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Rachel's Amazing Secret

Rachel's Amazing Secret


"As for me, [Jacob], when I came from Padan, Rachel died on me in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was still a stretch of land to come to Ephrath, and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem"Genesis 48:7.

And I did not take her even to Bethlehem to bring her into the [inhabited region of the Holy] Land…but you should know that I buried her there by divine command, so that she would be of assistance to her children. When [the Babylonian general] Nebuzaradan exiles [the Israelites] and they pass by there, Rachel will emerge from her grave and weep and beg mercy for them, as it is said: "A voice is heard on high, lamentation, bitter weeping, Rachel is weeping for her children." And the Holy One, blessed be He, answers her, "'There is reward for your work... and the children shall return to their own border.'" (Jeremiah 31:14-16)Rashi's commentary on the verse, from Pesikta Rabbati ch. 3.

The Midrash explains the "work" for which Rachel was rewarded with G‑d's assurance that her children would return to Israel: After the Jews were exiled to Babylon, the Patriarchs, Matriarchs and Moses went to appease G‑d, attempting to evoke Divine mercy on their children's behalf. G‑d answered Rachel: "You have defended your children well. There is reward for your deed and for your righteousness."Each one invoked the various great deeds which he or she had performed, requesting that G‑d reciprocate by having compassion on the Jews. But G‑d was not swayed. Then Rachel entered and stated, "O Lord of the Universe, consider what I did for my sister Leah. All the work that Jacob worked for my father was only for me, however when I came to enter the nuptial canopy, they brought my sister instead. Not only did I keep my silence, but I gave her the secret password which Jacob and I had prearranged (which was intended to prevent any wedding night bridal switch). You, too, if Your children have brought Your rival into Your house, keep Your silence for them." G‑d answered her: "You have defended them well. There is reward for your deed and for your righteousness. Refrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for there is reward for your work, says the L-rd, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. And there is hope for your future, says the L-rd, and the children shall return to their own border."

Why, indeed, was Rachel's deed so much more precious in G‑d's eyes than the accomplishments of all the other petitioners? Why was her gallant act dearer than Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son or Moses' forty years of selfless leadership of the relentlessly belligerent Israelites?

Perhaps this question can be answered by examining the legitimacy of Jacob's marriage to Rachel and Leah. How was Jacob able to marry them both when the Torah explicitly forbids one man from marrying two sisters? Nachmanides explains that since the Patriarchs lived before the observance of the mitzvot became mandatory at Mount Sinai, they observed the laws of the Torah only whilst in the Land of Israel. Therefore, Jacob was "allowed" to marry two sisters while residing in Padan Aram.

Following this line of reasoning, Nachmanides explains Jacob's real, but unstated, reason for not burying his favorite and most beloved wife Rachel in the Cave of Machpela, opting instead to reserve the resting place beside him for Leah. Simply put, Jacob was embarrassed to bring his second wife, the wife whom he married "illegally," to the family plot. What would Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Rebecca say about his deed? Furthermore, Nachmanides states, this is also the true reason why Rachel died immediately upon Jacob's arrival in Israel—the holy air of Israel could not tolerate Jacob's second wife.

For thousands of years she would lie alone on the side of a remote road, awaiting the Redemption and the Resurrection of the DeadRachel was a prophetess as well as a very learned and wise woman. When she agreed to give Leah the password which would allow her sister to become Jacob's first – and only "legitimate" – wife, she was fully cognizant of the extent of her sacrifice. She realized that – even if Jacob would agree to take her as a second wife – she wouldn't be able to live with her cherished husband when he inevitably would return to the land of his fathers. Her children would be raised by her maidservant Bilha and she would not live to see her grandchildren. And to top it all off, she wouldn't rest in her rightful burial plot, alongside Jacob and her holy in-laws. Instead, for thousands of years she would lie alone on the side of a remote road, awaiting the Redemption and the Resurrection of the Dead. Surrendering one's physical life pales in comparison to this mind-numbing sacrifice. Rachel sacrificed everything – both her physical and spiritual future – for her sister's sake.

The Patriarchs and Moses were magnificent. But they had nothing which even remotely rivaled such mind-blowing sacrifice.

