Rachel was Yaakov’s most beloved wife and was the principal of his household and thus the principal of the entire house of Israel. She passed away on the 11th of Cheshvan which is 41 days from Rosh Hashanah (the beginning of the year). 41 is the numerical value of the Hebrew word “Eim,” which means “mother,” thus the 11th of Cheshvan is truly the Jewish Mother’s Day.
Yet on closer inspection we might ask, why is it that one of the most influential Mothers of our people is not buried together with the other great forbearers in the MeArat Hamachpela? Why is it that Rachel doesn’t seem to merit being buried with her husband Yaakov?
The Torah tells us that when Yaakov first met Rachel he cried out.
Rashi explains that his cry was due to the fact that he realised that he would not be buried with her.
Married life is spent with the intention not only of building a physical world, but also of building a spiritual world together. Yaakov foresaw what seemed to him to be a future interruption to that spirituality, a cause for concern and distress.
Yet later on in life, when Yaakov was about to pass away, he called for his son Yosef – the Viceroy of Egypt, and asked that his body be transported to Eretz Yisrael and buried with his forefathers in MeArat Hamachpela.
Yaakov was worried that Yosef might be upset at the fact that Rachel (Yosef’s mother) was buried on the way to Bet Lechem and not in the MeArat Hamachpela.
Yaakov calms Yosef’s fears and tells him that the reason he buried her there, was as Rashi explains, Al Pi Hadibur – due to Hashem commanding that she be buried there.
In the future her merit would stand for the exiled Jews that would go through that location out of Israel. It was imperative that she be buried there, in order to help the future generations.
There seems to be a contradiction. Was Rachel buried on the way as a punishment, or as a reward?
Let us take a closer look into the Parasha.
One day Reuven came back from the field holding some Dudaim he had found.
The Ibn Ezra and others state that the Dudaim were known to be a fertility aid.
Rachel saw this and asked Leah for the Dudaim. In exchange she offered that Leah could spend that night (which was her designated night) with Yaakov.
Seforno comments that this transaction showed how much Rachel really wanted to have children. Her need wasn’t like every mother’s desire to have children, rather Rachel knew the destiny of Am Yisrael. She knew that 12 G-dly tribes were to descend from Yaakov. The question was, who would be the Mother of all, or some of these 12.
She tried hard to have children, but when she saw nothing was happening and Reuven came back with Dudaim, she saw this as a sign, perhaps this was the best Hishtadlut she should do.
Rashi (v15) comments that because Rachel ‘Zilzela’- abused the ability to be with Yaakov, she never merited being buried alongside him.
Yet there is a deeper meaning to this Rashi.
The greatest connection in the world is between a husband and wife.
Her love for Yaakov was solid. She appreciated him, and enjoyed every moment with him. She knew that a person gains a great deal by being close to a Tsadik (Yaakov); every second spent in the vicinity of the Tsadik would enhance her personal spirituality. Nevertheless, when it came to the decision of whether to trade off the Dudaim for one night with Yaakov, she decided to go for the Dudaim.
She gave up the personal element of being with Yaakov, in order to build the Shevatim.
She chose the future of Klal Yisrael, over her personal spiritual gain.
Contrary to the normal reading, therefore this seems to be a great deed.
When Rashi states Zilzela – this can be understood as abused, but it can also mean, she valued something else more than this. She placed the building of Klal Yisrael above the spiritual enhancement of herself.
Many years later when Yaakov, on his deathbed, related to Yosef that Rachel was buried on the way, he tells him it was Al Pi Hadibur – by the Will of Hashem, this was a reward for her zeal in ensuring Klal Yisrael’s future.
The Midrash Eicha shows how at the time of the destruction of the first Bet Hamikdash, Yirmiyahu the prophet was told to summon the Avot and Moshe so that their tears might move Hashem (G-d) to be forgiving. Yirmiyahu did as he was told and Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, and Moshe presented their arguments on behalf of their wayward children.
Alas none of them could change the decree. But then Rachel interceded, claiming that she had waited 7 years to marry Yaakov, only to be told that her father Lavan wished to put her sister Leah as the bride instead of her. Lavan had hatched a plan of deception that was aimed at deceiving Yaakov and ensuring that he marry Leah instead of Rachel. We can imagine her pain, her anguish for waiting so long to marry, and to be told not only that it wasn’t going to happen but that her sister was going to be the one.
Yaakov knew that Lavan might try to trick him, so he gave Rachel some secret codes to identify her under the Chupah. However, when Rachel learned of Lavan’s plan, she revealed these codes to Leah. She felt that she couldn’t let her sister, who was older, be embarrassed under the Chupah. So Rachel, who had waited seven long years to marry Yaakov, risked her chance for happiness simply because she didn’t want to see her sister embarrassed.
She cries out to the Almighty, “Master of the Universe, if I, a mere mortal of flesh and blood, was not jealous of my sister and did not allow her to be shamed and embarrassed, how much more so should it be with You! As the Almighty and Eternal Master of the Universe, You should not be jealous of idols just as I was not jealous of Leah!”
Immediately, G-d’s mercy was aroused and He said to Rachel, ‘Because of you I will return the Jews to their rightful place; VeShavu Banim Ligvulam.
Rachel in particular is known as our mother, for she showed the greatest traits a mother can have. She was selfless, she showed love to all those around, and she sacrificed her will for the future of Klal Yisrael.
Rachel is buried on the way, not as a punishment, but as a reward for her dedication to her people. It is because she wished so much to build Klal Yisrael that she was granted the podium on the way out to exile, to save Klal Yisrael in the future and ensure its everlasting existence.
Her presence and prayers have been felt throughout the ages, even until this very day.
Let us take the example from our Mother Rachel and look not only to better our own spirituality, but also to better the spirituality of others, help connect them to Hashem and help build Klal Yisrael.