When I officiated at an unveiling a couple weeks ago, I thought about the tradition of placing a small rock on the gravestone of a loved one. There are numerous interpretations for this, but one strongly resonates for me. It is that the rock that we place on the gravestone is connected to a name for God-Tzur, or rock. God is referred to as our rock and our redeemer, a permanent source of comfort upon whom we can rely and who will always be there for us. Similarly, a stone is a permanent marking-not one that will decompose or fade over time. Consequently, placing a rock it is a permanent mark that we were present at the grave of a love one.
A related interpretation comes from Rabbi Simcha Weintraub, who was our Scholar in Residence at Congregation Anshei Israel in Tucson. Rabbi Weintraub writes “The Hebrew word for ‘pebble’ is tz’ror – and it happens that this Hebrew word also means ‘bond.’ When we pray the memorial El Maleh Rahamim prayer (and at other times) we ask that the deceased be ‘bound up in the bond of life’ – Tz’ror haHayyim. By placing the stone, we show that we have been there, and that the individual’s memory continues to live on in and through us.”
It goes along the lines of a quotation I learned from my Rabbi Emeritus in Tucson: “If you continue to love the one you lose, you will never lose the one you love.” There will always be a permanent connection-one marked by a rock that is left on the gravestone.