"The children struggled inside her" [Toldos 25:22]
Why is it, asked the Chasam Sofer R' Moshe Sofer, that when Rivkah passed the beis midrash, Yaakov attempted to escape from her womb? After all, Chazal teach us that during the time a child is in its mother's womb, an angel comes and teaches it the entire Torah. Did Yaakov think that he would actually be able to lean more in the beis midrash than he would from the angel?
The answer, said the Chasam Sofer, is that though Yaakov was learning the entire Torah from the mouth of an angel, he was forced to do so in the presence of Esav. Yaakov preferred to learn Torah in a beis midrash, free from the company of his wicked brother, than to be taught the entire Torah directly from the mouth of a holy angel !
From the words of the Chasam Sofer we are able to learn, remarked the Chofetz Chaim, just how important it is to stay far away from people who may have a negative influence on us.
Rashi comments: "Because he saw that the waters went up toward her".
Where does the verse indicate, asks the Ramban, that the waters actually went up toward her?
Later on, answers the Ramban, the verse states: "She drew for all his camels" [24:20]. In this verse, however, we find no mention of Rivkah "drawing" any water. This teaches us that Rivkah, in fact, had no need to draw water for the water rose up toward her.
Yet, asked R' Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, why did the water not rise for her when she drew water for Eliezer's camels?
Initially, Rivkah had gone to draw water for her own personal needs. In order that the tzaddekes should not have to burden herself with the task of drawing water, the water, instead, rose to her. However, when Rivkah went to draw water for Eliezer's camels, she had undertaken to perform a mitzvah. Heaven wanted Rivkah to earn as much merit as possible for her act of kindness, so, this time, the water was not allowed to rise for her. In this way, Rivkah would receive maximum merit for performing this mitzvah, for as Chazal teach us, "According to the exertion is the merit". [Avos 5:26] Thus the more she exerted herself, the more merit she would receive.
One of the most important days in the month of Cheshvan is the 11th, which commemorates the day of passing of our matriarch Rachel. Rachel was Jacob's most beloved wife and was the principal of his household and thus the principal of the entire house of Israel. From the first day of the year, the 1st day of Tishrei, the 11th day of Cheshvan is the 41st day. 41 is the numerical value of the Hebrew word "eim," which means "mother," thus the 11th of Cheshvan is truly the Jewish Mother's Day.
"Rachel cries for her children, she will not be comforted…"
Rachel constantly mourns over the exile of her children, the Jewish people, and the Almighty comforts her with the words: "Withhold your voice from crying and your eyes from tearing, for there is a reward for your actions… and the children will return to their border." Literally, "return to their border" refers to the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. But, more deeply, it refers to the return of our people to our natural spiritual environs: Judaism and our ancestral Jewish nature. These are the borders that truly circumscribe the uniqueness of our people. Amazingly, numerically, the value of the Hebrew word for "border" (g'vul / גבול) is exactly the same as the value of the word for "mother" (eim / אם); both equal 41.
In Hebrew, Cheshvan is written with the four letters: חשון. The borders (the first and last letters) of Cheshvan are chet - ח and nun - ן, which together spell the word chein - חן, meaning "beauty." The word chein - חן, "beauty" equals 58. The 58th day of the year is the 28th day of Cheshvan.
Rachel is described as the most beautiful woman in the Torah. The numerical value of the two middle letters, shin and vov, שו, is equal to isha -אשה , meaning "woman." Thus, the name of the month itself hints at the special and unique grace endowed to women.
King Solomon says that external beauty by itself is deceitful. If external beauty is all that a woman seeks then the name of the month becomes Marcheshvan, which means Bitter-Cheshvan. It is of such a woman King Solomon says: "And I find the woman to be more bitter than death." But, of true beauty, the beauty of a Jewish woman that emanates from within, he says: "The woman of beauty shall support honor." This true beauty is given to us, the Jewish people, by G‑d through the Torah, for "there is no truth but Torah" and "there is no honor but Torah."
It was Rachel, who was first endowed with this real beauty. Rachel is described as the most beautiful woman in the Torah, "She had a beautiful face and a beautiful figure." Thus, Rachel was the embodiment of the verse: "A woman who fears G‑d, she shall be praised," praised both for her grace and true beauty.
The beauty of the Jewish woman is not just a passive agent of spirituality. The sages teach that the offspring of Esau and his grandson Amalek can be defeated only by the children of Rachel.
Who embodies the spirit of Amalek in our day and age? In Hebrew, the words "Amalek" (עמלק) and "doubt" (safek / ספק) have the same numerical value. Thus, the spirit of Amalek that continues to plague each and every Jew is doubt; doubt in our faith, doubt in our Torah, and doubt in ourselves and the moral justification of our path.
