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A Mother’s Tears

A Mother’s Tears

Rachel weeps for her children


Editor’s Note: The 11th of the month of Cheshvan is the date of the passing of our matriarch Rachel, lovingly referred to as Mama Rachel . . .

Dear Rabbi,

. . . I am one of those unfortunate souls who never had a nurturing mother. I often stroll in the park just to watch a mother adoringly walk her young child, holding her hand, with endless love and care. Oh, how I long so for such love—for the love that only a mother can give.

I know, I know and have been told countless times to grow up and begin to accept that life is not fair; “learn to love yourself,” I have been told. I have heard it all. G‑d knows the hours I have spent with therapists, gurus, soothsayers and healers—some better than others. But I still seek that motherly love. Call me a coward, call me immature. I want to be adored. Is it too much to ask for?

Please tell me something—anything—that can soothe my weary soul.

Tired and forlorn,

I still seek that motherly love. Call me a coward, call me immature. I want to be adored. Is it too much to ask for?

The story of Rachel our mother, who dies at a the young age of thirty-six, is one of the most moving accounts you will ever read in the Torah, and one that nurtures us till this very day.

“Rachel began to give birth. Her labor was extremely difficult . . . She was dying, and as she breathed her last, she named the child Ben-oni (My Sorrow’s Son). His father called him Benjamin. Rachel died and was buried on the road to Ephrath, now known as Bethlehem. Jacob set up a monument on her grave. This is the monument that is on Rachel’s grave to this very day” (Genesis 35:16–20).

Rachel’s sad death in childbirth, giving her life for her newborn child, would personify Rachel’s historical role as the quintessential mother who would sacrifice herself for her children, throughout the ages, until the end of time.

Why was our mother Rachel buried on the road, and not in the Machpelah Cave in Hebron, where the “founding” four couples (Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and later Jacob and Leah) were laid to rest? Hebron is not that far from Bethlehem. Why did Jacob not make the extra effort to honor his beloved wife and accord her the dignity of a proper burial in a respectable resting place, beside all the Patriarchs and Matriarchs?!

Jacob himself, lying on his own deathbed, answered this question, when he made Joseph swear to bury him in Hebron together with his fathers: “And I, when I came from Padan, Rachel died by me in the Land of Canaan, on the road, a short distance from Ephrath; and I buried her there on the road to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem” (Genesis 48:7). “I am asking you to trouble yourself to take me to be buried in the [Holy] Land . . . even though I did not do the same for your mother. She died near Bethlehem . . . and I did not even take her to Bethlehem to bring her to [a settled place in] the Land. I know that there is resentment in your heart toward me [over this]. But know that it was by divine command that I buried her there, so that she should be a help for her children when Nebuzaradan [of Babylon] will exile them and they will pass by there. Then Rachel will come out upon her grave and weep and plead for mercy for them, as it is written (Jeremiah 31:14–16): ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping: Rachel is weeping for her children and refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are away. And G‑d will answer her: Restrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work will be rewarded, says G‑d, and they will return from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future . . . that your children will return to their own borders’” (Rashi’s commentary on this verse).

Indeed, Rachel’s motherly tears were recognized by Jacob when he first met her. When Rachel the shepherdess appeared with her father’s sheep, “Jacob kissed Rachel and lifted up his voice and wept” (Genesis 29:9–11). Why did he weep? Because he foresaw that Rachel would not be buried at his side (Rashi); so that she could cry and plead for her suffering children (Shaloh). In other words, upon setting his eyes on Rachel for the very first time, Jacob wept for all the tears that Rachel would shed for her children.

How does it help us today to know that Rachel lies buried on the road and weeps for her children, and that Jacob wept thinking about it?

Every detail in Torah is both precise and relevant to our lives. What is the deeper significance of all these tears—both Rachel’s and Jacob’s? Practically speaking, how is the location of Rachel’s burial place on the road “a help for her children”? True, her exiled children were surely consoled as they passed by her grave on their way out of Jerusalem. But why are Rachel’s tears more effective in her grave on the road than had she been weeping from the Machpelah burial place?

Above all, how does it help us today to know that Rachel lies buried on the road and weeps for her children, and that Jacob wept thinking about it?

The answer can be found in the book of Tanya (chapter 45), where he presents a powerful meditation on achieving spiritual awareness based on the psycho-spiritual application of Rachel and Jacob: Rachel is the supernal attribute of malchut—the power of dignity—the source of all souls. Jacob is the dimension of tiferet—compassion—arousing empathy for the soul’s traumatic descent into the material universe.

Every soul on earth, Tanya explains, begins its journey in the spiritual realms, and from there it is thrust into “exile” in a physical body and universe that conceals the soul’s presence and all things spiritual.

