one who survives is not of such spiritual capacity. This is because King Salomon has already stated that “a live dog is better than a dead lion.”
Rabbi Chaim Palagi, one of the major rabbinical figures of Sephardic Jewry of the previous generations, had the following to say about the obligation to honor parents also after their demise:
“Honoring one’s parents even after their demise is also a part of the obligation of parental honor and this includes study of Torah on the day of their departure from this world and if he has the means, he should purchase Maftir on that day. This is because everything that one does in honor of one’s parents, be it something minor as compared with what his parents spent on him, or be it something major, one should spend as much as he can in honor of his departed parents.”
And one should not be tightfisted or stingy in honoring one’s parents because the Creator obligated him to honor them both during their lifetime and thereafter. And if he is a person of means, he should support students of Torah within the year of his parent’s demise and so also each year, to provide them with food and drink and otherwise support them. If one does not behave in this way, he G-d forbid transgresses the commandment of honoring one’s parents that applies during their lifetime and after it.”
And Rabbi Eliyahu Rogoler, a major rabbinical figure of European Jewry (lived about a century ago) writes,
“My dear children imagine that I am subjected to immense and indescribable suffering such as no one can imagine and, in particular, the agony of having to come back to this world to make up what one missed. I expect this to happen because I was capable of being much greater than I am, but the circumstances were such that I could not do all that I was supposed to. Hence, I turn to you, my children, to complete what I missed, this is because all that I was supposed to do and did not was because of you; I had to spend this time to take care of you in all respects. All this caused me to miss on my studies and to forget what I learned when I was younger and was not under obligation to you.
And since it is because of you that I have not achieved what I could, I hereby beg you that you should act charitably and study Torah for my sake. Should you do this, I will be protected. You should take care that your children should do the same since the Creator bestows a part of his name upon the person who leaves behind him children who are observant all their life. If you would not do this, then it will be said about me that the birth and the life of a person like this is cursed. This is because such a person is treated as a one without holiness and is devoid of the Divine Presence. This means that a child who does not act properly causes his parents to be cursed. What a disgrace this is in this and in the Higher World that one’s parents were cursed because of him. The source of all this is in the words of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in the Zohar, who states that the commandment to honor one’s parents applies both during their lives and thereafter. Rather obviously, this honor cannot express itself by eating a good meal, but by study of Torah, performance of mitzvos and being charitable. And if the children behave in this manner then they cause their parents to be highly honored and the Creator sits them on chairs of honor. But if the offspring, G-d forbid, do not pay attention to all this, then they bring untold shame upon their parents.
There is no limit in honoring one’s parents both during their lives and thereafter, and great care must be taken to prevent them from suffering even if the children do it for Heaven’s sake, because the punishment for this is severe.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai writes in the holy Zohar that the commandment to honor one’s parents applies even more after their demise than during their life. It is said in the Talmud that one who honors his parents after they passed away is regarded as if he has honored them during their life. This because when one honors his parents during their lives he may have ulterior reasons such as being afraid of them or because he desires to inherit them, but one who honors them after they passed away does it only for Heaven’s sake.
Activities for the elevation of souls
Study of Torah and performance of commandments. Study of Mishnayos. Prayer for the elevation of the soul. Recitation of the Kaddish (prayer for the dead). Charitable activities
Purpose of the Kaddish during the first year
The Kaddish is a magnificent praise of the Creator and this highly elevates the soul of the departed. This in particular, because it causes the congregation to answer Amen, which causes an even greater elevation for the soul. Major Rabbinical authorities of earlier generations write that reciting Kaddish during the first year serves to save the departed from Heavenly punishment. This is the reason why even if one’s parents told him not to recite Kaddish after them, he should not obey them. This is because, had his parents known the great significance of the Kaddish and the extent to which they are in need of it, they would definitely rescind their objection.
