Monday, December 5, 2016

Rachel's Secret

Rav Lipman Podolsky z"l 

At the time of this writing [5761], Palestinian terrorists are brazenly attempting to capture Kever Rachel, Rachel's tomb. What relevance do they have to the tomb of our Bubby Rachel? How can we bring this nonsensical act into the realm of understanding?

"And it was, in the morning, that behold it was Leah (Breishis 29:25)!" Note the difficulty: Was she not Leah the evening before as well? Thus, explains Rashi, that in the evening, under the Chuppah, Yaakov actually thought Leah was Rachel. Yaakov and Rachel, in anticipation of Lavan's treachery, devised a secret sign to allow Yaakov to disclose the deception. However, when Rachel saw her father setting up Leah in her place, she had a change of heart. "My sister will be mortified!" Rachel, overwhelmed by sympathy, gave the secret sign to her sister.

A superficial reading makes Rachel's act sound very nice and altruistic. After all, she spared her sister shame. Surely, each of us would have done the same.

Taking a deeper, more accurate look, however, we will discover that concealed between the lines lies a superhuman self-sacrifice of unparalleled proportions.

Remember, Yaakov worked for Rachel for seven years. Their profound love made it seem like only a few days (v. 20). During all this time, Rachel anticipated the day she would finally marry her beloved.

At the last minute, Rachel realized that her unscrupulous father had deceived them, and was dressing Leah in the wedding gown. How would we have felt under such circumstances? She was losing her husband! She had no way of knowing that Yaakov would agree afterward to marry her as well. As far as she was concerned, she was relinquishing Yaakov forever.

All Rachel had to do was make a scene so that Yaakov would realize that she was not the bride. But Rachel kept quiet. Moreover, she gave her sister the secret sign, so that Yaakov would think he was actually marrying Rachel. Rachel did everything possible to spare her sister disgrace. All this, despite the permanent loss of her husband.

In addition, Yaakov was not just a husband. He was to become the third and culminating patriarch of the Jewish nation. Rachel had a one-time opportunity to mother the Shivtei Kah, the tribes of Hashem.

Furthermore, by failing to marry Yaakov, Rachel would surely be suggested as a shidduch for the wicked Esav. "Everyone was saying: Rivka has two sons, and Lavan has two daughters. The older daughter for the older son, and the younger daughter for the younger son (Rashi 29:17)." Leah had been the natural bashert (intended) for Esav. Now that Leah was marrying Yaakov, Rachel would obviously be expected to marry Esav. Moreover, Esav apparently had his eyes set on Rachel (See Rashi 30:22,33:7). Rachel was systematically forfeiting absolutely everything for her sister's sake!

But the greatest question of all: Why did Rachel do it? Why didn't she protest this grave injustice? And why did she provide Leah with the secret sign?

Says the Mishna: "One who humiliates his friend publicly... though he may have Torah and good deeds, he has no share in the World to Come (Avos 3:11)." A person can be a consummate Tzaddik, he can learn Torah 24/7, he can donate one fifth of his income to Tzedaka, he can dedicate his life to helping others, yet he will have no place in the Afterlife!

"All who descend to Gehinnom ascend except for three, who descend and never ascend... and a person who humiliates his friend publicly." What goes down, must come up. Except for this.

"A person should sooner throw himself into a fiery furnace, before he embarrasses his friend publicly (Kesuvos 67b)." According to some opinions, a person is obligated to give up his life before humiliating someone! (Tosfos, Sotah 10b; Shaarei Teshuva 3:139; Minchas Shlomo I:7)

Consequently, Rachel did not protest. Had she made a scene, what would she have gained? She may have married Yaakov, mothered the twelve tribes, and spared herself a life with Esav, but in the end she would have lost. Of what benefit are all these things if one has no place to enjoy it after all is said and done?

But from Rachel, we learn an additional lesson. To absolve herself from eternal condemnation, it would have been sufficient to keep quiet. Any shame Leah experienced would have been attributed to her father, Lavan. Yet Rachel did far more that simply keep quiet. She gave the secret code to Leah. Totally beyond anyone's expectations, Rachel went the extra mile to spare Leah pain.

What reward did Rachel receive for her unrivaled self-sacrifice? First of all, she lost nothing. Human logic dictates that a person is justified in cutting corners to receive what he feels is coming to him. Had Rachel cut corners, had she contributed even indirectly to her sister's humiliation, she would have ended up bankrupt. By doing what was right, Rachel lost nothing. She married Yaakov, became one of the matriarchs, and thus stayed out of the clutches of Esav.

Furthermore, let us not forget that Rachel was born barren; she was incapable of giving birth (Breishis 29:31). Had she protested, and subsequently married Yaakov in a straightforward manner, she may never have mothered a child. It was solely due to her willingness to forego her future that she attained motherhood (See Rashi 30:22).

But the greatest reward of all is evident from the Medrash (Introduction to Eichah Rabba). After the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash, various Tzaddikim arose to plead on behalf of the Jewish people. It was an all-star cast. Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, etc., all tried to rescind the tragic decree and to restore the Jewish people to their former glory. One by one, their prayers were rejected by Hashem; All their vast merits did not help them! Finally, one last voice made itself heard:

"At that moment, Rachel our mother jumped up and said to Hashem, 'Master of the universe, You well know that Your servant Yaakov loved me deeply, and he worked for my father for seven years. When those seven years were up and the time of my wedding to my husband arrived, my father schemed to substitute my sister for me, and this was terribly difficult for me. I informed my husband, and I gave him a sign so that he could distinguish between my sister and me, to thwart my father's scheme. Afterwards, I regretted what I had done, and I suppressed my yearning. I had mercy on my sister, so that she would feel no shame. In the evening, they gave my sister to my husband in my stead, and I gave my sister all of the signs that I had given to my husband, so that he would think she was Rachel... I was not jealous of her, and I did not humiliate her. If I, mere flesh and blood, dust and ashes, did not envy my competitor and did not humiliate her, You, the everlasting, merciful King, why did You envy idolatry which has no substance, and You exiled my children, and they were killed by the sword, and the enemies did with them as they pleased?'

"Immediately, Hashem's mercy was aroused and He said, 'For you, Rachel, will I return Yisrael to their place.' As it is written, 'Thus said Hashem, A voice is heard on high, wailing, bitter weeping, Rachel weeps for her children; she refuses to be consoled for her children, for they are gone. Thus said Hashem, Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears; for there is reward for your accomplishment and they will return from the enemy's land. There is hope for your future and your children will return to their border.'(Yirmiyah 31:14-16)"

The secret to our success and to our ultimate redemption was revealed by Rachel Imeinu. Follow in her footsteps, develop sensitivities to our fellow man, abstain from embarrassing others, and Hashem will rescue us posthaste. The Palestinians, hoping to break our spirit, focus their rage on a tomb. Unbeknownst to them, the real secret lies within us.

"There is hope for your future your children will return!"