Judaism: The Matriarch Rachel's Grave
Shira SmilesShira Smiles is a sought-after international lecturer, popular seminary teacher and experienced curriculum developer. A well-respected former Los Angeles teacher, she now lives in Israel, where she teaches at Darchei Bina Seminary and leads a number of women's study groups. Shira also trains Torah teachers in special workshops all over the world.
There is a certain mysterious aura about Kever Rachel. What is the magnetic pull that draws so many Jews to pray there? Why was Rachel not interred in Me’arat Hamachpeila, the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hevron? According to Rashi, she was buried on the roadside so that the Jews being led to exile could pray at her grave.
In Parshat Vayeitzei, two midrashim further explore Rachel’s burial. When Yaakov met Rachel at the well in Charan, he wept because he foresaw that she would not be buried with him. The midrash again mentions Rachel’s burial in the story of the dudadim, mandrake root, when she made light of Yaakov and was punished by losing her place in Me’arat Hamachpeila.
So why indeed was Rachel buried at Kever Rachel? Was it so that she could pray for her children or was ita punishment?
Rav Wolbe answers that she forfeited her burial spot because of the dudaim and now that she was already interred on the way she could help her children. The book Vayavinu Ba’mikra adds that Rachel was ready to give up her husband’s love if she could bear children. When she came with her sheep to the well, Yaakov wept. Sheep represent the Jews, Klal Yisrael.
Yaakov foresaw the deep connection Rachel would form with her children. He cried when he saw that she would not be buried with him, but would rather go with her children to exile.
Rachel is the timeless paragon of the loving merciful mother. She continues to weep and pray for her children throughout our long painful exile. This is Kever Rachel. This is what draws so many Jews to her resting place.
Rav Wolfson notes the difference between Hevron and Yerushalayim. Yerushalayim is the city of outward revelation and it is susceptible to destruction. Hevron is a deep, concealed, subterranean city which will never be devastated. It comes from the root word chibur, connection. The ultimate connection between Am Yisrael and Hashem is Hevron and it will live on
According to tradition, the Jewish soul draws its life from two sources, Rachel and Leah. Leah is the concealed aspect, the “pintele Yid,” that remains eternally connected to Hashem. Rachel is the revealed side, which is susceptible to destruction.
There are two midnight prayers, tikkun chatzot. Tikkun Leah, full of positive, jubilant singing, can be recited every day. Tikkun Rachel is filled with destruction and mourning. To merit Hashem’s marriage with Klal Yisrael, Yaakov, the greatest of the avot, needed to marry both Rachel and Leah. Yaakov’s original intention was to marry Rachel first, bury her in Hevron, and then marry Leah. However Lavan switched the order, thereby causing Rachel to die before entering Israel. If Yaakov would have succeeded in burying both Rachel and Leah in Hevron, our marriage to Hashem would have been permanent. The revealed level would have been eternal and any separation between Hashem and the Jews would have been impossible. That is why we say in the Hagaddah, “Arami oved avi,” Lavan attempted to destroy the fabric of Jewish history by giving Leah first.
The Zohar cites a gemara in Chaggiga that quotes the verse in Yirmiyahu, “Bamistarim tivke nafshi.” Hashem weeps in a hidden place. This world is concealed. Many times we cannot fathom the good buried within our pain. Hashem, who is all knowing, hides the truth from himself, comes down to our revealed world, and joins us in our suffering. Kever Rachel is the epitome of the outer world that cries for the torment of Klal Yisrael. It’s a world that mirrors the hidden secret place where Hashem weeps with us over the exile of His presence, galut ha’Shechina. Leah and Hevron is the inner essence of rejoicing. Yes, we must grieve over the exile at Kever Rachel but then we must unite this mourning with the joy of Kever Leah.
These two aspects were bridged with the birth of Binyamin. Rachel called him Ben Oni, ‘son of my pain’, and Yaakov called him Ben Yamin, ‘son of my strength’. We must see the positive within one’s pain. Rav Gifter teaches that suffering should serve as fuel for new life and renewed vigor in worship of G-d, avodat Hashem. The two names of Yaakov reflect these two aspects. Yaakov hints at exile, the struggle of this world, while Yisrael signifies victory and redemption, geulah.
Rav Dessler explains that these two names correspond to Rachel – the affliction of the revealed world, and Leah – the joy of the eternal redemption. Yaakov cried when he saw Rachel because he foresaw that he would be buried as a “Yisrael.” His “Yaakov” aspect wept to show her that even if he would not join her in death he was still bound up with her pain.
Rav Yaakov Meir Shechter writes that each of us faces tests in life, challenges to our dreams and aspirations. If we can accept these tests, nisyonot, positively and recognize that they were sent by Hashem for our own good, then we will achieve something very great. We must acknowledge the truth of the situation and accept the pain, we need the tears of kever Rachel. But then we must move on to kever Leah, to the tranquil joy of trusting in Hashem. This is what Rav Nachman meant when he said one must transform suffering to joy. Kever Leah is the ultimate connection between the Jews and Hashem, where we recognize that whatever Hashem does is for the good. One day very soon this goodness will be revealed to us with the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days.
Based on a Naaleh.com class by Mrs. Shira Smiles
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