Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Jewish Mother’s Day

Rachel our Mother’s Yahrtzeit (Anniversary of Passing)
B'erot trip to Mama Rachel
It happened again just now, the phone rang and someone asked to speak with my mother! I guess I really have childish voice. So if someone is trying to sell me something or any other phone call that I’m not interested in, I can truly say, “My mother is not here,” and end the conversation. While my biological mother lives far away in Denmark, the spirit of my spiritual mother, Rachel lives on, right around the corner on the way to Beit Lechem (Bethlehem) from my home in the Judean Hills.

I truly believe that the reason all of Gush Etzion, Chevron and the surrounding areas are in Jewish hands is because of Mama Rachel! Her tomb is the connection point between Jerusalem and the Judean Hills. According to our tradition the anniversary of Rachel Imainu’s passing is on the 11th of Cheshvan (this coming Monday night and Tuesday). No-one really knows how we know the exact date of her passing several thousand years ago. We do not know the date of the yahrtzeit (anniversary of passing) of the remaining matriarchs or patriarchs. However, the date of the passing of Rachel is important. It marks Jewish Mother’s day, as it is exactly 41 days from Rosh Hashana, which is the numerical value of the word אֵם/em – mother. For Rachel is our mother in the deepest sense. The anniversary of her passing would be a suitable time to celebrate “Jewish Mother’s Day.”

Why do you think Rachel is called “our mother” more than any of the other matriarchs? 
Read on to see my answer and submit yours.

Why are we called the children of Rachel? Aren’t only the descendants of Yosef and Binyamin Rachel’s children?
When it states that “Rachel is crying for her children,” it doesn’t only refer to Yosef and Binyamin, rather all the twelve tribes are her sons. They were conceived in her merit, when she handed over her secret signs to Leah and thus allowed her to become the mother of Ya’acov’s children. Rachel, our mother, was a mother even before she gave birth to the fruits of her womb. Even barren women can be mothers. What is a mother? She is someone who gives everything she has to another. Through Rachel’s unconditional love for her sister, she gave her everything dear and good with her full heart. She gave up the love of her life without being aware that she too would become Ya’acov’s wife. Through her otherworldly sacrifice Rachel gave even motherhood to her sister. The Hebrew word for mother: /אֵםem, also means “if” or “condition.” A mother is the condition of life. She is the one who assures the continuation of the world by her making space for others. Please write me your comments of how it is possible to be a mother even before or after giving birth to biological children.

We are All Rachel’s Children
I believe that more than any other place in the world, Rachel’s tomb is the place to pray for children. In my yearning for renewed motherhood I have always felt so connected to Rachel. Before they made the new bypass road I used to pray at Rachel’s tomb all the time, as I would pass it on my way home from Jerusalem. During my 14 years of secondary infertility I cried at her tomb and constantly prayed to be blessed with another child like her.

Returning Home for Rachel’s Sake
The haftorah for the second day of Rosh Hashana teaches us how Rachel cries for her children, and refuses to be comforted until all her children – the Jewish people – will return safely from exile to their own borders. It was her merit and not even Akeidat Yitzchak (the binding of Isaac) that had the power to arouse the mercy of Hashem who promised her: “For your sake Rachel, I will return the children of Israel to their place.” (Midrash Rabbah, Eicha, introduction, piska 24)

כֹּה אָמַר ה’ קוֹל בְּרָמָה נִשְׁמָע נְהִי בְּכִי תַמְרוּרִים רָחֵל מְבַכָּה עַל בָּנֶיהָ מֵאֲנָה לְהִנָּחֵם עַל בָּנֶיהָ כִּי אֵינֶנּוּ:(טו) כֹּה אָמַר ה’ מִנְעִי קוֹלֵךְ מִבֶּכִי וְעֵינַיִךְ מִדִּמְעָה כִּי יֵשׁ שָׂכָר לִפְעֻלָּתֵךְ נְאֻם ה’וְשָׁבוּ מֵאֶרֶץ אוֹיֵב: (טז) וְיֵשׁ תִּקְוָה לְאַחֲרִיתֵךְ נְאֻם ה’ וְשָׁבוּ בָנִים לִגְבוּלָם: ירמיהו לא:יד-טז
Thus says Hashem, a voice was heard in Rama, lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel weeping for her children, she refused to be comforted for her children, because they are not. Thus says Hashem: keep your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears: for your work shall be rewarded says Hashem; and they shall come back again from the land of the enemy. And there is hope for your future, says Hashem, and your children shall come back again to their own border (Yirmeyahu 31:14-16).

Signs and Bitter Exchange
The word for bitter in “bitter weeping” is תַמְרוּרִים/tamrumim, which can also mean exchange. In exchange of Rachel’s amazing deed, to let herself be exchanged with Leah at the wedding night, G-d will exchange her children from their bitter exile. The word tamrurim also means signs like the secret signs that Rachel gave to Leah. In the merit of her giving over these signs that allowed Leah to marry Ya’acov, in the future, Rachel will become the signs for her children to return.

Tapping into Rachel’s Connection with the Holiness of the Land
There is none of all the mothers and fathers that represent the Land of Israel and its holiness more than Rachel. She gave over her soul for the sake of the holiness of the Land of Israel, and the mitzvah of making aliyah to it. This is why she remains the mother who escorts her children to exile and who is promised that her children will return to their border. She gave birth and died in the Land of Israel – connecting the souls of her children eternally to the Land of Israel. She was meant to marry Ya’acov, but she gave up her true soul-mate for a time, yet eventually was reunited with him. Likewise Jews are meant to live in Israel even if we temporarily have to be exiled. Eventually we will be reunited and returned to our true place.

Self-Sacrifice for the Sake of the Land of Israel
Rachel was willing to give over her life for the sake of the Land of Israel. Her self-sacrifice on some level was even greater than even Akedat Yitzchak. Ya’acov had married two sisters although this is forbidden in the Torah (Vayikra 18:18). However, this was outside of Israel, for the mitzvot are only binding in the Land of Israel (Ramban, Bereishit 26:5). It was Rachel’s excitement to return to the Land of Israel that indirectly caused her death. Rachel was aware that as soon as they would enter the Land of Israel, she would die, since she was married after Leah, and therefore through the prohibition of marrying two sisters. In spite of this prophetic awareness (Agadat Bereishit 52), she encouraged Yaacov to travel there immediately. When Ya’acov asked his wives whether they agreed to leave their childhood home and journey to the Land of Israel as Hashem had commanded him (Bereishit 31:3), Rachel was the first to agree:

וַתַּעַן רָחֵל וְלֵאָה וַתֹּאמַרְנָה… (טז) וְעַתָּה כֹּל אֲשֶׁר אָמַר אֱלֹהִים אֵלֶיךָ עֲשֵׂה: ספר בראשית לא: יד
Rachel and Leah answered and said…Now do everything that G-d told you! (Bereishit 31:14-16).

With these words that Rachel consciously and through free choice sacrificed herself for the sake of the completion of the birth of the twelve tribes in the Land of Israel, although she was only thirty-six years old.

How to Celebrate Mama Rachel’s Yahrtzeit
Perhaps it would be fitting on the Rachel’s yahrtzeit to spend a few moments thinking about how to connect with Eretz Yisrael. For those who live here already, we could do something to anchor ourselves even more to the land such as planting a tree or reaching out to others to help them make aliyah. For those who still live outside the Land, on this one day try to feel the wish to overcome the obstacles, and return home – that may help dry a few of Rachel’s tears.
Please submit your comments for a meaningful way to celebrate the yahrtzeit of Rachel.

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