The tomb of Rachel reminds us that we are endowed with the ability to overcome adversity and actually change our world.
On our recent trip to Israel we visited the tomb of Rachel. I joined with Jewish women of all different backgrounds and locations: Sefardi, Ashkenazi, secular, observant, etc. We came together, a seamless tapestry, bound by our relationship to our matriarch, Rachel, whose voice on behalf of her children reverberates throughout the ages.
The verse from Jeremiah, Ch. 31, in bold letters above her tomb reads, "A voice on high is heard, Rachel is weeping (in the present tense) for her children and refuses to be consoled..." The scripture concludes that God Himself promises that in the end things will be good and her offspring will return to their boundaries.
As we clustered around her tomb, each one of us with our own "pekel tzoris", set of problems, we prepared to beseech "Mama Rochel" to intervene on our behalf. We knew she would understand our pain, our trials and tribulations because Rachel herself was no stranger to adversity. She was the victim of her father's treachery when he gave her sister in marriage to the man destined for herself. Despite the knowledge that this act of self-sacrifice might forever separate her from a union of love and destiny, Rachel went along with the charade to spare her sister the pain of shame and rejection. When she was finally united with Jacob, she struggled with childlessness. At long last, she bore a son, only to die in childbirth with her second child, going to the grave with the knowledge that she would not see her children grow to manhood.
Indeed, Mama Rochel was no stranger to pain. Our sages tell us that she was deliberately buried alone, apart from the other matriarchs and patriarchs so that her tomb would be accessible to her descendants, so that they might pray there on their way to exile. This is the site where we have come in our hour of need to implore Rachel's advocacy in bringing our supplications before the Divine throne. Crying our hearts out and praying at the tomb of Rachel is cathartic, healing and enlightening.
Unquestionably, a good part of what comforts us is the sanctity of the space as it coalesces with the historic significance of the tomb. These variables comprise the mystery of our visit. But on the more accessible level, what is so healing and inspiring is the knowledge that the human being is capable, regardless of how daunting the challenge, of acting with transcendent selflessness and courage; that pulsating in our veins is the blood of a woman who transformed the values of Torah into living tissue, real deeds in a real world.
The tomb of Rachel reminds us that we are endowed with the ability to overcome adversity and change our world, not with our dreams and good intentions but with our actions.
LIVING IN THE WORLD OF ACTION
The Sages teach that "a person is born to struggle." As the Talmud states, "The reward is commensurate with the pain." Nothing worthwhile in life, even birth itself, can be achieved without pain or toil.
An admirer of the great violinist Yasha Heifetz pursued him after one of his magnificent performances and breathlessly asked him, "How does one get to be such a virtuoso?" To which the maestro replied, "With great difficulty and hard work."
Whatever is precious in life demands high premium, whether it's the athlete training for the Olympics, the ballet dancer, the accomplished scholar, the devoted spouse, the dedicated parent, etc. Whatever the pursuit, there are no shortcuts, no easy answers, no automatic conferrals of success -- only hard work and perseverance. And even to those whom we love with our whole heart and soul, we cannot bequeath a finished product. The best we can do is leave a legacy of the value of the process, the struggle and the sweat.
Historically, the name "Israel" conferred upon the Jewish people, after the epic battle between Jacob and the Heavenly representative of the evil forces of Esau, derives from the word "soriso" (you struggled). The verse reads, "You struggled with God and with man and you were victorious." It is noteworthy that the exalted designation in the name "Israel" is not derived from the word denoting victory but from the root that connotes struggle. It is the struggle that God values.
It is precisely the exertion, the anguish and the living experience that transforms us. Thoughts and feelings alone, as important as they are, do not suffice. We live in what our sages refer to as the "world of action." Behavior and deeds are what modify and define us. It is in the doing that we draw on resources deep within us to actualize what heretofore was mere potential.
Ann, a prominent journalist, had just apprised her superior that she had become a Sabbath observant Jew, and would no longer be available to cover stories from sundown Friday to sunset on Saturday. The following week on a Friday afternoon, a plane went down in Ann's city. It was a major news breaking story and it was specifically assigned to her.
Ann's resolve was put to the test and it was only in engaging the struggle and drawing on the resources within herself that Ann defined herself as a true Sabbath observer.
Remember that most difficult "first day," when, with palpitations, we gently coax our youngster out the door to a waiting school bus. "Necessary losses" is the term used to describe the heavy heart that accompanies both mother and child as they negotiate the figurative big steps of life's bus that, of necessity, wrests them from the warm, the comfortable and the familiar and forces them to confront the inevitable cold adversity that lies ahead.
Rationally, we recognize it cannot be otherwise. If a child is to be healthy, we cannot arrest his growth by keeping him attached to us forever. We must give him the wherewithal to be an independent and self-reliant individual. As much as we would like, we cannot spare him the bumps in the road ahead. He must experience his own failures and triumphs. We must, if we are to be good parents, provide him with the wings to fly on his own and set him free.
Analogously, we are all children of the Almighty. He too, (so to speak) hates to part with us. He invests us with a magnificent soul that is hewn of His very essence. He then endows us with free choice, the ability to become and to define ourselves on our own and sends us into a world fraught with challenges. His Divine Presence accompanies us and never leaves us throughout our journey over the hills and valleys of life. He roots for our success, but it is only in giving us the freedom to make our own decisions, whatever they may be, that define us and give us our personal dignity.
There will be a time, hopefully in the near future, when the need to struggle will be over. It will be an era when the destiny of mankind, as we know it, will be concluded. The promise to "Mama Rochel" will be fulfilled. Her children will be gathered in from all their exiles. The Kabbalists assure us that not a single tear from the ocean of tears that have been shed throughout Israel's painful journey in history will be lost. Every tear is quintessentially precious to the Master of the Universe. And He keeps them in a special place. The new millennium will finally see the fulfillment of the prophecy, "and God will wipe the tear from every face."
Rebbetzin Feige Twerski of Milwaukee, Wisconsin has devoted her life to Jewish education and Outreach, giving lectures worldwide on a myriad of Judaic subjects. She is a mother of 11 children, and many grandchildren whose number she refuses to divulge. She serves as the Rebbetzin along side her husband, Rabbi Michel Twerski, of Congregation Beth Jehudah of Milwaukee.