Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a series of commentaries that GTJ will publish on this week’s Torah portion. Stay tuned for the others. Will Gotkin is a recent graduate graduated of The George Washington University and now studies at a yeshiva in Jerusalem. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Will.
If you travel to Israel and visit Machpela (the gravesite of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of Judaism) in Hebron, you would notice that Rochel’s grave is conspicuously missing. Her gravesite is actually located in BeisLechem. It might trouble you that she is not buried alongside Avraham, Sarah, Rivkah, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, but Rochel wanted it this way.
Early in Parshas Vayechi, Yaakov asks his son, Yosef to take his body back to the land of Canaan to be buried alongside his forefathers in Machpela. But Rochel was buried where she was so that she could help her descendants who in later times would pass by her grave on their way into Babylonian imposed exile. She would then emerge from her grave, pray, and shed tears for the Jewish nation. The Jewish people would experience redemption in the merit of her actions.
By choosing to be there for her troubled descendants over the spiritual contentment and blissful reward of being buried alongside the founders of Judaism, she demonstrated an extremely high level of self-sacrifice. The Babylonian exile was Divine punishment to the Jewish nation for going away from the path of Torah and yet she still gave up her own reward to give them comfort in their time of need. Rochel embodies the qualities the Torah ascribes to the ideal Jewish woman and her exemplary conduct enables her to serve as a role model for all Jewish women in their service of Hashem.
Men and women have different roles to play in how they each serve the Creator. Yaakov’s burial in Machpela is symbolic of the very external and public way by which men serve G-d. Men are expected to daven three times a day, study Torah, and do many other mitzvahs from which women are exempt. Women on the other hand serve Hashem by not only giving physical life to the Jewish nation and being in charge of the house (often in addition to having a career outside the home), but by being the spiritual bedrock of the home and instilling a faith in Hashem and Torah in children. It is for this reason that the Jewish soul and Judaism passes through the mother, while tribal affiliation i.e. Levi, Yehuda etc. (a more publicly recognizable quality) passes through the man. While her role may not seem on the outside to be as glamorous or worthwhile, the woman’s service is in many ways higher than that of the man, because her actions do not usually get the praise they deserve. Rochel eschewed the kavod (honor) of being buried at Machpela so that she could be there for her children. In the same way, a good mother sacrifices much there for her children. Rochel’s ability to sacrifice some of her own spiritual reward is a lesson for all of us that we must take some time out from our own divine service in order to bring others closer to Hashem.
Rashi on Bereishis 48:7