If no Kaddish was said during the first year of the demise of a dear one of your family, this should be compensated for
Major Rabbinical authorities were asked concerning a family that was not aware of the need to say Kaddish as one of the things that are beneficial to the deceased. This being so, the sons did not say any Kaddish, but after a number of years elapsed they inquired whether they now have to do so. The reply was that if no Kaddish was said during the first year for the departed parent for whatever reason, it is proper to and desirable that the son should say Kaddish from the moment that he became aware of the importance of doing so. In this way he fulfills the commandment of parental honor, even if the parent was observant and the more so if he was not, since in this case the son should make an effort to make amends for his parent.
Rabbi Aharon the Great of Karlin, who was a major and saintly Rabbi close to two hundred years ago, writes as follows, “and on the second year my sons should study Torah, say Kaddish and give to charity on every Sabbath eve and every eve of the Jewish month. This is because, even though sinners are punished in the purgatory only for 12 months, who knows whether they will even let me into the purgatory during the first year.”
Kaddish, prayers, study of Torah and giving to charity on the anniversary of a parent’s passing
It is written in the holy books that even if a person was highly pious in this world, he is judged again each year on the day when he passed away in order to elevate him to a higher world. Because of this he is in need of additional merits for which reason it is customary to study Torah, pray and give to charity for the elevation of this soul.
The following is stated in the work called Mishmeret Shalom, “A G-d fearing person should not engage in commerce on the day when one of his parents passed away, even if this is very urgent. The reason for this is that either he will not be successful in his dealings because this is his unlucky day, or because of the commandment of honoring one’s parents. Additionally, if he will be at home, he could keep the day of his parents’ demise much better by studying mishnayos, saying Kaddish, serving as the prayer leader for the congregation, visiting the burial site and distributing charity to the best of his ability for the elevation of their souls. One should dwell on the fact that his parents made every effort possible on his behalf, something that obligates him to do something for the emendation of their souls at least once a year.”
Kaddish for the elevation of the souls that have no one to say Kaddish for them
It is proper to make an effort on behalf of souls who have not left any children and have no one to say Kaddish for them. An awe-inspiring story is told about Rabi Akiva, a major Talmudic Sage who lived about two thousand years ago.
Rabi Akiva once saw a person who was naked and black as coal and was carrying on his head a load tenfold of that ordinarily carried and was running as a horse. Rabi Akiva ordered him to stop and asked him why is he doing such hard work. He told him, “if you are a slave and your master forces you to do such work, I shall redeem you from this slavery, and if you are poor I shall make you rich.” That person asked not to be delayed because his supervisors will get angry with him.
So Rabi Akiva asked him as to what kind of work he is doing. The person answered that he is actually dead, and every day he (that is his soul) is sent to fell trees and the wood is used to burn him. So Rabi Akiva inquired of the man’s actions while he was alive. The person answered that he was a customs collector something that put me in a position of leadership a part of which consisted in currying favor with the rich and killing the poor. So Rabi Akiva asked him whether he heard from his supervisors that there is anything that could be done to save him from this predicament. The person begged to let him go because those who submit him to this suffering will become angry with him. As for me, he said, nothing can be done on my behalf. However, I heard from them something that is unbelievable that had this poor man (himself) had a son who could stand in the synagogue, say Borchu and others would repeat it, recite Kaddish and others would praise the Creator as a part of his recitation, he would be immediately released from all this suffering.
And I, he continues, had no son and left a wife while she was pregnant and even if she will have a son, I have no idea who will teach him anything since I have no friends in this world. At this moment Rabi Akiva took upon himself to find out whether the person’s child is indeed a boy who would be able to say Kaddish for that man. Rabi Akiva inquired of the person’s town and the name of his wife. This story caused Rabi Akiva a lot of aggravation and he immediately went there and inquired of the person. He was told that both that person and his wife were great sinners and because of this the town people did not even circumcise the boy.
Rabi Akiva immediately performed the circumcision and started teaching him Torah, but the boy was incapable of learning. Rabi Akiva fasted for forty days until he heard a proclamation from Heaven that he should go forth and teach Torah to the boy. He immediately started teaching him Torah and the reading of the Shema, prayer and Grace after Meals and brought him to the synagogue. There he told him to say Borchu and others repeated it, to recite Kaddish and others praised the Creator as a part of his recitation.