The divine spark of the soul is, in effect, trapped in the narrow confines of our mundane existence, even if one never transgresses, causing a profound state of spiritual and existential dissonance. How much more so is the spiritual exile when we become enmeshed in our narcissistic behavior and unrefined thoughts, speech or deeds, which further displace the divine soul, and by extension the soul’s divine source, causing what is called the esoteric doctrine of the “Exile of the Shechinah.”

Rachel manifests and identifies with this spiritual exile of malchut. She therefore paid the price by dying in childbirth, and then dwelling in a lonely wayside grave in order to bear witness to the suffering of her children. As long as her children are wandering and oppressed, Rachel cannot find any final rest, and remains with them “on the road.” Rachel weeps for her children, and refuses to be comforted.

And what is Jacob’s role in this process? Tanya explains that Jacob represents compassion—a potent method to awaken the exiled soul (and Shechinah) from its displacement.

This, continues Tanya, is the meaning of the verse, “And Jacob kissed Rachel and lifted up his voice and wept”:

“Jacob—with his supernal attribute of divine mercy (of Atzilut)—arouses great compassion for Rachel, the source of all souls. ‘And he lifted up his voice’—upwards, to the fount of the Higher Mercies, to the source of the Thirteen Divine Attributes of Mercy. ‘And he wept’—in order to awaken and draw from there, from the boundless divine mercies, abundant compassion upon all the souls and upon their source, to raise them from their exile and to unite them in the Higher Unity of the divine infinite light, at the level of ‘kisses,’ which is ‘the attachment of spirit with spirit,’ as it is written, ‘Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth,’ which means the union of the word of man who studies Torah with ‘the word of G‑d, namely, the halachah (law).’ So too, through thinking Torah thoughts, mortal thought is united with divine thought, and so too, mortal action is united with divine action, through active observance of the commandments, and, in particular, the practice of charity and loving-kindness.”

How sad it is to see a gentle soul descend from its loftiest heights to the nethermost depths of selfish existence

Simply put, Jacob’s cry and kiss is a method that we can all employ to awake ourselves from spiritual slumber. By pondering on the radical descent of the soul into a body, we can arouse a profound sense of compassion for the trapped soul. How sad it is to see a gentle soul descend from its loftiest heights to the nethermost depths of selfish existence. This compassion (of Jacob) empowers Rachel to stand strong with her exiled children. And ultimately Rachel’s tears prevail: “Your work will be rewarded, and they will return from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future. Your children will return to their own borders.”

In psychological terms, malchut (Rachel) is dignity. Dignity is the feeling of confidence and security that comes from knowing that you have inherent value and are indispensable, by virtue of the fact that you were created in the divine image. The antithesis to dignity is a sense of worthlessness, shame, insecurity, low self-esteem, sometimes to the point of self-loathing.

A nurturing mother instills in her child this feeling of malchut. More accurately, she doesn’t instill it; a healthy mother cultivates and nourishes the dignity that is the birthright of every soul. When there is a lack of nurturing, dignity is not annihilated; it goes undercover.

In our materialistic world, we often can get distracted by our temporary pleasures, and forget that the single most important responsibility is the nurturing of our children’s majesty.

This is truer today more than ever. With our ever-accelerating technologies and comforts, and an unprecedented standard of living, ironically and paradoxically, our level of self-esteem continues to erode. The busier we are with outer stimulation and the acquisition of wealth, the more we neglect our children. The more functional our external lives, the less functional our inner ones.

Of all the attributes, perhaps the one most severely compromised today is malchut, dignity. We can find much wisdom, understanding, knowledge, love, discipline, compassion, ambition, (even) humility and bonding; but personal dignity is profoundly displaced in our dysfunctional world.

This is the psychological “exile of malchut” and of the Shechinah, the Divine Presence.

Enter Rachel: Rachel, the quintessential mother of Israel, resides “on the road” and always remains with us, through our wandering and confusion.

We all hope and pray for a biological mother (in addition to Rachel) who will protect and nurture us. Everyone deserves as much. But even when blessed with a healthy mother, we must always remember that all of us live in a form of “spiritual exile,” in need of our mother Rachel. And even when we are deprived of a nurturing mother, we are never deprived of Rachel, who always stands vigil, adoring us unconditionally, then and now—to this very day.

To this very day, Rachel weeps for her children. As the mother of all children, she watches over us and weeps with and for us. She sheds a tear for every lonely child, for every suffering youngster or adult.

And these are not mere tears. They are the tears of a loving mother, tears that water the seeds of our parched souls, allowing them to bear fruit: “Their souls will be like a watered garden, and they will sorrow no more” (Jeremiah 31:11).

