By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER
When visiting a cemetery, it is customary to place small stones or pebbles atop the monuments of those whom we have come lovingly to remember. Some understand this practice as an act of kindness to the bereaved: subsequent visitors, seeing the pebble left behind, will realize they are not alone in their grief… that someone shares in their sense of loss and has been touched by the life of the departed.
Others say that the pebbles recall a distant past when inscribed monuments were not used. Graves were marked by a simple mound of stones, which, worn down by time and the elements, would require reassembly by concerned visitors. Placing a stone on a grave is akin to personally erecting the monument itself.
This custom seems to have inspired author Mitch Albom, who wrote that bereaved children, in time, come to understand that “their stories, and all their accomplishments, sit atop the stories of their mothers and fathers, stones upon stones….”
As this memorial observance likely dates to the Roman Period, we do well to note that the word “scruples” derives from the Latin scrupulus: meaning “pebbles.” Placing small stones on cemetery monuments gratefully acknowledges those who shaped our lives, our character, our values, our moral code…
…those rocks to whom we owe our scruples.
(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and is the former National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)