At that instant the father’s torture stopped. He came to Rabi Akiva in a dream and blessed him that he should reach
A true, awe-inspiring story, a living testimony of the importance of reciting Kaddish (something that happened during the past century)
We hereby present a marvelous story about reciting Kaddish (as is known, it has been instituted primarily for orphans as a part of the obligation of honoring one’s parents). We heard it from Rabi Aharon Slutski, a major Talmudic scholar who heard it from Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, who was the Chief Rabbi of
A distinguished woman, who ran prosperous business, would over the years bring a substantial donation to the Yeshiva on the condition that Kaddish should be recited there for the elevation of desolate souls for whom no one is reciting Kaddish. The Yeshiva appointed one of the students who would do so.
Then the woman’s husband died. Since he was an active partner in running the business, his absence caused the business to slide and in the end she had to close it. The woman’s private fortune also declined with the business and then, her two daughters became of marriageable age, but she had no money to marry them off. The woman suffered in silence and made peace with her bitter situation. However, there was one thing that she simply could not give up and this hurt her very much – making sure that Kaddish for desolate souls should continue to be said in spite of the fact that she could no longer contribute to the Yeshiva for this purpose.
In her sorrow, she went to the Yeshiva’s administration and asked that this tradition be kept up until her situation will improve at which time she will continue supporting the Yeshiva as in previous years. This appeal that came from a pure heart of the poor widow made a tremendous impression upon the Yeshiva administration and they promised her to continue the tradition of reciting Kaddish for these poor souls. This brought incredible happiness to the widow’s heart, she thanked the Rabbis with tears in her eyes and went on her way. From now one she was no longer depressed by the poor state in which she found herself because, once this matter was taken care of, her world was almost perfect. As to her two daughters, she put her faith in the Creator who is the father orphans and the caretaker of widows. She was confident that in some or other way financial arrangements could be made and she would find the proper husbands for them.
As she walked out into the street she encountered a highly dignified elderly Jew with a very long white beard. To her surprise, this unknown person extended her a warm greeting. She was even more surprised when that person started speaking to her asking her as to the state of affairs of herself and of her daughters.
The women sighed painfully and described to him her pitiful state of first being well off and then getting to the point of not having any money to marry off her daughters. Then the man asked her, “How much money do you need for marrying off the girls.” “Why do you need to know this?” asked the puzzled woman and mentioned the approximate amount needed. The man pulled out a sheet of paper and wrote out an order to the local bank for the amount that she stated. However, before signing the document he asked that, since the amount in question is substantial, he would prefer that his signature be witnessed by two people who would sign the document thus attesting that it is indeed that person’s signature.
All excited and surprised, the woman went to the Yeshiva and asked two of the students to accompany her. When he saw them he asked them to pay attention to his affixing his signature on the payment order. To be doubly sure, he asked for a piece of paper on which he affixed his signature as a sample. He handed the payment order to the woman and instructed her to go to the bank the next day in the morning.
All this appeared very strange and bizarre to the woman. What caused the unknown old man to be so nice to her and to behave toward her so generously to the point of giving her enough money to marry off her daughters? Still, the next morning she promptly appeared at the bank to see whether her luck holds. The teller to whom she presented the payment order was dumbfounded at the sight of both the woman and the document, gave them a highly confused and astonished second and third look. Flustered, he asked the woman to wait and went to see the manager who was also the owner of the bank.
What happened there was even more dramatic. Upon seeing the payment order, the manager fainted and fell from his chair. Pandemonium broke out in the bank. The bank officers who heard what happened, immediately placed the woman in a side room and put a guard on her out of fear that this is some kind of a swindle.