All of us must know that regardless of our biological mother’s efforts on our behalf, regardless of the way our dignity is nourished or abused, Rachel always remains on watch and does not rest. When trouble brews, she intercedes on our behalf.

We can only wonder whether it was Rachel’s tears that have kept us alive for all those years, allowing us to survive despite all odds.

Your compassion—on yourself and on others—helps our mother Rachel within each of us to do her work

How do we activate Rachel’s maternal love? We ponder on our predicament, not to bring on feelings on depression or self-pity, but to evoke compassion: Have some mercy—hob rachmonus—on yourself. Your beautiful soul, a lofty and delicate creature, lies trapped in your callous body and heartless world. She waits for you to acknowledge her. Embrace her, kiss her, cry for and with her—commit to activities (in thought, speech and action) that caress your soul and allow her to actualize in this world.

Your compassion—on yourself and on others—helps our mother Rachel within each of us to do her work.

Until we arrive at our destination, when “your work will be rewarded, and they will return from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future. Your children will return to their own borders.”

© The Meaningful Life Center. Rabbi Simon Jacobson is the author of the best-selling Toward a Meaningful Life: The Wisdom of the Rebbe (William Morrow, 1995), and the founder and director of the Meaningful Life Center.
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Molly October 16, 2013

understanding Dear B,

I understand your desire for love and adoration. A lot o us never had that growing up. I find that as adults we strive to be better parents especially if we were raised in a house devoid of love. I find now that I have adopted children to raise (6 in fact) that my mother who never cared to be much of a parent suddenly has become mother of the year. I get angry and I get jealous because of the love she shows them yet not me, but then I have to stop myself and ask who am I to begrudge these children any ounce of love and care the universe can give them. Parents who weren't great parents find in grandchildren a way to rewrite their stories with us to become a loving parent rather than a cold or absent one. You will find that love that unconditional bond, But first love yourself and adore the person that you are, you will find that joy revisited upon you many times over. Reply

candida darling wallasey March 7, 2013

every year as mother's day draws near I am angry and selfish for a while.. thank you so much for this interesting and heartfelt teaching, it has shown me the sin in my behavior and G-D has lifted my soul to his sweet healing again. Reply

Kyrie Anna February 27, 2013

Pardon me, but I do not agree with Rabbi Simon Jacobson, although he could be correct that this Rachel is the one referred to in Jeremiah 31:14 to 16. I disagree Rachel should be taught to be viewed as the Good Mother Figure on the Grounds that I read Rachel had [1] Stolen her biological parents' [2]Household Idols and then [3]Lied about it. The Scripture Reference that 'A Child is known by their doings' alone could be the reason Rachel's Presence was removed from the family; before the Law was Given, people had the ability to discern good from bad; as even now it is manifested in people with the Lowest of IQs. When the Dad says Do Not Do This, and then the Mom does & says "Oh it is not a big deal", and the boys are taught to Respect & Listen to their Mothers; what does the Adult Male say to this on the Day he is Judged? I feel the Writing was a test; because the writing does not Fill the Void the Person Feels who is Needing a Mother: Adopt an Elder Woman, Hug & Visit Her. Reply

vera February 25, 2013

a name that is precious i have a daughter whos name is rachel and i want to read this story to her when she will ask me why i've chosen for her this beautiful name. by the way, i am the one who needs to think about rachel as my mother, who wants to help me develop my dignity and self-esteem (because unfortunately my earthly mother did not, and i am so easily on self-pity and depression). thank you, thank you a lot for this article, it really touched my heart. Reply

Kyrie Anna October 29, 2012

Dear Tired and Forlorn, B. You did not state your age, but I have grown children, so I write to you. I understand your feelings and what it is that you miss. I cried so many times to the Lord because I was told I could not have children...and then I was Blessed! I cherished each moment and as they grew older;I did whatever I could to ensure they could live adequately on this planet no matter the adversity they encountered. Sometimes I feel like I was not good enough, or that I've been cheated; still wanting to have children with me. Even though I am still very active, It is improper for me to adopt young children at my age due to the diminishing stamina that happens as people get older. I suggest you find a compatible older person to be your Mother Figure and have the relationship you would as an older child with their Mother. Until then, you can write me. Reply

Susan Brooks St. Joseph, Mi. October 25, 2012

age I never saw my mother get old. I've wondered about it, as I age. Reading this about Rachel, I realize the body changes, but your Soul never ages. It is such a short time we are in our bodies. How wonderful to be able to know, love and prayer are ageless. Time..Sun, Moon, is only for earth. A mother's tears ...are prayers. Reply

Evelyn Roberts October 23, 2012

children Children are a gift; and all such gifts are cherished in the heart of the mother forever eternal. Reply

