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Rachel’s Amazing Secret

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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“As for me, [Jacob], 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."—Genesis 48:7

And I did not take her even to Bethlehem to bring her into the [inhabited region of the Holy] Land…but you should know that I buried her there by divine command, so that she would be of assistance to her children. When [the Babylonian general] Nebuzaradan exiles [the Israelites] and they pass by there, Rachel will emerge from her grave and weep and beg mercy for them, as it is said: “A voice is heard on high, lamentation, bitter weeping, Rachel is weeping for her children.” And the Holy One, blessed be He, answers her, “‘There is reward for your work…and the children shall return to their own border.’” (Jeremiah 31:14-16) – Rashi’s commentary on the verse, from Pesikta Rabbati ch. 3.

The Midrash explains the “work” for which Rachel was rewarded with G-d’s assurance that her children would return to Israel: After the Jews were exiled to Babylon, the Patriarchs, Matriarchs and Moses went to appease G-d, attempting to evoke Divine mercy on their children’s behalf. Each one invoked the various great deeds which he or she had performed, requesting that G-d reciprocate by having compassion on the Jews. But G-d was not appeased. Then Rachel entered and stated, “O Lord of the Universe, consider what I did for my sister Leah. All the work that Jacob worked for my father was only for me, however when I came to enter the nuptial canopy, they brought my sister instead. Not only did I keep my silence, but I gave her my password which Jacob and I had prearranged. You, too, if Your children have brought Your rival into Your house, keep Your silence for them.” G-d answered her, “You have defended them well. There is reward for your deed and for your righteousness. 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. And there is hope for your future, says the L-rd, and the children shall return to their own border.”

Why, indeed, was Rachel’s deed so much more precious in G-d’s eyes than the accomplishments of all the other petitioners? Why was her gallant act dearer than Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son or Moses’ forty years of selfless leadership of the relentlessly belligerent Israelites?

Perhaps this question can be answered by examining the legitimacy of Jacob’s marriage to Rachel and Leah. How was Jacob able to marry them both when the Torah explicitly forbids one man from marrying two sisters? Nachmanides explains that since the Patriarchs lived before the observance of the Mitzvot became mandatory at Mount Sinai, they observed the laws of the Torah only whilst in the Land of Israel. Therefore, Jacob was “allowed” to marry two sisters while residing in Padan Aram.


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RELATED CATEGORIES

History » Patriarchs, 12 Tribes
Philosophy » Messiah

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Mitzvot
Plural form of Mitzvah. Commandments of G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Rashi
Acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105). Legendary French scholar who authored the fundemental and widely accepted "Rashi commentary" on the entire Bible and Talmud.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Abraham
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
Midrash
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
Sarah
First Jewess, first of the four Jewish Matriarchs, wife of Abraham--the first Jew. Lived in Mesopotamia, and then Canaan, in the 19th century BCE.
Jacob
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Isaac
Second of the three Jewish Patriarchs, son of Abraham and Sarah. Lived in Canaan (Israel); b. 1712 BCE, d. 1532 BCE.
Rebecca
Second of the Jewish Matriarchs. Wife of the Patriarch Isaac, and father of Jacob. b. 1675 BCE, d. 1553 BCE.
Rachel
Third of the four Jewish matriarchs. Daughter of Laban, favorite wife of Patriarch Jacob, and mother of Joseph and Benjamin. Died while giving birth to Benjamin in 1557 BCE.
Leah
Fourth of the four Jewish matriarchs. Elder daughter of Laban, wife of Patriarch Jacob, and mother of six of the Tribes, including Levi and Judah.
Canaan
The land which G-d promised to give to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Named after the Tribe of Canaanites who dwelt there at the time. Eventually, when the Israelites conquered the land in 1272 BCE, it was renamed the "Land of Israel."
Genesis
The first book of the Five Books of Moses. It records the story of Creation and its aftermath, and chronicles the lives of the Patriarchs.
Jeremiah
1. Jewish prophet who lived in the 5th century BCE. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, containing the prophecies of Jeremiah. The book is replete with prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.