When the bank manager came to himself he asked to see the woman who presented the payment order. She entered, all agitated and the manager inquired when and how did she get the payment order. She told him that it was only yesterday that she received it from a highly dignified elderly person and I even have two Yeshiva students who have witnessed the writing and signing of the order. “Could you identify the person from a picture?” he asked. “Yes, she said, “I shall definitely be able to identify him and I am sure that the two Yeshiva students could also do the same.”
The manager asked to bring in the picture of his father and when it was shown to the woman she declared without hesitation that this is indeed the person who signed the payment order. The manager ordered to honor the document and the woman left the bank.
After the woman left, the manager explained to his employees meaning of the strange episode that they just witnessed. The person who issued the payment order was no one other than his father who passed away ten years ago. On the previous night his father appeared to him in a dream and told him as follows: “I want you to know that since you have gone off the way and married a non-Jewish woman and stopped reciting Kaddish, my soul could not find peace, until an unknown woman came and asked that Kaddish should be recited for all the souls after whom no one recites it. And by doing this she caused that the Kaddish that was recited in the yeshiva on her request caused my soul to be elevated and satisfied. This woman will appear tomorrow morning in your bank with the payment order that I handed her to cover the cost of marrying off her two daughters.” When I got up in the morning stirred by the dream, I told about it to my wife, but she ridiculed it. However, when the woman with the payment order appeared, this verified that the dream was indeed true.
And Rabbi Sonnenfeld ended the story by saying, “Who were the two Yeshiva students? Myself and my friend, Rabbi Yehudah Greenwald (who subsequently served as the rabbi of Satmer). The bank manager repented, his wife underwent a proper conversion and they together conducted an exemplary Jewish house.
(This story appears in the book The Keeper of the Gates)
Study of Torah for the Elevation of the soul is much more beneficial to the soul than the recitation of the Kaddish
The Code of Jewish Law states that one must honor his parents also after they passed away. Honoring includes learning Torah for the elevation of one’s parents’ soul and this is the best emendation of the souls to extricate them from all the levels of the purgatory and lift them up to
The source for this statement is in the Zohar Hachodosh, portion Lech Lecha.
Study of mishnayos for the elevation of the soul
It is customary in all Jewish communities to study mishnayos for the elevation of the soul. This is implied in the Hebrew expression for the soul, which is neshama that in Hebrew is made up of the same letters as mishna. Our Sages write that Asher, the son of Yaakov, sits at the gates of the purgatory and does not let in anyone for whom mishnayos are being studied.
The study of mishnayos is very beneficial to the elevation of souls. We find this in the writings of Rabbi Akiva Eiger (major Rabbinical figure, lived about 150 years ago) thus: “I ask my students and friends to study during the first year after my demise one chapter of mishnayos a day for the benefit of my soul, and also every year on the date of my death.
Study of the Zohar for the elevation of the soul
In the opinion of Cabbalists, learning of Cabbala and Zohar is more beneficial for the soul than other types of Torah learning. This is because the term Zohar [meaning radiance] indicates that it causes the soul to become radiant. And a special effort should be made to study the Zohar on Shabbat, a day that is regarded as being holy to the Creator. From this you can see how importantly is the study of the Zohar regarded in the Spiritual World and in particular on Shabbat, when this study is priceless. Accordingly, there is no end to the benefit derived by the soul of the departed parents from this kind of study. This also greatly increases the value of honoring one’s parents by means of this study.
The magnitude of the benefit of reciting Tehillim for the Elevation of the Soul
The following is stated by the Chidoh [major Rabbinical figure of previous centuries) concerning the magnitude of the benefit of reciting Tehillim for the elevation of the soul of the departed, “there is a well-known story about a spirit from where we learn that there is nothing better for protection from evil powers than reciting Kaddish following the recitation of Tehillim. It is hence imperative that sons whose parents passed away should say Tehillim and recite Kaddish every day of the first year. A major Rabbinical authority derives from this that Tehillim should be recited on the day of a parent’s death in addition to the study of mishnayos.
What is more beneficial to the soul, an impressive tombstone or an ordinary tombstone that leaves money for performing charitable activities?
