August 7, 2018

How we live and how we advocate (Vayishlach)

One of the saddest moments throughout Tanach is found in Parshat Vayishlach when read about the death of Rachel who died while giving birth to her son Binyamin:
‘…as she breathed her last, she named the child Ben-Oni (My Sorrow’s Son). His father called him Benjamin. Rachel died and was buried on the road to Ephrath, now known as Bet-Lehem. Jacob set up a monument on her grave [and] this is the monument that is on Rachel’s grave to this very day.’ (Bereishit 35:18-20).
It is noteworthy that Rachel is buried in Bet-Lehem, while the other Patriarchs & Matriarchs are buried in the Cave of Machpelah in Hevron. According to our Sages (see Rashi’s commentary to Bereishit 48:7), this was not merely decided for reasons of convenience. Instead, it was ‘so that she will be a help for her children’, and this will occur when the Jewish nation will pass her grave during times of distress, at which time she will ‘weep, begging for compassion for them’.
In seeking to explain the power of Rachel’s tears, the Midrash (introduction to Eichah Rabbah) reminds us how Rachel gave up her right to first marry Yaakov while also protecting the dignity of her sister Leah, and it then explains that, upon her death, Rachel beseeched God and pleaded that He too should protect the Jewish nation from all trouble and distress.
While there are a variety of lessons one could draw from these sources, it seems clear from the above-mentioned Midrash that the way we behave to others in this world impacts the way we are able to advocate for others in the next world, and that we can – and should – draw chizuk (strength) from the examples set by great people. Sadly, in the past few weeks, many lives have been cut short by acts of terror, and while every life is precious and every loss is great, I – along with many of my students – were particularly shocked by the murder of Ezra Schwartz z’’l especially since his sister, Mollie, was one of my students at Machon Ma’ayan.
But Ezra Schwartz should not be remembered by his death. Instead, having read about his life, and having spoken with Mollie, it is very clear that Ezra lived a life for others, and inspired by the great acts of our Matriarch Rachel, he protected others and he thought about the needs of others.
May God protect us from all further trouble and distress, and may those who are mourning find comfort in the good that will be done in the honour and memory of their dearly departed.

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