Judith Finkelstein from Northridge, CA wrote:
I attended a Jewish funeral today, and the rabbi had each person shovel 3 shovels-full of dirt into the grave. The tradition included his instructions to specifically put the shovel back in the dirt when finished and let the next person proceed. Is there a certain significance in "putting the shovel back into the dirt" instead of passing it directly to the next person in line (the next person to shovel dirt)?
Dear Judith Finkelstein,
There are two reasons for the custom not to pass the spade from one to the other. The first is that on the day that a person is buried, it is not considered correct behavior for a person to pass something to another. One of the messages to the participants at a funeral is to understand that on the day of death we are all equal. This idea is amplified by placing the spade into the earth and not passing it straight to the next person, as it denotes a certain dominance over the person who is receiving the spade. The second reason is that the time of the burial is a time of great anguish and to pass the spade from one to the other would be symbolic of passing the anguish.
- Ta'amei Haminhagim 489:1025