From a statement of the Chafetz Chaim, who was the greatest Rabbinical authority of the previous generation
“I find it necessary to mention a matter of importance. There are people who want to do something in remembrance of the soul of their parents and erect for them a beautifully carved tombstone with gold letters and many decorations. There are others who improve on this and surround the tombstone with plantings and similar for people to enjoy. They spend a large amount of money on all this and believe that in this way they provide great satisfaction to the soul of the departed. Oh, how wrong are the people in thinking this way? This is because once the soul of the departed leaves this world, it becomes aware there that study of Torah and observance of the Mitzvos are the most desirable activities. This is because he sees that this is the valuable merchandise that is current in that world and in its merit people achieve the pleasure of Heavenly light. And then he suddenly starts valuing any Mitzvah that he observed in this world and is in anguish for spending all his life running after empty pleasures and fleeting honor concerning which he is going to be judged. This being so, what satisfaction will one gain by seeing his children, to whom he devoted his life and depended on them to protect him from Heavenly judgment by acting properly, being involved in still another empty pleasure?
It would have been much better if they would erect a tombstone that is not so expensive and with simple and not golden lettering, without flowers or plantings (but a tombstone as such is something that the soul of the departed needs, as is stated in the Talmud). Then the rest of the money that would have been spent on something more grandiose could be used for purchasing Torah literature for the synagogue with a dedication mentioning their parents. Alternately, they could establish a free-loan fund to assist Torah students and families in distress for the elevation of their parents’ souls, something that is highly beneficial to them. Should they establish such a fund without strings attached, they would highly elevate their parents’ souls. This is because every loan that is issued adds a Mitzvah to the benefit of their parents. As written by a major Rabbinical figure, “the good deeds that a child performs after his parent’s demise serves as atonement for the parent’s soul, even if the son does it on his own initiative and not on the parent’s request.
Children, by their good deeds, extract their parents from the purgatory and bring them to Paradise
This motif is seconded by a somewhat later authority, “not only does he save the parent from the punishment in the purgatory, but he then also brings him to
And what we find written in the name of a major Rabbinical authority who lived over half a millennium ago that nothing can be done for an evil doer, this applies to others, who are not one’s offspring; but a son is a part of his parent and it will definitely be beneficial.
A person should imagine what would have happened if he himself, G-d forbid, would have been thrown into a fire or subjected to other torments, how much would he wish that his sons would get together to find a solution to his terrible predicament. In precisely this manner he should look upon himself as one who should do this for the soul of his parents who have devoted all their lives to him until they put him on his own feet, to save them from the punishment for their sins by means of the children’s charitable deeds. This is because, as King Solomon said, “no-one is sinless.” And in particular during the week and the month following a parent’s death, when Heavenly punishment is more severe, one should make an effort to increase his Torah study and performance of good deeds on their behalf, something that will save them from the purgatory and bring them to life in the Higher World. All this should be taken into account by the child who should know that his behavior toward his parents will be reflected in the behavior of his children toward him.
There is, in fact, no doubt that a Mitzvah performed by a child is beneficial to his departed parents, as has been already cited. This applies the more so concerning performance of charitable deeds that awakens a charitable approach on High, as was already written. In addition, this causes that the names of one’s parents will be mentioned for the good and it will be said, “Happy is the one who gave birth to him, happy is the one who raised him! All this will awaken merits for them on High.
And one of the previously cited authorities continues, “One who is charitable on behalf of a departed soul (even if he is not related to it, as long as he is righteous, and the more if it is a son, a daughter, or brother or sister) he definitely provides great salvation and satisfaction for the soul. This matter is also mentioned briefly in the Code of Jewish Law.
Hence, if it happened, G-d forbid, that one’s offspring passed away at a young age and did not leave any children, it is proper to do something in remembrance of his soul by means of a permanent Mitzvah if one is able to do so. And even if one cannot do it, one should at least donate a Torah text that the community needs and should inscribe the name of the parted in it. Then, any time the text will be studied, the soul of the departed will derive satisfaction. I have seen that this is commonly done.
