Keeping The Tomb Of Rachel
Open To Her Chidren
by Sharon Katz


For the first time in more than 150 years, a Jewish building has been erected in Bethlehem, with the approval of Minister of Religious Affairs, Shimon Shitreet.

Hundreds of people, among them leading rabbis and politicians, attended a special ceremony this week when the Yeshiva of Rachel's Tomb erected its study hall.

The Yeshiva of Rachel's Tomb (Yeshivat Kever Rachel Emainu) was established adjacent to Rachel's Tomb on the day after the celebration of the Shavuot holiday by Shomrei Efrat and NRP Knesset Member Chanan Porat. With the threat of the Palestinian police force entering Bethlehem and taking control of the area, the post-army students learning there will ensure a Jewish presence on a daily basis, in Rachel's Tomb and in Bethlehem, the city of Rachel, Ruth and David. If the need arises, the Yeshiva will provide safety for all those wishing to visit the tomb.

The Yeshiva is of paramount importance. It reinforces Jewish sovereignty at Rachel's Tomb and ensures free access to all people who wish to find solice and comfort within its walls. The Yeshiva will also provide transportation from the Gilo Junction to Rachel's Tomb for all visitors in need of it.

Ever since the Yeshiva was established on June 7th, it has been flooded with requests from all over the world for the students to pray at Rachel's Tomb for ill and unfortunate individuals.

MK Hanan Porat told the crowd at the dedication this week that Rachel's Tomb and this area of Bethlehem should be considered part of Greater Jerusalem.

During the past 2500 years, the only time in Jewish history that the Tomb of Rachel was isolated from her children was during the years it was under Jordanian occupation from 1948-1967. Even during the Roman rule of Israel, when Jews were not allowed near Jerusalem, and during the hundreds of years
that the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron was forbidden to Jewish worshippers, the Tomb of Rachel remained accessible to the people of Israel. It remained throughout our history a symbol as the one place our people could always go to pour out their hearts in prayer.

Indeed, Rachel has been seen throughout the generations as the classic sympathetic Jewish mother. Rachel, the beautiful daughter of Lavan, whose selflessness and goodness led her to give her betrothed to her sister for a husband; Rachel, the favored and beloved wife of Jacob; Rachel, the barren woman whose heartwrenching pleas led to the birth of Joseph and Benjamin; Rachel, who died in childbirth, and who was buried "along the way" so that she could comfort her children going into exile...

Rachel, the poetic, metaphoric figure who wept, and would not be comforted for her children, until the words of Jeremiah, "Thus says the Lord, 'Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded...and they shall return from the land of the enemy. There is hope for the future,' says the Lord, 'and the children will return to their borders.' "

The Tomb of Rachel is not a symbol of death, but of life, of roots and continuity for the Jewish people. The site has always proven the source of empathy for the Jewish woman. While sorrow and grief were part of her life, Rachel accepted her sorrow with equanimity. In many ways she represents the Jewish woman in every generation.

Till this day, women from throughout the world come to pray at her grave. They pray for health, for birth, for happiness, for spiritual repair. They see in Rachel the mother of all Israel, a source of comfort and hope, a source of mercy, a loving soul to whom they can pour out their hearts. Rachel won the mercy of heaven and changed from a woman with no sons to Mother of all Israel.

It was only natural that after the Holocaust a menorah, in memorial of the six million Jews who died, was place next to her grave.

But just as Rachel was the symbol of the broken-hearted cry for her children who had died, so too she became the inspiration for the rebirth of the Jewish nation, and the Reestablishment of the State of Israel.

When the Jewish nation was exiled after the destruction of the Holy Temple, the prophet Jeremiah revealed that G-d had told the weeping Rachel that one day her children would return to their borders. Eventually the prophesy of Jeremiah was fulfilled. In 1967, following the liberation of the Kotel (Western Wall) and Jerusalem - Bethlehem, Hebron and Shechem, instead of becoming spearheads for the advancing Jordanian army and the planned destruction of the State of Israel, these holy cities fell into the hands of the Israeli army.

Numerous soldiers testified that as they approached Rachel's Tomb from afar they saw a vision of a woman calling to them, "V'shavu banim l'gvulam" , "Your children will return to their borders". A reporter who interviewed these soldiers said the liberation of their Mother Rachel encouraged them to advance to the resting place of their other ancestors in Hebron, which was liberated without firing a shingle shot, and Shechem, where Joseph, the son of Rachel, is buried.

It is a tradition to wrap a red string around the tomb seven times and recite Psalm 33. The red string symbolizes the seven times a bride walks around the groom under the wedding canopy, because Rachel loved her sister Leah enough to give her as a wife to her betrothed, Jacob. The same string, or a piece of it, is then wrapped around the bed of a sick person for a speedy recovery, the crib of a newborn, or around the wrist of anyone who feels in need of protection or help.

Some people take from the earth around the Tomb of Rachel to place in coffins of Jews buried outside the land of Israel. In death, as in life, our Mother Rachel has been the one to provide our people with a link to the eternity of our nation.

TODAY RACHEL IS ON THE BRINK ONCE AGAIN OF BEING SEPARATED FROM HER CHILDREN. Only an outcry among world Jewry and people of conscience everywhere, regardless of their creed, can prevent the grave of our matriarch from being torn away from her children.

Taken from "Shomrei Efrat"

The Friends of Rachel's Tomb
Dale Baranowski, Director, P.O. Box 24, 9094200 Elazar, Israel

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