Rachel Weeps for Her Children
…I am one of those
unfortunate souls who never had a nurturing mother. I often stroll in the
park just to watch a mother adoringly walk her young child, holding her hand,
with endless love and care. Oh, how I long so for such love – for the love
that only a mother can give.
I know, I know and
have been told countless times to grow up and begin to accept that life is
not fair; “learn to love yourself,” I have been told. I have heard it all.
God knows the hours I have spent with therapists, gurus, soothsayers and healers
– some better than others. But I still seek that motherly love. Call me a
coward, call me immature. I want to be adored. Is it too much to ask for?
Please tell me something
– anything – that can soothe my weary soul.
Tired and forlorn,
The story of Rachel our
mother, who dies at a the young age of 36 in this week’s Torah portion, is
one of the most moving accounts you will ever read, and one that nurtures
us till this very day.
Rachel began to give
birth. Her labor was extremely difficult… She was dying, and as she breathed
her last, she named the child Ben-oni (My Sorrow's Son). His father called
him Benjamin. Rachel died and was buried on the road to Ephrath, now known
as Bethlehem. Jacob set up a monument on her grave. This is the monument that
is on Rachel's grave to this very day (Genesis 35:16-20).
Rachel’s sad death in
childbirth, giving her life for her newborn child, would personify Rachel’s
historical role as the quintessential mother who would sacrifice herself for
her children, throughout the ages, until the end of time.
Why was our mother Rachel
buried on the road and not in the Machpelah Cave in Chevron where the “founding”
four couples (Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and later
Jacob and Leah) were laid to rest? Chevron is not that far from Bethlehem.
Why did Jacob not make the extra effort to honor his beloved wife and accord
her the dignity of a proper burial in a respectable resting place, beside
all the Patriarchs and Matriarchs?!
Jacob himself, lying on
his own deathbed, answered this question, when he made Joseph swear to bury
him in Chevron together with his fathers: And I, when I came from Paddan,
Rachel died by me in the Land of Canaan, on the road, a short distance from
Efrat; and I buried her there on the road to Efrat, which is Bethlehem (Genesis
48:7). I am asking you to trouble yourself to take me to be buried in the
[Holy] Land... even though I did not do the same for your mother. She died
near Bethlehem ... and I did not even take her to Bethlehem to bring her to
[a settled place in] the Land. I know that there is resentment in your heart
toward me [over this]. But know that it was by Divine command that I buried
her there, so that she should be a help for her children when Nevuzaradan
[of Babylon] will exile them and they will pass by there. Then Rachel will
come out upon her grave and weep and plead for mercy for them, as it is written:
“A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping; Rachel is weeping
for her children and refuses to be comforted for her children, because they
are away. And G-d will answer her: Restrain your voice from weeping, and your
eyes from tears; for your work will be rewarded, says G-d; and they will return
from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future… that your children
will return to their own borders (Jeremiah 31:14-16).
Indeed, Rachel’s motherly
tears were recognized by Jacob when he first met her: When Rachel the shepherdess
appeared with her father’s sheep, “Jacob kissed Rachel and lifted up his voice
and wept” (Genesis 29:9-11). Why did he weep? Because he foresaw that Rachel
would not be buried at his side (Rashi), so that she could cry and plead for
her suffering children (Shaloh). In other words, upon setting his eyes on
Rachel for the very first time Jacob wept for all the tears that Rachel would
shed for her children.
Every detail in Torah
is both precise and relevant to our lives. What is the deeper significance
of all these tears – both Rachel’s and Jacob’s? Practically speaking, how
is the location of Rachel’s burial place on the road “a help for her children?”
True, her exiled children were surely consoled as they passed by her grave
on their way out of Jerusalem. But why are Rachel’s tears more effective in
her grave on the road than had she been weeping from the Machpelah burial
Above all, how does it
help us today to know that Rachel lays buried on the road and weeps for her
children, and that Jacob wept thinking about it?
The answer can be found
in the book of Tanya (chapter 45), where he presents a powerful meditation
on achieving spiritual awareness based on the psycho-spiritual application
of Rachel and Jacob: Rachel is the supernal attribute of Malchut – the power
of dignity – the source of all souls. Jacob is the dimension of Tiferet –
compassion – arousing empathy for the soul’s traumatic descent into the material
Every soul on earth, the
Tanya explains, begins its journey in the spiritual realms and from there
it is thrust into “exile” in a physical body and universe that conceals the
soul’s presence and all things spiritual.
The Divine spark of the
soul is in effect trapped in the narrow confines of our mundane existence
even if one never transgresses, causing a profound state of spiritual and
existential dissonance. How much more so is the spiritual exile when we become
enmeshed in our narcissistic behavior, unrefined thoughts, speech or deeds,
which further displaces the Divine soul, and, by extension, the soul’s Divine
source, causing, what is called, the esoteric doctrine of the “Exile of the
Rachel manifests and identifies
with this spiritual exile of Malchut. She therefore paid the price by dying
in childbirth, and then dwelling in a lonely wayside grave in order to bear
witness to the suffering of her children. As long as her children are wandering
and oppressed Rachel cannot find any final rest and remains with them “on
the road”. “Rachel weeps for her children and refuses to be comforted.”
