Vayechi: Our mother

Mother Rachel is everyone's mother.

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow,

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow

At The Grave Of A Mother
I was standing in Bethlehem at the grave of our nation’s mother, the Matriarch Rachel. I was praying for myself, my family and our nation. I poured my heart out on this quiet sunny morning, to a mother I had never met. Swept up in the inspiration of the moment, I visualised my mother looking at me and listening to me.

My son, who was barely two years old, was resting comfortably in his stroller beside me, when something stirred him out of sleep and he wailed a loud and sleepy, MOMMY! I nearly jumped out of my skin as his cry penetrated my thoughts and expressed them too. That was precisely what I was thinking, Mommy, Mommy, your child has finally come to your grave. Look out for me, listen to my prayers and intercede on my behalf before G-d.

My son settled peacefully back into his slumber, but my equilibrium was not as easily restored. All day long, I couldn’t shake the haunting memory of a child, shaken from sleep and startled out of complacency, crying instinctively for his mother. I kept thinking, that our mother’s very presence in Bethlehem demonstrated her devotion and love for us

On The Side Of The Road
When Jacob was ill, he asked his son Joseph to bury him in Hevron at their ancestral plot. Jacob told Joseph that he was aware he was asking Joseph to do what he did not do for Joseph’s mother, Rachel. When she passed away in Bethlehem, Jacob buried her there on the side of the road, rather than carrying her to Hevron, and here Jacob was asking Joseph to transport him from Egypt to Israel.

Jacob did not explain why he buried Rachel in Bethlehem and the question asks itself. Since the burial plot, housing Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, only had space for two more, why did Jacob not choose to be buried beside Rachel, his first and true love? Why did he choose Bethlehem?

A People In Chains
Jacob never answered that question, but our sages taught us something that sheds light on it.[1] When the Babylonian army conquered Israel and destroyed the Temple, they transported many of the Jewish survivors to Babylon in chains. As they passed along the road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, they stopped at their mother’s grave and prayed.

At that time, Rachel’s soul appeared before the Heavenly throne to pray for her children, but she found herself last in line. Ahead of her were Abraham, Isaac, Moses and her own husband Jacob. Each begged G-d to forgive the Jewish people, and G-d turned them all down. If only you knew how grievous their sins were, G-d told them, you would not ask me to forgive them.

Then it was Rachel’s turn. Dear G-d, she began. On my wedding night, I watched my father dress my sister in my wedding gown and hide her face behind my veil. I knew that my beloved Jacob would discover the ruse because he had anticipated it and arranged a secret code with me that only he and I knew. Jacob was my true and only love as I was his. I knew that if he were deceived, he and I would suffer for the rest of our lives.

Yet, I could not allow my sister to be humiliated in public when the ruse was found out. To protect my sister’s dignity, I betrayed my beloved’s confidence and shared the code with her. I stood by in agony as my sister married my beloved.[2] The next morning when Jacob discovered the ruse it was too late. The deed had been done.

Although Jacob married me a week later, I spent the rest of my life as my husband’s second wife. My sister was always jealous of my special bond I with Jacob and I accepted my lot because it was the right thing to do. If I could give up my love for my sister, can’t you set aside your anger for your children?

To which G-d replied, Rachel, I have heard your cry, you may dry your tears. I will forgive your children and they shall return to their land.

Indeed, seventy years later, Jews returned to Israel and rebuilt the Holy Temple.

A Mother’s Vision
This tale gives us an insight into why Jacob didn’t bury Rachel in Hebron. If Jacob buried her in Bethlehem, it would have been with her consent. And if it was with her consent, it could only have been because she foresaw that her children would pass through this location in chains.[3] They would not pass through Hebron and would need a place to find solace. They would need a mother on whose shoulders to cry. They would need a matriarch who could secure a promise of redemption from G-d.

Consider what this mother gave up to provide this vital service for her children. She had lost her husband in life. She played second fiddle to her sister her entire life. Now she would give up her chance to be buried beside him in the afterlife. She would once again surrender her coveted spot to her sister, who would be buried beside Jacob ion Hebron.

Rachel, lonely in life and in afterlife is utterly selfless and wholly devoted. In life, she set herself aside for her sister. In the afterlife, she set her interests aside for her children.

That is a true mother. That is why G-d pays attention to her entreaties and why I was so moved when my son awakened from sleep, at the foot of Rachel’s grave, gave voice to my thoughts and cried out Mommy.

A Mother In Israel
In Hebrew, each letter doubles as a number. When you add up the numeric value of Rachel, you get 238. When you add up the numeric value of Erets Yisrael, Hebrew for Israel, you get 832. Rachel is the inverse of Israel. When Rachel’s life ends, she puts herself in position to ensure her children’s residence in Israel.

May our mother come through for us again and beseech G-d for protection and blessing for our brethren in Israel and for our people throughout the world.[4]

 

[1] P’sichta D’eicha Rabba: 24.

[2] IN addition, she lay under their bed all night long, and when Jacob talked, she responded so her sister could lay in silence and not be discovered.

[3] Our matriarchs were prophetic and they could divine the future. See Rashi on Genesis 29:34 and 21:12.

[4] This essay is based on Toras Menachem 5746 v. 2 p. 314.



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