Anonymous Vancouver, Canada October 23, 2012

amazing This is exactly what I needed to hear. I will now pass this on to others... Reply

Redneck Jew CA October 22, 2012

So True As i struggle to first find a way to get some surguries as I am uninsured this article helps me remember the dignity I once felt and connects to what was said about teshuvah. Simnply return this time the right way. As the Tanakh says "You (Hashem) have been my confidence since my youth" and "the joy of Hashem is my strenght so since the world did not give it they can NEVER take it away. This website is so helpfull for me and I thank Hashem for it and you guys. Reply

Andrea St. Petersburg, FL October 22, 2012

What a beautiful article! It talks to me directly for, I wear on my left wrist a red string blessed at her tomb, in Israel....when I read the article I felt very familiar and could relate well to everything, learning and understanding even more! I am a mother of 3 amazing boys, and wanted as well to put the red string on their wrists, for protection, but they refused, so I just took their left arm and prayed. I love my children! As a family we've been thru a lot this past 2 yrs....a separation from their dad still in course, but I have been standing firm alongside them! Thank u for this article! Many Blessings! Reply

Anonymous UK October 22, 2012

On the road Such a wonderful article, the more I study Judaism, the more I see that it's wisdom has been subverted and copied. In this article Ican now understand my mother as she cares for my drug addict brother who is 63 (my mother is 87). And I understand why I am continually nudged towards the care of my children above all things. I was a wayward child as I glorified in my own mind my own talents and ambitions but slowly, slowly no matter where I tried to stray to, it has been revealed to me that being "on the road" with my children through the twists and turns of their lives, is always the best place to be. Thank you for your tears Rachel, thank you for revealing the dignity of mothers everywhere. Reply

Ron Faulk Leesburg, Fl. October 22, 2012

Is Rachel still weeping? I wonder if Rachel weeps for her children that are sacrificed to abortion for the sake of convenience? How many sparks of light are extinguished every day in the name of 'free choice'? It's not our freedom to choose that's being threatened, but the future of Judaism and the fulfilling of the commandment to bring light into a dark world. Reply

melanya NY October 22, 2012

Too many speculations on the issue.Just be happy thats because of the faith I guess. My Mother isn't Jewish,but I am (u guess how). My Mother is the most nurturing Mother in the World!!!! And guess what,I am 36 and she still nurture me. Always! Reply

Shoshana's mother New Zealand October 21, 2012

Thank you this really touched my soul-thank you, thank you. as a mother it has reassured me about how i am raising my child, as a daughter it has addressed the pain i have carried all my life because I too never had a nurturing mother. i know i will be revisitng this article many times. Reply

Anonymous Texas October 21, 2012

A Mother's Tears This is a beautiful depiction of Rachel waiting for the return of her children.....returning home. Explained beautifully......thank you Reply

Anonymous melbourne, australia via May 4, 2011

desperately seeking a mother I was very moved by this story of Rachel. I am a 38 year old only child and now a mother of three magnificent little boys. I am grateful for them every day. My mother is mentally unwell and has always abused me and still does to this day. I still try to make her be nurturing to me and it feels as though I am banging my head on a brick wall. I did not know I had another mother to call upon in Rachel. It is very comforting as there is nothing more soul destroying than not being adored by your mother. I tell my children I love them every day and I kiss and cuddle them and tell them they are wonderful. Unfortunately in this age ther is no way that I can afford to not work but I think my children feel loved and admired and proud of themselves. Maybey I called on Rachel subconsiously as I have cried a river of tears over my mother and dont want my boys to cry because of me. Reply

Esty Frimerman brooklyn, ny February 13, 2011

Rachel's dignity Dear Rabbi Jacobson,

I enjoyed your article "A Mother's Tears" and would like to know if you can give me a practical example or two, in the life of - the story of - Rachel, where "dignity" is realized. In teaching your article to young teens, I can't seem to put my finger on find real-life episodes/examples where we see Rachel acting with "dignity." There is selflessness, self sacrifice, prayer, but how can I emphasize "dignity" specifically? I need a down-to-earth way to talk to the youngsters about this trait.

Thank you! Reply

ck ny, ny February 10, 2011

Wow! this article beats all! thank you...not only is it soul stirring, it also takes an extremely intricate topic and breaks it down in very clear terminology without losing its eloquency. Beauiful! Reply

Rita St. James, NY, USA February 9, 2011

Beauty is in the Eyes of the Beholder I'll simply give you the quote that, "Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder" and then I'll agree with 'Anonymous, Toronto'...WOW!
This brought tears to my eyes & brought back the underlying brilliance and beauty to my soul.
Thank you. Reply

Anonymous zfas, israel February 9, 2011

most touching and stunning beauty!!! Reply

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