And what is Jacob’s role
in this process? Tanya explains that Jacob represents compassion – a potent
method to awaken the exiled soul (and Shechinah) from its displacement.
This continues Tanya,
is the meaning of the verse “And Jacob kissed Rachel and lifted up his voice
“Jacob — with his supernal
attribute of Divine mercy (of Atzilut) — arouses great compassion for Rachel,
the source of all souls. “And he lifted up his voice” — upwards, to
the fount of the Higher Mercies, to the source of the Thirteen Divine Attributes
of Mercy. “And he wept” — in order to awaken and draw from there, from
the boundless Divine Mercies, abundant compassion upon all the souls and upon
their source, to raise them from their exile and to unite them in the Higher
Unity of the Divine infinite light, at the level of “kisses”, which is “the
attachment of spirit with spirit,” as it is written, “Let Him kiss me with
the kisses of His mouth,” which means the union of the word of man who studies
Torah with “the word of G-d, namely, the Halacha.” So too, through
thinking Torah thoughts, mortal thought is united with divine thought, and
so too, mortal action is united with Divine action, through active observance
of the commandments, and, in particular, the practice of charity and loving-kindness.”
Simply put, Jacob’s cry
and kiss is a method that we can all employ to awake ourselves from spiritual
slumber: By pondering on the radical descent of the soul into a body we can
arouse a profound sense of compassion for the trapped soul. How sad it is
to see a gentle soul, descend from its loftiest heights, to the nethermost
depths of selfish existence. This compassion (of Jacob) empowers Rachel to
stand strong with her exiled children. And ultimately Rachel’s tears prevail:
Your work will be rewarded, and they will return from the land of the enemy.
There is hope for your future. Your children will return to their own borders.
In psychological terms,
Malchut (Rachel) is dignity. Dignity is the feeling of confidence and security
that comes from knowing that you have inherent value and are indispensable,
by virtue of the fact that you were created in the Divine Image. The antithesis
to dignity is a sense of worthlessness, shame, insecurity, low self-esteem,
sometimes to the point of self-loathing.
A nurturing mother instills
in her child this feeling of Malchut. More accurately: She doesn’t instill
it; a healthy mother cultivates and nourishes the dignity that is the birthright
of every soul. When there is a lack of nurturing, dignity is not annihilated,
it goes under cover.
In our materialistic world
we often can get distracted by our temporary pleasures and forget that the
single most important responsibility is the nurturing of our children’s majesty.
This is truer today more
than ever. With our ever-accelerating technologies and comforts, an unprecedented
standard of living, ironically and paradoxically, our level of self-esteem
continues to erode. The busier we are with outer stimulation and the acquisition
of wealth, the more we neglect our children. The more functional our external
lives, the less functional our inner ones.
Of all the attributes,
perhaps the one most severely compromised today is Malchut, dignity. We can
find much wisdom, understanding, knowledge, love, discipline, compassion,
ambition, (even) humility and bonding; but personal dignity is profoundly
displaced in our dysfunctional world.
This is the psychological
“exile of malchut” and the “shechinah.”
Enter Rachel: Rachel,
the quintessential mother of Israel, resides “on the road” and always remains
with us, through our wandering and confusion.
We all hope and pray for
a biological mother (in addition to Rachel) that will protect and nurture
us. Everyone deserves as much. But even when blessed with a healthy mother,
we must always remember that all of us live in a form of “spiritual exile,”
in need of our mother Rachel. And even when we are deprived of a nurturing
mother, we are never deprived of Rachel, who always stands vigil, adoring
us unconditionally, then and now – to this very day.
To this very day Rachel
weeps for her children. As the mother of all children, she watches over us
and weeps with and for us. She sheds a tear for every lonely child, for every
suffering youngster or adult.
And these are not mere
tears; they are the tears of a loving mother; tears that water the seeds of
our parched souls, allowing them to bear fruit: Their souls will be like
a watered garden; and they will sorrow no more (Jeremiah 31:11).
All of us must know, that
regardless of our biological mother’s efforts on our behalf, regardless of
the way out dignity is nourished or abused, Rachel always remains on watch,
and does not rest. When trouble brews she intercedes on our behalf.
We can only wonder whether
it was Rachel’s tears that have kept us alive for all those years, allowing
us to survive despite all odds.
How do we activate Rachel’s
maternal love? We ponder on our predicament, not to bring on feelings on depression
or self pity, but to evoke compassion: Have some mercy – hob rachmonos
– on yourself. Your beautiful soul, a lofty and delicate creature, lays trapped
in your callous body and heartless world. She waits for you to acknowledge
her. Embrace her, kiss her, cry for and with her – commit to activities (in
thought, speech and action) that caress your soul an allow her to actualize
in this world.
Your compassion – on yourself
and on others – helps our mother Rachel within each of us to do her work.
Until we arrive at our
destination, when “Your work will be rewarded, and they will return from
the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future. Your children will return
to their own borders.”