Remembering Our Mother, Rachel

Rachel Imeinu – Rachel, our Mother – died on the 11th of the Jewish month of Cheshvan. This year, the anniversary of Rachel’s passing will begin on Monday evening, the 18th of October. As we shall begin to discuss in this letter, there is a deep connection between Rachel and our return to Zion:
Dear Friends,
Rachel died during the birth of her second son, Binyamin, and the following verse reveals that she was buried outside of Bethlehem:
 “And Rachel died and was buried on the road to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. Yaakov set up a monument over her grave; it is the monument of Rachel’s grave until today.” (Genesis 35:19, 20) 
Why wasn’t Rachel buried in the Machpela Cave in Hebron where the other patriarchs and matriarchs of our people are buried? The Midrash Rabbah gives the following reason: Yaakov foresaw that his descendants would pass her burial site as they journeyed into exile, and that Rachel’s soul would seek Divine compassion for them (Genesis Rabbah 82:10). The Midrash notes that this tradition is based on the following prophecy of Jeremiah regarding Hashem's promise to Rachel:
“Thus said Hashem: A voice is heard on high, wailing, and bitter weeping: Rachel is weeping for her children. She refuses to be comforted for her children, for they are gone. Thus said Hashem: Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears; for there is reward for your accomplishment, says Hashem, and they will return from the enemy’s land. There is hope for your future, spoke Hashem, and your children will return to their border.” (Jeremiah 31:14-16)
The above prophecy is referring to the Babylonian exile, and the majority of the people who went into that exile were from the Tribe of Judah. Although Rachel was not the particular ancestor of the Tribe of Judah, she is considered to be a mother of “all” the Tribes of Israel; thus, the above prophecy refers to the people of Judah as her children.
This prophecy is chanted on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. When the survivors of some concentration camps gathered after World War II to have their first Rosh Hashanah service in many years, the Klausenberger Rebbe, himself a survivor of the camps, addressed the group. He discussed the above prophecy of Jeremiah with his brethren, and he explained that the promise “they will return from their enemy’s land” is referring to liberation from “physical” exile, while the promise that “your children will return to their border” is referring to liberation from “spiritual” exile. (“The Klausenberger Rebbe – The War Years” by Aharon Surasky)
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch also interprets the promise that “your children will return to their border” as referring to a return from spiritual exile. Rabbi Hirsch explains that the exile resulted from the people’s abandonment of the Divine Covenant; thus, Rachel is weeping for her children who have become estranged from Hashem. Even if her children are prosperous in the lands of their dispersion, Rachel still weeps for them, as long as they are alienated from their Source. Hashem therefore comforts Rachel by promising her, “there is hope for your future,” as her lost children will eventually return to their “border” – their spiritual home. The ingathering of the wandering Children of Israel will therefore be a spiritual, as well as a physical ingathering. (Commentary on the Haftorah for the Second Day of Rosh Hashanah)
The idea that our future and final return to Zion will be both physical and spiritual can be found in the following prophecy which Moshe conveyed to our people regarding our future exile:
“It shall be that when all these things come upon you – the blessing and the curse that I have presented before you – then you will take it to heart among all the nations where Hashem, your God, has dispersed you. And you will return unto Hashem, your God, and listen to His voice, according to everything that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and all your soul. Then Hashem, your God, will bring back your captivity and have compassion on you, and He will gather you in from all the peoples to which Hashem, your God, has scattered you. If your dispersed will be at the ends of heaven, from there Hashem, your God, will gather you in and from there He will take you. Hashem, your God will bring you to the Land that your ancestors possessed” (Deuteronomy 30:1-5).
Moshe adds: “You will return and listen to the voice of Hashem and fulfill all His mitzvos (verse 8).
In a prophecy of comfort, the Prophet Isaiah conveys to our people the following message regarding our liberation from both physical and spiritual exile in the era of our great homecoming:
“You will not leave in chaos, nor will you go in flight; for Hashem will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rearguard.” (Isaiah 52:12).
“The God of Israel will be your rearguard” – The Hebrew word for “rearguard” in this verse is m’asef – a term which literally means, “the one who gathers in.” Rashi explains, “Whoever goes after the camp (the rearguard) is called m’asef, because he waits for the weak stragglers and for those who stumbled.” Even the weak and the stumbling ones among us will not be lost, for Hashem will gather them in and bring them home.
 “Bring us back to you, Hashem, and we shall return, renew our days as of old.” (Lamentations 5:21)
Be Well, and Shalom,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)
A Related Teaching:
The following teaching is brought down in the name of the Vilna Gaon: After the destruction of the Temple, the Shechinah – Divine Presence – can be found at the graves of tzadikim (the righteous), especially at the grave of our mother, Rachel. Many people therefore go to pray at this site, especially on the anniversary of her passing.

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