Mother Rachel cried for us and G‑d heard her pleas. It is certain that despite G‑d's request that she "refrain her voice from weeping and her eyes from tears" she continues to cry until she sees the realization of G‑d's promise. But perhaps G‑d is waiting for her children to behave in Rachel-like fashion. One more totally selfless act on behalf of a Jewish brother or sister will finally cause Rachel to smile.

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Anonymous NYC January 13, 2017

Segulot for sale? I've read ads advertising "segulot" for sale by mekubalim. Perhaps Rachel read such an ad, was taken in, and put up some money? Reply

Thomas Mann January 12, 2017

With all due respect to Nachmanides, I will never believe that "the holy air of Israel could not tolerate" Rachel. Reply

Felicia Jacobson Stoughton January 12, 2017

Rachel weeping for her children I loved your teaching on why Rachel was weeping for her children. Growing up as a Christian, I did not have the background of my Jewish brothers and sisters. I knew there was great sacrifice on Rachel's part when she allowed Leah to marry Jacob. I will never again read this portion of Scripture without tears, finally undestanding the depth of her love for both Jacob and Leah. Her heart must have been crushed to see the love of her life marrying her sister and not being able to do anything to prevent it. Thank you for opening my eyes to this portion of Scripture. G_d bless you and your ministry. Reply

Jordan Portland January 11, 2017

Are there any other less mystical explanations. This one seems (excuse me) contrived. Bethlehem isn't anywhere near the border of Israel. Illegal marriage? Reply

Menachem Kovacs Baltimore January 10, 2017

Rachel's great Mesiras Nefesh for her children through the exile Does not the Rebbe say in Sicha on the Parsha in vol. 30 that Rachel's Mesiras Nefesh to be buried near Bet Lechem & not with Yaakov in Maaras HaMachpela was not just on behalf of her sister Leah but to strengthen the Jews in exile through the generations with the promise that they will return home. Reply

Rivka Bouganim Los Angeles October 24, 2014

Wow, I never heard of this sacrifice this way. Literally my mouth dropped, as I glued my face to the screen. It reminded me of Megilat Esther. Everyone knows that at the end of the story Esther went and revealed herself to Achashverosh and then he decided to save the Jews, and everyone lived happily ever after. But what no one talks about is what happened afterwards. In doing that, that was the first time she willingly went to be with him, fully knowing that her encounter would result in her never being able to be with Mordechai ever again. (As opposed to before when she was forced to be with him or else she would have been killed.) By doing that she could never be with Mordechai, or be his wife. She loses everything with her beloved Mordechai. Beautiful article. Thank you for sharing. Reply

A. Cohen December 12, 2013

Rachel's amazing secret Shalom... The Torah says very clearly that Rachel had two sons - Joseph, her and Jacob's Firstborn, and Benjamin. The other sons had different mothers.

Are those other mothers crying for their children Judah, Reuben, etc.? Torah does not say. But it says very clearly that Rachel, Jacob's beloved wife, is weeping for 'her' lost children Joseph and his descendants Ephraim and Menashe and Benjamin, who became lost as to their identity etc. as they were scattered like seed amongst the nations.

Commentators connect Benjamin with his half-brother Judah. Why? He belongs with his elder brother Joseph. His southern border was close to Judah's territory but his Northern boundary was with his own family.
Would Rachel be crying for the evil brothers who through jealousy of Joseph decided to murder her beloved son and then changed their plan to selling him for MONEY as a slave to Egypt? Might as well make a 'gain' said Judah. Why just kill him and make no money from his certain 'death' in slaver. Reply

J. Miller Port Richey, Florida/USA via June 10, 2010

What about Efrayim? I agree with Iiyon. Why do interpreters only speak about Yahudah and Benyamin. Rachel's children, through Yoseph, were Efrayim and Menasseh. They, along with the other eight tribes, went first into exile, and the Southern Kingdom went last. The South has returned and the North still has not. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. Could this be why she is still weeping? Her children have not yet returned and are still lost. Reply

liyon Fanai Maryland, USA January 6, 2007

what about Menasseh tribe From my view of this article, it seems Rachel wept points only to Babylonian exile. What about the ten lost tribe, who were exiled by the Assurians before the destruction of the first Temple. The whole tribe of Rachel's offspring - Menasseh seems to be among the group. I sometimes wonder why interpreters point only to the two tribes (Judah and Benyamin) of Israel. Reply

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