Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Yartzeit of Rachel Imenu

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

This post isn't really late. The sefarim teach that the full effects of a Yartzeit continue for 3 days (Nachala L'yisrael 51, Divrei Torah 3:46)

While all the other Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the Jewish people were buried in Chevron, Rachel Imenu was an exception. God[1] pre-determined that Rachel was to be buried along the side of the road on the way to Bethlehem in order for her tomb to serve as a place for prayer when the Jewish people would one day be led into exile by King Nevuzradan. When Rachel would hear the beseeching prayers of her children for Divine mercy upon her grave, she would cry and plead on their behalf to God.

Although the date traditionally observed as the Yartzeit for Rachel Imenu is the 11th of Cheshvan, the accuracy of this date is far from unanimous within historical texts. The primary source for observing the 11th of Cheshvan as the Yartzeit is a Midrash[2] which lists the dates that each of the founding fathers of the twelve tribes were said to have been born on. It states there that Benjamin was born on the 11th of Cheshvan. The Book of Jubilees also confirms that Benjamin was born of the 11th of Cheshvan.[3] As the Torah records that Rachel died as she gave birth to Benjamin, we can derive from here that this day would be her Yartzeit as well.

Click here to read moreNevertheless it appears from no less an authority than Rashi[4] that Rachel's passing took place at the start of the summer, a view which is supported by others[5] as well. Yet other sources[6] contend that Rachel actually died between Pesach and Shavuot.[7]

Along with so many other issues in Judaism, there are often a multitude of opinions and traditions, and this is no exception. Even the Yartzeit of Moshe Rabbeinu, traditionally observed on the 7th of Adar is disputed, with eminent authorities[8] insisting that his Yartzeit is to be observed on the 7th of Shevat. Nonetheless, there exists a concept within Torah thought that it is a Divine sign of legitimacy when ambiguous matters have been mainstreamed by the entire nation.[9]

Some commentators suggest an additional reason as to why Rachel was buried in a separate location away from the other Patriarchs and Matriarchs. While prayer at Ma'arat Hamachpela is certainly meritorious and worthy of Divine favor, some suggest that prayer at the tomb of Rachel is even more powerful. Indeed, it is only Rachel that in addition to her inherent righteousness also has the tremendous merit to her credit for having saved her sister from embarrassment. It is owing to her concern about her sister's dignity over her own that God specifically shows Divine mercy to those who pray there.[10] Had she been buried along with everyone else we may not have been able to access her unique and independent potential.

Be sure to make every effort to pray at Rachel's Tomb along with everyone else – on the eleventh of Cheshvan, the date Klal Yisrael has chosen to observe her Yartzeit.[11]


[1] Bereishit 48:7
[2] Yalkut Shemoni;Shemot, Rabbeinu Bechaya;Shemot
[3] Jubilees 32:33
[4] Bereishit 35:16
[5] Siftei Chachamim ad. loc.
[6] Pesikta 3 s.v. Bayom Hashemini
[7] Cited in Meorot Natan;Hilchot Chanuka by Rabbi Yitzchak Natan Kupershtok, in the introduction.
[8] Magen Avraham O.C. 580:8 in the name of the Yalkut Shimoni. Further study is required to understand why the Yalkut is relied upon as the date observed for Rachel's Yartzeit, yet its registration of the Yartzeit for Moshe Rabbeinu has been rejected.
[9] See for example, Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 345:18 for a similar idea
[10] A "must read" Midrash about Rachel's merits is to be found in Eicha Rabba in the introduction.
[11] Concerning the accuracy of the site traditionally assumed to be that of Rachel's Tomb, see: http://www.vbm-torah.org/archive/parsha65/12-65vayechi.htm, by Rabbi Yakov Medan where an alternative site is suggested as well. For a deeper look into the issue of the accuracy of Rachel's Tomb see these Hebrew articles by Dr. Yoel Elitzur: http://www.Daat.ac.il/Daat/tanac...el/ elitzur1.htm, http://www.Daat.ac.il/Daat/tanac...el/ elitzur2.htm,and http://www.Daat.ac.il/Daat/tanac...el/ elitzur3.htm

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