Rabbi Moshe Wolfson on Vayeitxe
Part 2: Rachel Mothers the Jewish People During Exile
Yaakov’s Meets Rachel Herding her Father’s Sheep
As mentioned in the beginning of Part 1, when Yaakov arrived at Charan he found a few shepherds idling at the well. When Yaakov asked them why they weren’t watering their flocks, they explained that the boulder which covered the mouth of the well could only be lifted through the combined effort of all the shepherds and they were waiting for the other herders to arrive. As they were talking, Rachel arrived together with the sheep of her father, Lavan. When Yaakov saw Rachel and the sheep of Lavan, he stepped over to the well, rolled off the stone and watered Lavan’s sheep.
In relating this episode, the verse1 makes it very clear that Yaakov lifted the stone off
the well not only for Rachel’s sake, but for the sake of Lavan’s sheep too and it mentions Rachel in the same phrase as the sheep as if they were both of equal importance. What was the significance of these sheep that they deserve mention together with our noble matriarch Rachel? Were they anything more than just the property of Yaakov’s future bride’s father?
A History of Jewish Souls
These sheep, Zohar explains, were no ordinary livestock. Through explaining the significance of these animals, Zohar lifts the veil of the physical world, allowing us a glimpse of the inner workings of the first two thousand years of history. Says Zohar: there are 600,000 primary Jewish souls.2 All of these had to be born and developed into mature people in order to form the nation which could receive the Torah. The 600,000 adult males3 who left Egypt and were present at Har Sinai were these souls.
However, Jewish souls had not been born for the first time in Egypt. Hashem had already sent these souls down in order to give them the Torah twice, once during the generation of the Mabul and again during the Dor Haflaga, generation of Dispersion, both attempts ending in failure. Noach was supposed to have given the Torah to the people of his generation4, but was unable to do so due to their terrible sinning. Instead of readying themselves for receiving the Torah, both of these generations sinned grievously and were thus tragically destroyed.
After their second decent to this world during which they again sinned terribly, the state of Jewish souls was dismal. They had corrupted themselves to the point of not only being
1 Bereishis 29:10
2 When there are more than 600,000 Jews it means that each individual has only a part of one of these souls.
3 Each man’s wife was the other half of his soul. This is explained much more deeply in Section 1, Chapter 6, “The Origin of the Jewish People and of Jewish Marriages.”
4 Kabbalah teaches that he had the soul of Moshe Rabbeinu.
unworthy of forming the nation of God, but of even being born as human beings. They could only be born again as animals.
The idea of human souls being born into animals should not be as strange to us as it seems. Don’t we all know of people who, although they wear respectable suits, matching ties and perfectly gelled hairdos, are jealous and wily like snakes, viscously violent as lions, or full of lust like dogs? These people have followed their base temptation time enough to reduce the state of their souls to be fitting to be born again as animals.
A very materialistic man was walking up the stairs of the Rebbe of Rizhin’s house. The Rebbe asked his attendant, “Who is this cow who is walking up the steps?” The Rebbe saw only the spiritual essence of every physical entity, and this man, by constantly gratifying the animal side of his personality, had corrupted his soul so that it became fitting for an animal. 5
Jewish souls began being born as Lavan’s sheep and not arbitrarily. For as discussed in Part 1 of Mearas HaMachpelah, a person can purify and elevate himself until he becomes so Godly that he embodies Godliness itself, and here we will state that the opposite is also true. Through continuous sinning a person can corrupt himself to the point that the evil forces find his being suitable as their dwelling.
Lavan was so terrible a sinner that the chief of evil forces, the Satan himself, found his home and his being a haven. Jewish souls, having followed the directives of the Satan in previous lifetimes, placed themselves under his terrible jurisdiction and when born again as animals found themselves as the possessions of Lavan, the Satan’s embodiment.
