A couple weeks ago, we talked about abbreviations. The abbreviation above, which is often found on gravestones, stands for תהא נשמתו/ה צרורה בצרור החיים (t’he nishmato/ah tzerurah bitzror hahayyim), “may his/her soul be bound up in the bond of life.” It is derived from 1 Samuel 25:29, in which Abigail tells King David “And though man be risen up to pursue you, and to seek your soul, yet the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bond of life with the Lord your God, and the souls of your enemies he will sling out, as from the hollow of a sling.”
The expression refers to a transcendent place where the souls of the righteous are presumed to reside in security. In speech, it often comes with “may her soul find peace in Gan Eden.”
The expression is found in the El Malei Rahamim:
O God, full of compassion, You who dwell on high! Grant perfect rest beneath the sheltering wings of Your presence, among the holy and pure who shine as the brightness of the firmament unto the soul of the one who has gone to eternity. Lord of mercy, bring [her] [him] under the cover of Your wings, and let [his] [her] soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life. Be this one’s possession, and may [his] [her] repose be peace. Amen.
The same line is also found in Yizkor, which we say as a community four times a year to remember. When we light a shiv’ah candle, we say “...I know that the soul is eternal and can never be extinguished…” We pray for the elevation of our loved one’s soul among the multitudes in Heaven. Often we tie it to our current world by mentioning our giving charity to “perpetuate the ideals” of the departed.
In a commentary on aish.com by Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, the idea of a “bundle” of life rather than “bonds” brings him to discuss the cluster of souls that he says exist in the hereafter. He ponders the individual merged into the group after life.
Now, go back to the second sentence above. You will find the word “tzeror,” which can mean a bundle, package, bunch (of flowers, e.g.,), or a pebble. And that last definition is said to be the source of our leaving stones on the gravestones when we visit. Remember the importance we give to rocks and stones - we refer to God as our Rock, and our initial law, the very guidebook of our faith, was first carved into stone.
Interesting the relationship of the solid with the ethereal. Something to think about as we practice social distancing while remaining connected.
By the way, this week we are reminded of a 2018 column about Elijah, https://bethshalompgh.org/does-elijah-the-prophet-really-visit-originally-published-march-30-31-2018/.