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The Strength of Rachel

The Strength of Rachel

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It’s been over ten years since I had the conversation, but I still remember it clearly. At the time we were going through an infertility treatment, and it was my sixteenth day of hormone injections. I was visiting a friend who was just getting over a bad cough, and for about twenty minutes she was going on and on about her one penicillin shot. There I sat, sore from sixteen shots. Of course, she didn’t have any idea that I was undergoing an infertility treatment, let alone the fact that I had There I sat, sore from sixteen shotsto be injected with hormones every day. And yet it took so much strength not to scream out, “Enough with your complaining already. I have it much worse!” But despite the screaming going on in my head, I kept silent. I thought to myself, “Maybe her one shot is equal to my sixteen. You never know where the other person stands. Maybe my tolerance to pain is greater than hers. Remember Rachel, our mother . . .”

You know those days when you are beyond exhausted? It could be that you were up all night long with your crying baby. You feel tired and worn out. The telephone rings, and it’s a friend; she phoned you so that she could complain to you about how tired she is. She tells you how she went to a wedding last night, and instead of eight hours of sleep, she got seven. You feel like screaming out, “Seven hours!! It’s been seven years since I got seven hours of sleep. I didn’t even get two hours of sleep last night, due to my crying baby. You think you’re tired? You don’t know what tired really is!” But instead, you bite your tongue and you keep quiet. Maybe G‑d gave you more strength than her. Maybe you need less sleep than her. Who knows who is more tired than the other? She’s calling you for empathy, not for reproach or for a lecture on how good she really has it. You remember Rachel, and you keep silent.

You just finished picking up in your home. You swept and mopped the floor. Your son comes home, and he drops his bag on the floor, as his dirty sneakers make a trail from the doorway to the kitchen. You glare at him. You want to scream, “I just spent an hour cleaning, and look at the mess you made! How many times do I have to tell you: when you come home, hang your bag up and take off your shoes by the entrance? Don’t you see how hard Mommy works? How can you be so inconsiderate?” Before the words spill out, before you glare at him, take a deep breath and remember Rachel. Remember her immense motherly love, and how she was always able to focus on the importance of her relationships. How many times do I have to tell you?!Keep silent! Maybe he was excited to come home, and didn’t notice the freshly mopped floor? Maybe he was absentminded, and didn’t even realize that he placed the bag on the floor. If you want to punish him, punish him for not listening to Mommy’s rules, but don’t punish him for being a child. Don’t think he did it on purpose, because he didn’t. Bite your tongue. As hard as it is, keep quiet and think of Rachel.

The Midrash tells us that when the Patriarchs and Matriarchs went to intercede with G‑d, who was angered by the idol that King Menashe placed in the Holy Temple, G‑d was not reconciled. Rachel then entered and said, “Master of the Universe! Whose mercy is more abundant—Yours, or that of man? Surely, Your mercy is greater. Yet I brought a rival (Leah) into my home, even though all the work that Yaakov did for my father was only for me! And when I came to the wedding canopy, my sister was brought in my place! Not only did I remain silent, but I even gave her my signs, the secret signs which Yaakov and I had for recognizing each other, so that she would not be put to shame. Though Your children have brought a rival into Your home, be silent and do not punish them.” G‑d answered her, “You have defended them well. This is the reward for your efforts and for your righteousness in having given your signs to your sister.”

Not only did Rachel keep silent during the wedding of her sister, but even during all those years when she was barren and Leah bore child after child, Rachel never said a word to her. She never taunted her by saying, “Yaakov really only loves me.” When Reuben brought dudaim flowers (fertility herbs) to his mother, Rachel asked her, “Please give me some of your son’s dudaim.” Leah responded, “Was your taking my husband insignificant? And to take even my son’s dudaim!” Here again Rachel kept silent. She could have rightfully retorted, “Who took him from whom? It is you who took him from me first!” But instead she kept silent.

This is Rachel, our mother. Rachel taught us the great importance of keeping silent when in the heat of the moment. And yet she also taught us the importance of speaking up at the right time and in the right moment. Rachel Rachel never said a wordmade peace and prevented arguments from happening. We do see her expressing herself in the Torah, we hear her pain and frustration, but we see how she judges favorably and thinks about another’s pain without comparing it to her own. This is Rachel, our mother. Because of her merit, her silent tears and her powerful words, her children returned from exile, and will do so again.