It is written that charity saves from death and what it means primarily that it saves from death in the Next World. In view of this, those who want to do something for their parents give a lot of money to charity for the elevation of their souls. The power of charity is demonstrated by what happened with Rabbi Kanevski, who passed away about a quarter century ago. The director of a boys’ school used to travel abroad every year to collect money for his school. His mother passed away recently and the person came to ask whether he should make the trip because he will not always be able to say Kaddish while underway. To which the Rabbi replied that since Kaddish is said for the elevation of the soul, he should definitely go, because there is no better way to achieve this elevation than to collect money for study of Torah and for giving to charity.
It is also written by a major Rabbinical figure of the previous generation thus, “every time that one prays and recites Kaddish in his lifetime, he should intend to perform the commandment of honoring one’s parents and to bring them to a high level… He should contribute to charity on their behalf all his life and by doing this he performs the commandment of honoring one’s parents in a more exalted way than when doing this when they are alive and he brings them satisfaction.
Another authority writes that the commandment of honoring one’s parents applies mainly after they passed away and one should do everything in his power to bring them satisfaction day after day. Hence one should not let even a single day pass without contributing to charity for the soul of his parents.
One who contributes to charity and supports those who learn Torah for the elevation of the soul of his parents and relatives, even if they were pious and righteous, in the merit of their prayers for him in the Higher World, he is awarded with a long life, wealth and honor and will benefit from the Divine Blessing.
Charity given during yizkor on holidays
Our Sages state concerning the verse forgive Your nation – the Jews, this refers to those alive, whom You have redeemed, and this refers to the dead. It follows from this that the dead are in need of forgiveness. They additionally state that this is the reason why charity is given for the benefit of the dead on Yom Kippur. One of the early Talmudic commentaries writes that the custom to give charity for the elevation of the dead during yizkor is very ancient.
Lighting a memorial candle
The custom of lighting a memorial candle in honor of the departed is long established and is mentioned in the Talmud, where it says that havdalah should not be recited on such a candle. It says there further that the havdalah blessing should not be recited on a candle that is carried in honor of the bier of a prominent person. The Talmud also tells us that the editor of the mishnayos asked that candle be lit in his place after he passes away.
A recent Rabbinical authority writes that any Jewish custom is deeply rooted and that Cabbalists have a lot to say about the holiness of candles used for a mitzvah and of candles that are lit in honor of a dead person. They say that proper attitude toward such a candle allows one to attain sublime spiritual levels.
It is also stated that lighting candles serves as atonement for the dead and they derive satisfaction when this is done for them.
It is current Rabbinical opinion that preference should be given to contributions to places where illumination serves for the study of Torah.
Visiting the gravesite on the day of a parent’s demise
It is customary to visit the gravesite on the day of a parent’s demise and to pray there for elevation of the soul of the departed. One of contemporary Rabbinical authorities cites the following, “Barzilay Hagiladi (a Biblical figure) said, ‘I shall die in my city’. This is because the dead derive pleasure when their colleagues and friends visit their gravesites and pray for the benefit of their souls. This is also beneficial to those who visit and pray (this is also a way in which one honors his parents). And if the visitors ask the souls of the departed to pray for them they do so, as we find by Caleb who went to pray at the gravesites of his ancestors. It is also mentioned in the Zohar that Rab. Yitzchok asked Rab. Yehudah that the latter should go to the former’s gravesite every day of the week after his demise and pray for him.
It is the opinion of major Rabbinical authorities that people who live outside the
Even though it is a Jewish custom to visit the gravesites of one’s parents on the day of their demise, still one should not spend money on such a trip if his parents are buried in the Holy Land whereas he does not live there and it is highly preferential to give this money to charity for the elevation of the parents’ soul. One should also make an effort to study more Torah on that day and this will provide much more satisfaction to the parent’s soul than devoting time and spending money on such a journey. The same is cited in a book specifically devoted to honoring parents where it is stated that one hour’s study of Torah is worth thousand-fold more than making such a trip.