Why is Rachel the most beloved Matriarch?”
Kever Rachel – Rachel’s Tomb – the site that some in the Jewish tradition have marked as the burial place of Rachel Imenu – Rachel our Matriarch – whose death occurs in this week’s parsha
Each year, tens of thousands of Jews from throughout Israel and all over the world come to seek Rachel the Matriarch’s assistance in pleading their cases before God.
Why is it that Rachel has attained such a unique place in the Jewish People’s collective consciousness?
Why is she the matriarch who the prophet Jeremiah cites in connection with the Jewish People’s exile as they are forcibly removed from their land?
…רָחֵל מְבַכָּה עַל בָּנֶיהָ מֵאֲנָה לְהִנָּחֵם עַל בָּנֶיהָ כִּי אֵינֶנּוּ
…Rachel weeps for her children. She refuses to be comforted over her children, who are gone.
Why is she alone among the matriarchs and patriarchs to succeed in pleading with God to restore the Jewish People to the Land of Israel?
וְיֵשׁ תִּקְוָה לְאַחֲרִיתֵךְ נְאֻם ה’ וְשָׁבוּ בָנִים לִגְבוּלָם
And there is hope for your future —declares Hashem:
Your children shall return to their country.
I would like to focus on one of the last recorded events of Rachel’s life – found in the Torah – that will help us understand the answer.
As Yaakov, Rachel and the rest of the family make their escape from Lavan, Rachel steals terafim – idols – from her father.
Lavan confronts Yaakov about his missing idols, suspecting that the thief is someone in Yaakov’s caravan.
And Yaakov, unaware of the fact that his beloved Rachel is the culprit, responds:
עִם אֲשֶׁר תִּמְצָא אֶת אֱלֹהֶיךָ לֹא יִחְיֶה
Anyone with whom you find your gods shall not remain alive!
Soon after, Rachel gives birth to her second child while breathing her final breaths. She calls the baby “Ben Oni” — meaning, “the son of my treachery”.
This is such a tragic moment. Rachel recognizes that she is dying because of her misdeeds and Yaakov’s oath.
And perhaps this is the reason why Rachel is the favorite matriarch: she is flawed and susceptible to transgression, but she demonstrates the capacity to recognize her failings as a process of teshuva.
Sensing the process that Rachel has undergone, Yaakov then changes their son’s name from “Ben Oni” to “Binyamin,” meaning “the son of my strength”.
It is Rachel’s capacity to recognize her mistake and take responsibility for it that allows “Ben-Oni” to become “Binyamin”.
Sin transformed to virtue.
Treachery replaced by strength.
Only someone like Rachel, who has the capacity to learn from past experiences, can represent the Jewish people in front of God and plead,
“I’ve been there – I was able to come back.
Please! Allow the Jewish people to come back, to return to their borders and renew their relationship with You!”
And so it is at Kever Rachel, that we pray to bring the Jewish People back to the Land of Israel and to attain forgiveness for the iniquities that caused our expulsion in the first place.
May we all merit our Mother Rachel’s everlasting advocacy on behalf of our – and her – children.
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh Yeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone (www.ots.org.il), an Israel-based network of 27 educational and social action programs transforming Jewish life, living and leadership in Israel and across the world. He was formerly Vice President of Yeshiva University for University and Community Life and before that, Dean of the David Mitzner Dean of YU’s Center for the Jewish Future.