Yaakov asked his son Yosef to inter him in the Cave of Machpelah. He took the opportunity to explain why he buried his mother on the road near Beit Lechem instead of bringing her to the Cave of Machpelah - so that the children of Israel on their way into exile would pray at her gravesite and ask her to intercede on their behalf. But why should Yosef come to terms with his mother’s loneliness? How could Yaakov sacrifice her comfort for something that would happen one thousand years later?
I Know You are Upset
Parshat Vayechi describes Yaakov’s conversation with Yosef regarding the burial place of his mother, Rachel: “As for me,” Yaakov said, “when I came from Padan, Rachel died in the land of Canaan on the way…and I buried her there on the way to Ephrat, which is Beit Lechem.”
There seems to be a contradiction: Yaakov is requesting that Yosef bring his body from Egypt to Canaan for burial; why would he mention that he didn’t do so for Rachel, Yosef’s mother?!
Rashi explains that Yaakov’s intention was to negate this argument. This was his point: “I burden you to bury me in Canaan, while I did not do so to your mother, for she died close to Beit Lechem…and I buried her there – I did not even take her to Beit Lechem to bring her into the Land (there is a separate discussion about the meaning of these words), and I know that you hold it against me. But you should know that I buried her there by Divine command, so that she would be of assistance to her children. When Nebuzaradan exiles them, and they pass by there, Rachel will emerge from her grave and weep and beg mercy for them, as it is said: “A voice is heard on high…Rachel is weeping for her children.” And Hashem answers her, “‘There is reward for your work,’ says the Lord,… ‘and the children shall return to their own border.’”
This tells us that the redemption comes through the intercession of Rachel. In the words of the verse, “There is reward for your work, says the Lord…and the children shall return to their own border.”
The Midrash brings more details: The prophet Jeremiah went to call Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov and Moshe to appease Hashem; “The Patriarchs and the Matriarchs went to appease Hashem…but He was not appeased. Then Rachel entered and stated before Him: ‘Master of the Universe…’ Hashem’s mercy was aroused and He said to her, “For you, Rachel, I will return them to their home. As the verse says, A voice is heard on high…Rachel crying for her children…there is reward for your deed…and the sons will return to their borders.” Clearly, it was Rachel in whose merit Hashem promised to return the Jewish people to their homeland.
Rachel’s True Joy
We still need to understand: How did Yaakov negate Yosef’s argument by explaining Rachel’s part in the salvation from Nebuzaradan. Why should Rachel need to suffer because of that situation?
The explanation is straightforward: Because Rachel knew that she would be of assistance to her children on their way to exile, she was not upset about her burial on the roadside. To the contrary, the fact that she could be of assistance to her children brought her joy, knowing that Hashem’s promise of redemption will come through her.
Obviously, Rachel’s joy at the prospect of helping her children negated Yosef’s complaint against his father, because he sought only his mother’s well-being and satisfaction. Once Yaakov explained that Rachel’s burial on the “road to Efrat” was for her own good, “to be of assistance to her children,” he was appeased.
This teaches us an amazing lesson about our Matriarch Rachel. She was willing to forgo the merit of burial in the Cave of Machpelah, and joyfully so, all in order to come to her children’s side in their time of need.
Think about it: Rachel surely appreciated Yaakov’s greatness. [Especially according to Rashi’s teaching that the Matriarchs were all prophetesses, and that their level of prophecy was superior to the prophecy of Abraham]. She therefore surely understood the privilege of being buried next to Yaakov, and especially in the Cave of Machpelah, the burial place of Yitzchak and Rivkah, Avraham and Sarah, and Adam and Chava. That being the case, she no doubt desired to be buried in the Cave of Machpelah with her husband Yaakov.
Nonetheless, knowing that a day would come and Nevuzradan will exile her children from the Land of Israel, Rachel gave up on the merit to be buried with Yaakov at the Cave of Machpelah and preferred burial on the road to Efrat, to be of assistance to her children when Nebuzaradan exiles them; “when they pass by there, Rachel will emerge from her grave and weep and beg mercy for them, and Hashem will answer, ‘the sons will return to their borders!’”
We see here the profound dedication of Rachel and her care for her children. On one hand, she has the opportunity to be buried in the Cave of Machpelah together with Yaakov for hundreds and thousands of years. On the other hand, are her children many generations into the future, who will be in such a low spiritual state that they are forced into exile, “we were exiled due to our sins.” Nebuzaradan has no personal power over the Jewish people; the fact that he exiled them was because they were deserving of exile.
Nonetheless, for the sake of those children who sinned and were being exiled, Rachel relinquishes her right to burial in the Cave of Machpelah together with Yaakov for hundreds and thousands of years, as long as she can be of assistance to her children!!
In fact, how could she possibly rest peacefully at the Cave of Machpelah, while her children are suffering in exile?!
The Merit to Bring Redemption
In fact, her burial there is why she merited to bring about Hashem’s promise, “the sons will return to their borders.” Yaakov went to rest in the Cave of Machpelah together with the rest of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.
But Rachel our Mother couldn’t bring herself to rest peacefully in the Cave of Machpelah. She remained on the roadside on the way to Efrat, to stand guard and assist her children as they went into exile. Therefore, she was the one to arouse Hashem’s mercy; she told Hashem, “Who has greater mercy, You or a person of flesh and blood?” and immediately, the Midrash writes, Hashem’s mercy was aroused and He said to her, “For you, Rachel, I will return them to their home…and the sons will return to their borders.”
(Shabbat Vayechi 5746. Hisvaaduyos 5746 vol. 2 pg. 311. See also Likutei Sichos vol. 30 pg. 236).