In Beit Lechem there is a structure, stones put together in the wild to mark the burial place of a giant of a woman, our mother Rachel. Yaakov, her husband, had to bury her here, as she died during his travel back to his home. Wait, how far, is Beit Lechem from Chevron…not far, if you measure the distance. Hence, there must be a further reason for this lonely locale to be the resting place for a beloved wife. Indeed, we are taught that Rachel was strategically buried here, on a roadside, so that years later she would be able to witness the bitter exile of her children being led to Bavel and would be able to storm G-d’s gates of mercy with protest.
We hear the tales of the destruction of the Temple and its horrors, but thank G-d we weren’t there to experience it. It was like the Holocaust, horror upon wave of horror. The prophet Yirmiyahu had warned the Jews for years beforehand, graphically explaining the calamity that would befall them due to their sinning. Yet, having described what would happen in detail beforehand, still when the tragedy did come about, Yirmiyahu was horrified by the suffering of the Jews. He ran around like a madman, from Kever [burial spot] to Kever, trying to wake up our ancestors, hoping a soul from the past would be able to stop the punishment that was being poured down on the Jews.
Our forefathers and mothers were “woken up”, their souls pulled out of the exalted places they were enjoying in Gan Eden [hereafter-heavenly abode] and they went to plead the case of their suffering children. Avraham stood up in the Heavenly Court and said, “G-d, I bought awareness of You to the world. I was even willing to sacrifice my son when You told me to. How could You harm my children? ” G-d had the prosecuting angels testify how horribly the Jews had sinned and the Heavenly Court proved how far we had gone against the teachings of Avraham. Avraham was silenced. One by one, the Avos [forefathers] pleaded with G-d to stop the exile, but none of their arguments made a difference in the Heavenly Courts. One by one their arguments were deemed flawed in light of our great sins.
Finally, Mama Rachel spoke up. She started crying, “Ribono Shel Olam, I gave the secret signs to my sister Leah so that she could marry Yaakov. I am a mere mortal, a person of flesh and blood. Jealousy should have been my natural reaction, but I controlled it. G-d, You are above all emotions. So what if the Jews did idol worship?! G-d, if I controlled my jealousy, how much more so should You.” At that point, finally, G-d heard the defense and said to Mama Rachel that it would be her merit which would bring her children back to Israel in the times of Moshiach.
Why Mama Rachel’s merit? Here you had Yitzchok who had been willing to die as a sacrifice, but that wasn’t enough of a merit, why was Mama Rachel’s enough? It is because sometimes it is harder to live with a decision than to die for it. Dying Al Kiddush Hashem [being killed for sanctification of G-d] is great beyond words, but it is a split-second decision. Living with a choice we made is a whole lifetime of struggle.
King David wrote, “Ve’haser Satan Milfanaynu U’May-achareynu – remove the evil inclination from before us and from after us”. We want to beat the Yetzer when he tells us not to do a Mitzva, that is the part of the prayer that asks G-d to remove the evil inclination Milfanaynu – from in front of us. We also don’t want to regret our Mitzvos and that is the May-achareynu – from after us. At times, we might make the right decision at a moment, but later on regret rears its ugly head and destroys us from standing by our decision.
Rachel did a Chesed, a huge kindness. She gave up the secret signs which then allowed her sister Leah to marry Yaakov. Amazing altruism and sensitivity, but her kindness and selflessness went beyond those boundaries. You see Rachel then never said another word about what she had done, completely “forgetting it” and living life so peacefully with her decision that Leah didn’t remember it either. At one point, Leah turned to Rachel and said, “you stole my husband from me” by marrying him. Now, if you and I would be in Rachel’s place, we would probably turn around and let someone have it. “What do you mean, I stole your husband?! Don’t you remember it was the other way around?!” Rachel doesn’t do that. She swallows her pride and doesn’t argue back. She had made a decision a long time ago to do good for Leah, and she was not going to let anything come between her and her Mitzvah.
Wow. High standards to try to emulate. Giving beyond boundaries, beyond our emotions. And never renege on our commitment to give selflessly – never acknowledge the truth of our giving.
Two songs in honor of Mother Rochel, one by Meydad Tassa and one by Yaakov Shwekey:
and the words and song describing Rachel’s cry and G-d’s reassurance of redemption: