The Mother of Children Rejoices

rachels-tomb

Although the Torah teaches us that there are four Matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, there is an adage that states, “Only one mother” and to some extent this is true of our Matriarch Rachel, who is the unique mother of the Jewish People. The custom is to commemorate the 11th of Cheshvan as her day of passing. If we meditate for a moment on this date, we discover that it is exactly the forty-first day of the year from Rosh Hashanah. Indeed, 41 is the numerical value of “mother” (אֵם), making this date the optimal date for all Jewish mothers; “Jewish Mother’s Day.”

On the Main Road

Why do we identify with Rachel in particular? Sarah, Rebecca and Leah are all buried restfully in the Cave of Machpelah with the three Patriarchs. There, at the opening to the Garden of Eden, the Patriarchs and Matriarchs lovingly welcome their descendents when they reach one hundred and twenty years old, on their way to the World to Come. It is only Rachel who was buried on the way, and she weeps with her children in this world as she awaits their return, “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation, bitter weeping, Rachel is weeping for her children; she will not be comforted for her children for they are absent.”[1]

And Jewish children in elementary school learn by heart Rashi’s interpretation on Jacob’s words to Joseph, with a special melody, “And I, when I came from Padan, Rachel died upon me in the Land of Canaan on the way… and I buried her there on the way to Efrat, which is Bet Lechem”[2] – I know that you are upset with me. But you should know that I buried her there by Divine decree, so that she should aid her children when Nebuzaradan exiles them and they pass by the way there, then Rachel will come out of her grave and weep and ask for compassion upon them. And the Almighty responds, “So says God, ‘Halt your voice from crying, and your eyes from tears, because there is a reward for your acts; says God, they will return from their enemies’ country. There is hope for your destiny, says God, and children will return to their borders.” “On your behalf, Rachel, I will return the Jewish People to their place.”[3]

This illustrative description of Rachel, who cannot lie in peace but “comes out of her grave,” pleading for compassion for her children and awaiting their return, reminds of us of Rachel’s personality while she was still alive—asking for compassion and awaiting children. For seven years, Jacob waited for Rachel and she waited for him. But after his marriage to her, she went through years of infertility with unyielding hope until Joseph was finally born. Yet, once Joseph was born, she continued to hope, saying “May God add another son to me.”[4] However, while giving birth to Benjamin, she died, after a life full of prayer and optimism.

Just as the Torah emphasizes Rachel’s characteristic barrenness in her life, and her eventual merit of having children, so too, after her death, she represents the barrenness of the entire Jewish People, who while they are in exile are compared to an infertile woman. And Rachel will not give up until the Jewish People are blessed with children who return to their borders. This is why we identify with Rachel, both in her personal sorrow and in her collective sorrow, and her burial place has become a place of prayer for all generations, where we come to pray and beseech God that He have compassion upon us and bless us in Rachel’s merit.

We pray wholeheartedly, with complete faith and joy that this year, 5775 (תשע”ה), which spells out the initials of the phrase, “May this be the year of the mainstay of the home” (lit.: “the barren woman of the home”; תְּהֵא שְׁנַת עֲקֶרֶת הַבָּיִת), all the infertile women should be blessed with fertility and the People of Israel will “give birth” to her children, becoming a true homekeeper who nurtures her children, and the mainstay of the home – “The Mother of Children Rejoices.”

[1]Jeremiah 31:14.

[2] Genesis 48:7.

[3]Eichah Rabah 24.

[4]Genesis 34:24.

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