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PARSHAT VAYECHI – RACHEL’S LESSONS: EMOTION, PRAYER AND REDEMPTION AMID CHALLENGES

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בס”ד

PARSHAT Vayechi – 5784

Genesis 48:


7
As for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died to 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.”
 זוַֽאֲנִ֣י | בְּבֹאִ֣י מִפַּדָּ֗ן מֵ֩תָה֩ עָלַ֨י רָחֵ֜ל בְּאֶ֤רֶץ כְּנַ֨עַן֙ בַּדֶּ֔רֶךְ בְּע֥וֹד כִּבְרַת־אֶ֖רֶץ לָבֹ֣א אֶפְרָ֑תָה וָֽאֶקְבְּרֶ֤הָ שָּׁם֙ בְּדֶ֣רֶךְ אֶפְרָ֔ת הִ֖וא בֵּ֥ית לָֽחֶם:

In the Kehot Chumash this verse is rendered as follows[1]:

If you are wondering why I selected you for this distinction, the reason is as follows: When I was coming from Padan Aramyour mother Rachel died on me in Canaan; as you know, I did not bury her in our ancestral burial plot in Hebron, although I could easily have done so, for we were still only a stretch of land equal to one day’s plowing, or 2000 cubits short of reaching Efrat, which is not all that far from Hebron. The rain also did not prevent me from bringing her to Hebron for burial, for it was still so dry then that the ground was riddled with potholes. Moreover, I did not even bury her in the city of Efrat itself, but instead I buried her right there, where she died, along the road to Efrat, which is Bethlehem. I know that you do not hold this against me, since you realize that I did not treat your mother in this seemingly disrespectful fashion without reason. But nonetheless, I am equally sure that you resent the fact that she was not buried there and hold me at least partially responsible, since it was through me that this occurred. And now that I am asking you to bury me in the Machpelah cave—thereby highlighting the importance of being buried there—the fact that your mother did not merit to be buried there probably pains you all the more. Therefore, know that I buried her where I did because G-d commanded me to do so, in order to enable her to later play a pivotal role in the eventual redemption of our people. Furthermore, I knew at the time that not only would she have agreed to this, but also insisted on it. It is because of her self-sacrifice on behalf of her descendants that I have selected you, her son—out of all my sons—to be privileged to father two tribes.

Lets focus on the words:

Therefore, know that I buried her where I did because G-d commanded me to do so, in order to enable her to later play a pivotal role in the eventual redemption of our people.

The Significance of Rachel’s Burial site

The question of why G-d instructed Jacob to bury Rachel there arises. Lets read the book of Jeremiah, Chapter 31.

14So 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. ידכֹּ֣ה | אָמַ֣ר ד’ ק֣וֹל בְּרָמָ֚ה נִשְׁמָע֙ נְהִי֙ בְּכִ֣י תַמְרוּרִ֔ים רָחֵ֖ל מְבַכָּ֣ה עַל־בָּנֶי֑הָ מֵֽאֲנָ֛ה לְהִנָּחֵ֥ם עַל־בָּנֶ֖יהָ כִּ֥י אֵינֶֽנּוּ:

Rachel’s life took a completely different turn than she had hoped. Her ideal was to marry Jacob and together build a great nation. However, reality was different. Jacob, against Rachel’s wishes, married Leah first, and Leah bore many more children than Rachel. The internal strife among the children frequently brought tension to the family. Rachel lived her daily life amid this reality, but in her heart, she carried the sorrow of a lost dream, of an ideal that seemed out of reach.

Rachel realized that her life was deeply intertwined with the entire people, with all the children of Jacob. As the matriarch, she was emotionally most connected to the people, especially in times when the ideal and reality would diverge. The ideal was a life in complete harmony with G-d’s Word, a people of unity, a society where justice and righteousness would prevail. However, when reality deviated far from this ideal, leading the people into exile, Rachel recognized that she was the one best suited to beseech mercy for her children. Her emotional bond made her capable of feeling the pain between the ideal and reality and of pleading for mercy for her beloved people.