I ask my husband to go buy some plums from the market, so that I can make a plum torte for Shabbat. I tell him three times, and even write it down for him. He comes home with red apples.

“Where are the plums?”

“Plums? I thought you wanted apples!”

“Where’s the paper I gave you?”

“I lost it.”

I bite my tongue. I don’t tell him, “Every time I ask you to pick something up, you bring me the wrong item.” It’s not true. Nothing is true “every time.” And he was trying to do me a favor.

There’s always a solution. Instead of a plum torte, I’ll make an apple cake.

As I put the ingredients into the bowl, I pray for the strength of Rachel. With my silence, I will have peace in my home.

Originally from northern California and a Stanford University graduate, Elana Mizrahi now lives in Jerusalem with her husband and children. She is a doula, massage therapist, writer, and author of Dancing Through Life, a book for Jewish women. She also teaches Jewish marriage classes for brides.
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Lyn SOUTH AFRICA December 28, 2013

Very insightful I so enjoy reading all this about Biblical characters. It just adds the "meat" to the skeleton as it were. But tell me, was Rachel REALLY such a woman, or is this just what our writer interprets her as being? I would sincerely like to know as I could really do with some practice in this area! (Not that the truth/lack thereof changes anything for me!) The challenge still remains! Reply

Anonymous Miami via chabadbythesea.com October 20, 2013

Its difficult to be a Rachel I agree that we need to bit our tongue many times, but if you bite it too many times- you may explode one day. It's a receipt for an ulcer. Reply

Cynthia Horacek Flagstaff, AZ/USA via jewishflagstaff.com October 18, 2013

Thank you When I took my Jewish names last spring, I chose Ruth and Rachel, because I could not pick just one. There are so many strong women who are our ancestors. I have experienced multiples losses since I lost my husband 3 years ago; he was only 57. Your article reminds me of the grace of Rachel, and how important it can be for me, personally, to try to strive for her grace. Thank you for reminding me. Life is too short to pick at the little things. Reply

Sarah October 17, 2013

B"H

May our blessed Hashem show us the difference of being a doormat and the proper times to be silent; and when it is time to speak, may our blessed Hashem give us His perfect words so that His gift of our tongues, that were created only to bless, may only ever do that forever to everyone. And may our blessed Hashem's healing radiance replace any damage our tongues have ever inflicted. Bless Hashem!!! Have a beautiful Shabbos! Reply

chana Israel October 17, 2013

insightful and important not many of us see or really "get" the heroism in keeping silent. thanks for the senisitive reminder Reply

jimmy sampson Papua New Guinea October 16, 2013

The Srength of Rachel I heartly and humble support Rachel.We should keep our emotions to ourselves and speak when the time is right to speak.We should all rember Rachel and do things Rachel's way. Reply

Anonymous Toronto Canada October 16, 2013

Bautiful, calm,peace loving... Very nice! You beautifully described a policy of keeping peace, and overlooking the "small stuff" Reply

Anonymous new york October 16, 2013

Just what I needed to hear. May I only implement it. Thank you for sharing. It was a perfect read fro me. Reply

chana Ramat Bet Shemesh October 16, 2013

wow! beautiful! yes there is time to be silent, other times to talk about significant issues as Rochel would have done in a calm dignified manner w/o making accusations. keeping silent yes for most of the petty stuff...but let's not become like pressure cookers, where one more small incident, blows on lids.... o Reply

Chasha Kuzecki Jerusalem October 16, 2013

Elana,
Excellent points made in this article. This is a high level of caring for self and others; something to strive for all one's days.
Success in all the good you do! Reply

simie October 16, 2013

fantastic article! Powerful message I wish that I had seen it before my Women's gathering Yesterday for Rachel Imeinus's Yahrtzeit. Reply

Ester October 15, 2013

Amazing Article Thank you so much! I know I must be quiet in certain situations but it's so hard. Now, remembering our Matriarch who was able to be modest and quiet in most hurtful situations I think "my problems are nothing comparing to Hers".

Thank you so much for the insight! Reply

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