Yaakov’s Role in Rectifying and Redeeming Jewish Souls
However, Hashem ensures that no soul can be eternally damned and that is why He gave tzaddikim the power of rectifying and elevating souls who, through their sin, rendered themselves unable of doing so themselves.6 The tzaddik chosen for the task of rehabilitating all 600,000 Jewish souls was Yaakov.
Yaakov spent fourteen years spiritually preparing himself for this enormously difficult task in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever and when done he descended into the bitter exile where Jewish souls found themselves and began rectifying them, thus releasing them from Lavan’s clutches.
At the end of his stay at Lavan, the Midrash teaches, Yaakov had acquired 600,000 flocks of sheep.7 This means that he had succeeded in his task; all of the 600,000 primary Jewish soul
5 This story is brought down in the Sefer, Mizkenan Esbonan, a sefer of stories told over by the Rebbes of Slonim. 6 Although the concept of tzaddikim rectifying souls may be difficult for some to digest, there are still people alive today who can have been in contact with Tzaddikim who were renown as being constantly occupied rectifying the thousands of souls who would come to them for a tikun. Among these tzaddikim were the Rebbes of Belze, the Ribnitze Rebbe and R’ Shlomke Zville.
7 Rabbah, Bereishis 73:11 Each of the 600,000 souls are primary souls and can be subdivided into many people.
had been released from Lavan’s captivity and were in the possession of their loving Patriarch Yaakov who brought them to Eretz Yisrael.8
Slowly, they began being born as member of the Jewish people and were purified in the crucible of suffering that was Egypt until they were ready to receive the Torah.9
Rachel Cares for Jewish Souls in Exile
Before Yaakov arrived at Charan, these souls were alone in their bitter spiritual exile under the control of Lavan’s demons. Were Jewish souls then completely alone? Is there anyone who is granted the task of descending along with Jewish souls into the darkest depth of depravity and caring for them even there? During exile, when Jewish souls are banished to settings bereft of goodness, are they all alone? Is there any aspect of Godliness which remains at the side of a Jew in even the lowliest dungeon of hell?
Yes. In Part 1, we discussed that Rachel was the person who embodied the Perceptible Shechina, the aspect of Godliness which is present in the physical world. Although during exile the Perceptible Shechina is cloaked in layers of inky blackness and that is why we can so little perceive Godliness then, this does not mean that God’s presence abandons us. Even in our darkest moments, Rachel’s aspect of Godliness, the Perceptible Shechina accompanies us.
It is perhaps unseen, but definitely present, and serves the role of the loving, compassionate mother who silently and lovingly cares for both the spiritual and physical needs of her downtrodden, punished children. The Perceptible Shechina cries with Jews in exile, feeling the pain of every whiplash and hunger pang and ensures our physical and spiritual survival. Rachel, who embodies this aspect of Shechina, acutely feels the physical agony and painful spiritual emptiness endured by her children in exile and that is why it is Rachel’s cry on behalf of the Jewish people which can be heard echoing in Ramah until this day, as Yirmiyahu relates.
Yaakov Waters the Sheep
When Yaakov saw Rachel, he immediately understood that she represented the Perceptible Shechina who descends into exile along with the Jewish people and that the sheep of Lavan were exiled Jewish souls whom she was caring for, comforting, and crying with. He was immediately overcome by an overwhelming desire to do something for these poor Jewish souls; to somehow make their exile easier for them; to help them hold out until they would be able to
8 There were tzaddikim who remembered their previous incarnations. Among them were the Yismach Moshe and Rebbe of Apt. These tzaddikim remembered being sheep under Yaakov’s care and were even able to teach their disciples the song which Yaakov had played to them on his flute (Chassidim today still know this tune). The Yismach Moshe pointed to a mark on his shoulder he had received from a bang of Yaakov’s stick. May we all merit finding a mark within ourselves inflicted by the sweet, holy stick of Yaakov.