Today, descendants of Rachel find themselves in exile, expelled and held in Gaza, with all the accompanying misery. At the establishment of the State of Israel, the ideal was for the Jewish people to have a secure place, not only physically but also spiritually. A place where the people could, in unity, shape the values of the Torah, justice, and righteousness. However, reality is different.

For many, there was no safe place to live, as they were abducted. For many, it is not a safe place to live because they must fight as soldiers for freedom and justice. We seem far from the ideal. Before the outbreak of war, there was division among the people, and political views, both left and right, took extreme forms. Where division reigns, it is easy to speak ill of “the other,” which is a serious sin. G-d holds this sin more severely than sins against Himself. This principle is reflected in an example from the Talmud Yerushalmi:

“David’s generation were all tzadikim (righteous), but because they had informers, they would go out to war and fall [in battle]. Ahab’s generation were idolaters, but because they didn’t have informers, they would go down to war and be victorious.”[2]

From this, we can learn the seriousness of speaking ill of others, and especially in times of war, we must be more aware of it. Only unity and peacefulness bring victory. The importance of this is emphasized in Gaza, where even “traffic signs” prohibit soldiers from engaging in lashon hara (speaking evil). It is not just a physical battle but also a spiritual one, a struggle between light and darkness, between good and evil.

Rachel was emotionally the most engaged in feeling the sorrow between the ideal and reality and pleaded for mercy for her children. And we, can we understand that October 7 became a reality in the land of Israel? Can we comprehend that reality may be different from the ideal we wish for Israel? It should prompt us to pray and beseech G-d, just like Rachel did, for mercy, for peace, for a swift victory.

The prayers will be answered as we can read in Jeremiah, Chapter 31.


15
So says the L-rd: 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.
 טוכֹּ֣ה | אָמַ֣ר ד’ מִנְעִ֚י קוֹלֵךְ֙ מִבֶּ֔כִי וְעֵינַ֖יִךְ מִדִּמְעָ֑ה כִּי֩ יֵ֨שׁ שָׂכָ֚ר לִפְעֻלָּתֵךְ֙ נְאֻם־יְהֹוָ֔ה וְשָׁ֖בוּ מֵאֶ֥רֶץ אוֹיֵֽב:
16And there is hope for your future, says the L-rd, and the children shall return to their own border. טזוְיֵשׁ־תִּקְוָ֥ה לְאַֽחֲרִיתֵ֖ךְ נְאֻם־ ד’ וְשָׁ֥בוּ בָנִ֖ים לִגְבוּלָֽם:

Salvation and Redemption will be a fact, the ideal will be the reality.

From this story, we can glean several valuable lessons

1. Emotional Engagement in Times of Challenge: Rachel is portrayed as someone deeply emotionally connected to the reality of her time, and her response underscores the importance of emotional engagement in understanding and addressing challenges.

2. Recognizing the Gap Between Ideal and Reality: The text emphasizes the disparity between the ideal that Rachel envisioned and the harsh reality she faced. This reminds us of the importance of acknowledging the gap between our ideals and reality and dealing with it constructively.

3. Prayer as a Powerful Tool: The text calls for prayer, akin to Rachel’s plea for mercy, peace, and victory. The learning point here is that prayer is seen as a powerful tool to bring hope, strength, and change during challenging times.

4. Unity and Peace for Victory: The Talmudic example underscores the importance of unity and peace for victory. This can be considered a learning point that emphasizes how internal discord can lead to defeats, while unity and peacefulness promote triumph.

5. Redemption as a Reality: This learning point emphasizes faith in the possibility of redemption and restoration, even amid challenges. It reminds us that despite difficulties, it is G-d who ensures Redemption that will surely take place because He has promised it.


By Angelique Sijbolts

Sources:

[1] Interpolated Translation for Parshah Vayechi
[2] Buried on the Roadside: Our Matriarch Rachel’s Sacrifice By Esther Vilenkin

Kol Yehuda by Rabbi Yehuda Amital



With thanks to B. Yaniger for the inspiration and feedback

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