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Appropriate Time to Visit the Beis HaChaim

Question:
I’m soon completing a year of Aveylus after my father הכ’מ
His 1st Yohr Tzeit will be on Gimel Shvat. For reasons brought by Achronim, I have refrained from visiting his grave site. The Matzeyva was set up a number of months ago, and of course, I was there. I am a Cohen, although that’s not entirely relevant, as I don’t go close anyway. Gimel Shvat is a Shabbos. When should the family go according to Minhag. My father’s family originally stemmed from Amshinover Chassidim (my mothers from Brisk).
Should we go Erev Shabbos while still in Aveylus technically, or is it preferable to go on the Sunday, which will be the first day after the Aveylus? Or, does it not matter much?

Answer:

The custom to visit the grave of family members on the day of their “yortzeit” [the anniversary of their petirah], while being an ancient and universally accepted custom, it’s sources are somewhat obscure. Nowhere in the Talmud or Shulchan Aruch do we find a direct reference to this custom. Various sforim [see Shu’t Shem Aryeh O”C 14, Shu’t Ksav Sofer Y”D 179] point to the words of Rashi in Yevamos 122a [s.v. tilsa] who mentions a custom to visit the graves of great scholars and study Torah by their gravesites on the day of their yortzeit.

Being that this is a practice rooted in custom, it would seem there is no strict preference on a yortzeit which falls out on Shabbos to visit the day before or after. In fact there are differing customs in this regard, to visit before or after. For one who does not have a specific family custom it would seem preferable to visit the day before the yortzeit, this being for 2 reasons.

1) See Shu”t Chasam Sofer [O”C 162] who explains that part of the reason for visiting the grave is to pray for the niftar, give charity and increase merit for the niftar, to protect them from any judgment which occurs on the yortzeit. If not possible on the yortzeit one should bring these zchusim before the day of the yortzeit and not when it has already passed. In fact most poskim quote this as the proffered minhag, see Kaf Hachaim 568:94, Ikrei Harav D. Terani Y:D 36:35 [found in back of shulchan aruch].

2) While visiting on the day of the yortzeit is not recorded in Shulchan Aruch, another minhag is in fact recorded. In Y:D 344:20 Shulchan Aruch quotes from the Geonim a custom to visit the grave on the last day of the 12 months, which is the day before the first yortzeit. Although common practice is to visit on the yortzeit itself* it would seem here where this is not possible to preferably fulfill this other minhag of Shulchan Aruch.

*[one reason suggested for the minhag to visit on the yortzeit and not in accordance with Shulchan Aruch, is the words of the Arizal [Sharei Hamitzvos Parshas Veychi] who explains that once the neshama goes up on the Shabbos before the end of the 12 months it doesn’t return for the remaining days. On the yortzeit however the Neshama returns to the gravesite.]

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