9 Knowing the history of Jewish souls enables us to understand the Divine justness of tiny babies being made to
suffer so terribly drowning in the Nile and being built into the pyramids. There were those who had sinned many times during the generation of the Mabul but had been drowned only once and had to be born again to drown again and thus achieve rectification. Those who had sinned building the Tower of Babel had to be born again and built into the buildings to have the stains on their souls cleansed.
be redeemed. He wished to roll the heavy stone of despair off their hearts and therefore immediately rolled the stone off the well.10
Yaakov understood that he could not redeem them from Lavan right away because they were not yet ready. He offered to work for Lavan for seven years during which he would serve as their shepherd, rectifying them so that they could be born as his descendents.
Rachel Cries With Us and For Us in Exile
Rachel’s primary task was to care for the exiled Jewish souls. Therefore, she died as soon as Yaakov and his young family along with their livestock entered Eretz Yisrael. She was interred on the open road so that she would immediately be ready to resume her role again when the Jews would be exiled after the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash.
On the way to exile they would pass by her tombstone and fling themselves upon it begging Hashem for mercy and protection. Rachel would once again bear the heavy yoke of Jewish pain in exile. Yirmiyahu describes her cries, “A voice was heard in Ramah, sighing and bitter wailing, Rachel is crying for her children’s sake.” Rachel still cries, Zohar teaches, she continues to cry throughout the entire exile.
The Rebbe of Sadiger said that he saw a vision of his father, the Rebbe of Rizhin, after he had already passed away, standing bent over a torrential river. The Rizhiner explained to his son that this river is composed of Jewish tears in exile.
Kever Rachel is where Jewish tears gather to form this raging river.
Rachel is not passive. She rents the heavens with her tears. Out of all the great leaders of the Jewish people it was she who extracted the promise of the Ultimate Redemption from Hashem (see Part 3). Her tears protect the Jewish people. Today, when the Jewish people are in so much danger, if we find ourselves by Kever Rachel, we should pray for a salvation and arouse our mother to cry harder for our sake.
A Loving Mother
In Rachel we always find the loving, empathetic ear of a mother. She rejoices in our successes, takes pleasure in our happiness and cries with us and for us so that we be relieved of our troubles.
The Lelover Rebbe came to Kever Rachel on 11 Cheshvan, the day when Rachel died. He saw groups of Sephardic Jews making big Seudos (banquets). It bothered him that people were feasting in such a holy place until one Sephardic man came over to him and said, “A mother likes to see her children eating!” Since then the Rebbe himself began making Seudos here.
His son-in-law, being a Satmar chassid, followed the directives of the Satmar Rebbe who forbade going to any of the sites captured by the Zionist army during the ’67 war in order to express protest of the anti-Torah ideology of the
10 A well, the Midrash teaches, hints to the Jewish people.
Zionists. However, the Lelover Rebbe advised him to go to Kever Rachel anyways because, ןטעב סעלא ןעמ ןעק עמאמ א ייב, from a mother one can ask for anything.
Zohar tells us that whenever the Jewish people are in trouble and need a Yeshua they can go to Kever Rachel and pray there. With her prayers she effects more salvations than any of our other great ancestors. By Kever Rachel we can pray for anything, be it a personal, communal or global yeshua and know that we will be helped.
As Yaakov herded the sheep, he continuously recited the fifteen Shir Hamalos. It is very appropriate to recite these fifteen chapters of Tehilim by the burial place of Rachel, who the Torah records as his primary wife. When we recite the Shir Hamalos by Kever Rachel Imeinu, our recital is magnified in its intensity and power because we can be sure that Yaakov recites them along with us.
Each of the daily prayers was established by another one of the Patriarchs. The evening prayer, Maariv, is Yaakov’s prayer and therefore one should endeavor to daven Maariv at the burial site of his wife, Rachel.
Hashem should help that our Tefilos at Kever Rachel should join with those of the entire Jewish people, with the prayers of the tzaddikim of the generations who poured their hearts out in this place, and with Rachel Imeinu’s continuous entreaties on our behalf to effect a permanent Yeshuah, salvation, so that Hashem should take His sheep out of exile and reveal His light upon the entire world.