One of the major themes of Rosh Hashanah is “remembrance.” On this day the existence of every being is examined and scrutinized by G‑d. Each creation passes before Him, and He decides their fate for the coming year.

Reflecting this, the Talmud states that G‑d, as it were, asks of the Jewish people: “Say before Me ‘remembrances,’ so that your remembrance will rise before Me for good.”1 In keeping with this, large parts of the prayers on this holiday are spent recounting the great deeds of our ancestors and of the Jewish people as a whole, and of their personality and actions being ever-present before G‑d.

The haftarah contains some of these powerful and profound verses of “remembrance.”


As a prophet, Jeremiah had two almost antithetical roles. On the one hand, he was the prophet of destruction. It was his task to describe some of the most horrific sufferings that would accompany the Jewish exile, were it to come about (as it eventually did). Conversely, Jeremiah also delivered some of the most profound prophecies of hope and salvation ever uttered. Even in the depths of suffering, the Jews were never to despair; G‑d would never forsake His beloved people.

The haftarah begins with G‑d recalling His eternal love for the nation of Israel. They were the surviving remnant who escaped Pharaoh’s sword in Egypt, and who followed Him into the desert to become His people.

Now, in this dark time, G‑d promised that they would yet return to their land. The joy in their return and reunion with G‑d would entirely eclipse the suffering they had endured. The day would yet come when the people would joyfully work the Holy Land and ascend to Jerusalem in jubilation and thanksgiving.

Kibbutz galuyot, the “ingathering of the exiles,” will take place in a time to come. The Jews who were driven to the very ends of the earth will finally return home. Not a single Jew, even one who is handicapped in one way or the other, will be left behind. The process of return, which usually would take a long period of time, will be so swift and smooth that it could be compared to a woman conceiving and giving birth immediately thereafter.

Tears will run freely as the people will finally realize that the time of Moshiach has come. The world will look on in amazement as the Jewish story comes full circle. The same G‑d who scattered this nation in every part of the globe is now bringing them back home. The land will be bountiful, and the worries of the Jews will finally come to an end.

The joy will be boundless. The old folk will dance like young boys, as G‑d will heal all the wounds of the long and bitter exile. The kohanim will be returned to their sacred duties in the Temple, and the goodness of G‑d will be enjoyed by all.

A Mother’s Cry

So says the L‑rd: A voice is heard on high, lamentation, bitter weeping—Rachel weeping for her children. She refuses to be comforted for her children, for they are not.

So says the L‑rd: Restrain 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.

This searing passage, the words of which are embroidered to this day on the tomb of Rachel, are explained in several ways.

Simply speaking, the “children” for whom Rachel refused to be consoled are the tribe of Ephraim (the grandson of Rachel), who formed the ruling class of the kingdom of the Ten Tribes, known as “Israel.” In fact, the prophets often (including several times in this passage) refer to the Ten Tribes collectively as “Ephraim.”

Rachel’s other descendants, the tribe of Benjamin, resided in the territory of Judea. They would undergo seventy years of exile in Babylon, after which they would have the opportunity of returning to Jerusalem, rebuilding the Temple, and continuing to play a major part in the history of the Jewish people. But the descendants of Joseph, the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, would all but disappear. They would become part of the “Ten Lost Tribes” whose whereabouts and connection to the Jewish people would seem entirely lost. For this, Rachel “refuses to be comforted.”

On a broader scale, the Midrash tells us that Rachel cried when the Babylonian general Nebuzaradan led the Jews into exile. On their way they passed the tomb of Rachel, and at that moment Rachel pierced the heavens with her rending cry of agony over her children’s plight.

This Midrash further tells us that it was actually for this very reason that Rachel was buried where she was. In the Torah portion of Vayechi we read how Jacob excuses himself to Joseph for not having buried his wife Rachel—Joseph’s mother—in the cave of Machpelah together with the other Matriarchs and Patriarchs, the same place where he, Jacob, was now requesting to be buried as well. However, the verse is quite obscure, as it records Jacob’s observation that Rachel was buried in a different location, but no explanation from Jacob to his son as to why he actually did this.

Rashi, quoting the Midrash, fills us in. Jacob told Joseph that he in fact had done this by Divine command. No one more than Jacob desired that his beloved wife be buried next to him. But on that fateful day over a thousand years later, as the Jews would be led into exile, Rachel had to be there for her children.

There is yet a third Midrash which sheds some light on why specifically Rachel’s plea so shook the heavens, tracing her cry to a previous low point of the Jewish people, several decades before the exile. Menashe (Manasseh), the sinful and wicked king of Judea, was obsessed with the pagan culture of the time. So sunken was he in it that he ordered that an idol be erected in sanctuary of the Holy Temple.

Our sages recount:

All the Patriarchs and Matriarchs came before G‑d to appease Him for Menashe’s having erected an idol in the sanctuary, but to no avail. Finally, Rachel came in and said: “Master of the universe! Whose compassion is greater—Your compassion or the compassion of a flesh and blood? Surely Your compassion is greater! But did I not allow my rival wife Leah into my home? All the work that Jacob served my father was only for me, yet when I was about to enter the wedding canopy they put my sister there in my stead. Not only was I quiet, but I even gave my sister the signs [that Jacob had given me to make sure that it was indeed me who would be given to him as a wife]. So it is with You! Your children have brought in Your “rival” to Your house—but let it go!”

G‑d said to her: “You have defended well. There is reward for your work and your righteousness, in having given the signs to your sister.”2

Whatever the explanation, Rachel’s cry paid off. Her children would eventually return. After enduring the suffering of exile, wayward Ephraim had already reconsidered and was deeply ashamed of his sinful ways.

G‑d, as it were, cannot help but feel the arousal of a deep and churning feeling whenever He remembers His dear child. If this is the case, then He will surely take pity on them and redeem them.