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Learning from Rachel

Jacob and Rachel at the well, James J. J. Tissot (app. 1900)
Jacob and Rachel at the well, James J. J. Tissot (app. 1900)

After a month that was very busy with all the high holidays, we are now entering the month of Cheshvan, a month without any holidays or any special events. The only thig that we have, according to some traditions, is the Yarzeit of Rachen Imenu on the 11th of Cheshvan, where thousands of people go to visit her gravesite in Bet Lechem.

Rachel is a fascinating figure in the Torah, she is the preferred wife for Yaacov, because Lavan had two daughters and Rivka had two sons, so the older one, Esav, was supposed to marry Leah, and Yaacov, the younger son was supposed to marry Rachel, which he loved more than Leah, as the Torah states.

When Yaacov came to meet then and asked for Rachel’s hand, Lavan tricked him into marrying Leah instead under the darkness of the night. But Yaacov didn’t trust his uncle and was afraid of something like that happening, so he gave Rachel a hidden sign that she would tell him at the night of their wedding.

Rachel, seeing that her father is sending Leah instead to marry Yaacov, decided to give her sister Leah the secret sign so that she would not be embarrassed at her wedding night.

In the midrash it is stated that thanks to this, Rachel's prayer to God to redeem the Jews from exile was accepted:

Meeting of Jacob and Rachel, William Dyce (1806-1864) (M)
Meeting of Jacob and Rachel, William Dyce (1806-1864)

“At that time, Rachel our mother jumped up before the Almighty and said: "Lord of the world, it is clear to you that your servant Yaacov loved me with great love and worked for me for seven years for my father, and when those seven years were completed and the time for my marriage came to my husband, my father advised me to exchange my husband for my sister, and it became very difficult for me because the advice came to me and I informed my husband and gave him a sign that he would recognize me and my sister so that my father could not replace me. After that I consoled myself and suffered my lust and took pity on my sister so that she would not be disgraced, and in the evening they brought my sister to my husband in my place and I gave my sister all the signs that I gave to my husband so that he would think she was Rachel, and I repaid kindness to her, and I did not envy her and did not expose her to disgrace, and what am I that I am flesh and blood dirt and ashes not was I jealous of my trouble and you didn't bring it to shame and dishonor, and you are a living king, why did you envy the worship of stars that has no real meaning and exiled my sons and they were killed by the sword and made enemies of them as they wished?!"

Immediately God's mercy rolled in, and He said: "For you, Rachel, I am returning the Jews to thier place as it is written: "Thus said Adonai, a loud voice was heard, let us cry for signs, Rachel weeps for her sons, for she cannot comfort her sons because he is gone. Thus said Adonai, prevent your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears because there is a reward for your action... and there is hope for your future, says Adonai, and return his sons to their land.”

The whole story of Rachel, Leah, Yaacov and in general the biblical families, is something that is very foreign to us in the 21st century, we don’t need to understand all of it for us to learn something from it. This is a very powerful message that we can learn from, how sometimes giving up what is most important to us and not shaming someone else, has the power to save a whole nation.

May we learn from the ways of our ancestors how to treat one another with respect and dignity and create a better world for us all.

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