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Teveth 5659

The Anniversary of Rachel's Death


Summarized by students

Dedicated to the speedy recovery of
Inbal Bat Alon

לשיעור זה בעברית: יום פטירת רחל אמנו

Bitter Weeping
"Thus says the Lord; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children refuses to be comforted for her children, because they were not. Thus says the Lord; Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded, says the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. And there is hope for your future, says the Lord, that your children shall come again to their own border" (Jeremiah 31:14-16). Today, the eleventh of Heshvan, is the day on which, according to tradition, Rachel the Matriarch passed away.

Restoration for Rachel's Sake
I would like to cite a Midrash (Petichta DeEicha Rabba 24) which deals with Rachel:
[When the Temple was destroyed,] the Holy One, blessed be He, wept and said, "Woe is Me for My house! My children, where are you? My priests, where are you? My lovers, where are you? What shall I do with you, seeing that I warned you but you did not repent?"

The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Jeremiah... "Go, summon Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Moses." [They came before Him and each one pleaded on behalf of Israel]... then the matriarch Rachel broke forth into speech before the Holy One, blessed be He, and said, "Sovereign of the Universe, it is revealed before Thee that Thy servant Jacob loved me exceedingly and toiled for my father on my behalf seven years. "When those seven years were completed and the time arrived for my marriage with my husband, my father planned to substitute another for me to wed my husband for the sake of my sister. It was very hard for me, because the plot was known to me and I disclosed it to my husband; and I gave him a sign whereby he could distinguish between me and my sister, so that my father should not be able to make the substitution.

"After that I relented, suppressed my desire, and had pity upon my sister that she should not be exposed to shame. In the evening they substituted my sister for me with my husband, and I delivered over to my sister all the signs which I had arranged with my husband so that he should think that she was Rachel. "More than that, I went beneath the bed upon which he lay with my sister; and when he spoke to her she remained silent and I made all the replies in order that he should not recognize my sister's voice.

"I did her a kindness, was not jealous of her, and did not expose her to shame. And if I, a creature of flesh and blood, formed of dust and ashes, was not envious of my rival and did not expose her to shame and contempt, why shouldest Thou, a King Who liveth eternally and art merciful, be jealous of idolatry in which there is no reality, and exile my children and let them be slain by the sword, and their enemies have done with them as they wished!" At once the mercy of the Holy One, blessed be He, was stirred, and He said, "For thy sake, Rachel, I will restore Israel to their place." And so it is written, "Thus saith the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are not" (Jeremiah 31:15). This is followed by, "Thus saith the Lord: Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears; for thy work shall be rewarded... and there is hope for thy future, saith the Lord; and thy children shall return to their own border (ibid. 16)."

Children of Rachel

Genesis 29:31 tells us that "Rachel was barren ('Akara')," and the Sages (in Bereshit Rabba 71:2) expound upon these words: "Rachel was the mainstay ('Ikaro,' from the same root as 'Akara') of the house. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said: Because the incidents are related about Rachel, Israel was called by her name, as it says, 'Rachel weeping for her children'; and not only by her name, but by her son's name: 'It may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph' (Amos 5:15); and not only by her son's name, but also by the name of her grandson, as it says, 'Is Ephraim a darling son unto Me?' (Jeremiah 31:20)."

Rachel was buried along the road, as it is written, "And I buried her there along the road to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem" (Genesis 48:7). "Jacob set up a monument on her grave. This is the monument that is on Rachel's grave to this very day" (ibid. 35:20). "What was Jacob's reason for burying Rachel on the way to Ephrath?" ask the Sages of the Midrash. They answer, "Jacob foresaw that the exiles would pass on from there, therefore he buried her there so that she might pray for mercy for them. Thus it is written, "A voice is heard in Ramah... Rachel weeping for her children... Thus saith the Lord: Refrain thy voice from weeping... and there is hope for thy future, etc." (Bereshit Rabba 82:11).

The Responsibility and the Road
The Sages, then, are revealing to us that it was no coincidence that Rachel died on the road and was buried there. She is the family's mainstay, and through her the House of Jacob, the House of Israel, will be built. During her lifetime, she performed an act of great self-sacrifice, forfeiting her husband who loved her and expressly wanted her. With a sense of responsibility, so as not to put her sister to shame, she revealed to Leah the signs which Jacob had given her. As a result, the House of Jacob was built up upon both Leah and Rachel.

In her hour of death, and even after her death, Rachel takes responsibility for the future of the House of Jacob, the House of Israel, and all of us are called her children. She is buried along the road and she accompanies her children on their way, weeping for them as they wander in exile. Because she suffered so in her lifetime, it is her supplication which God answers, saying, "Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded, says the Lord... that your children shall come again to their own border."

At present, Rachel the Matriarch continues to entreat, request, and offer supplication on behalf of her children who, though they have returned from enemy lands, have yet to returned to their borders. Here, in the land of Israel, her children are not allowed to cling to their borders, to cling to Hebron, to Shekhem, to Jericho... Rachel is weeping, and her children weep with her. They visit her tomb and lament with her and await the fulfillment of the promise, "And there is hope for thy future, saith the Lord; and thy children shall return to their own border."

he translated Midrashic sources in the above article ware taken from or based upon the Soncino Judaic Classics Library (CD-Rom).


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