But, sometimes the spirit of Amalek becomes bolder and captures a Jew (whether he be a private individual or a political figure) to the point of driving him or her to unconscious or even conscious self-hatred. This can result in a Jew's cooperation with the enemies of our people.
Finally there are the direct spiritual offspring of Amalek: those enemies who threaten the lives of Jews and our return to the Land of Israel.
The sages say that beauty is a woman's weapon. With everything that we have said about Rachel, her role as our matriarch, as the progenitor of Jewish nature, and of her beauty, it should now be clear that our weapon for defeating Amalek is the special beauty and grace of the Jewish mother. Joseph the tzaddik (righteous one) inherited his mother Rachel's beauty and he too is described as having a beautiful face and a beautiful figure. That is why the prophet says about him that "the house of Jacob will be fire and the house of Joseph its flame and the house of Esau straw, and together they will ignite him and consume him; and there will be no remnant for the house of Esau."
True Jewish beauty and grace destroy the enemy indirectly but, beauty is no regular weapon. True grace and beauty work by attracting the sparks of holiness that are bound within the enemy. These sparks are G‑d's will that the enemy still exist. Yet, when they are redeemed by their attraction to true beauty, they escape the enemy's grasp, leaving him void of any Divine source and causing his demise. True Jewish beauty and grace destroy the enemy indirectly by leaving him void of any beauty or grace himself, making him irrelevant and powerless.
The battle against Amalek in our generation must be conducted primarily with our ability to communicate to all around us the true nature of Jewish beauty and grace. It is to this beauty of Jewish nature and character that we return during the month of Cheshvan by reconnecting with our matriarch Rachel, with our own Jewish nature, and with ourselves.
Rachel lost her own spiritual luxury - the privilege of being buried in the Cave of Machpeilah - in order to help her children. This represents the unparalleled quality of the "Jewish mother" who is always willing to sacifice her own needs, spiritual or physical, for the sake of helping her children.
And this is the inner reason why Jewish identity follows the maternal and not the paternal route. For even though the father possesses a greater degree of spirituality - since he has the privilege of observing more mitzvos than a woman - the quality of a Jewish mother is nevertheless greater, that she is willing to forego much of that spirituality in order to enable her to raise a family with tender loving care. And since this quality is even more quintessentially Jewish than the spirituality of the man, it is the mother that actually makes her children Jewish.
Based on Likutei Sichos of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Parshas Vayechi: Gutnick Chumash
Mama Rochel understood that tending to a broken heart comes above even Kavod Hashem....
When Rochel, out of frustration, complained to Yaakov about not having children, Yaakov got angry with her. The mefarshim say, based on a medrash, that Yaakov was punished for getting angry at Rochel and telling her that she needs to daven to Hashem and not complain to him.
Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro points out that Yaakov was defending Kavod Shamayim (the honor of Heaven) and was correct that Rochel's complaints were unjustified. His mistake was that he addressed the words that she spoke and not the pain in her heart. Had he pierced the veil of her soul, he would have known that because of her anguish, the words escaped her mouth and she was not accountable for them. He should have been slower to defend Kavod Shamayim and faster to understand human suffering.
This he explains was the greatness of Rochel. After the destruction of the first Temple, when Bnei Yisroel went into Galus, all the Avos and Imahos came before Hashem with all their great zechusim but were turned away empty handed. All the heroism of the Akeida, Yaakov's Torah, and lives of pure mesiras nefesh to build Klal Yisroel, did not impress Hashem in that dark moment of history.
The only one who merited Hashem's attention was Rochel Imeinu. What was her great act that warranted this special treatment? That she gave the simanim to her sister and helped fool Yaakov. With this bravery, in her mind, she was sabotaging the history of the Jewish nation since she understood that it was her and Yaakov that were destined to build the nation. Nevertheless she chose to cast aside her own destiny and Hashem's grand plan in order to save her sister from a single embarrassing moment.
Only Rochel, who had such a deep understanding of another person's pain and how it carries more weight than the entire Jewish experience, can be Hashem's emissary to bring his children's pain before Him. Only tears from Mama Rochel can bring the Geula.
“A blessing rests only on something that is hidden from the eye.” [Taanit 5b]
"And they gave their father wine to drink on that night....."[Vayeira 19:33]
According to the Zohar, the dot on the word - וּבְקוּמָהּ - alludes to the fact that God was secretly assisting this event, because Moshiach was to materialize from it, since Ruth, King David's mother, was a convert from the Moabites.
The latter event between Lot and his younger daughter [19:35] is written without the letter vav, to indicate that the union did not produce such great offspring. Rabbi Shimon said "When the verses states that Lot wasn't aware, it means he wasn't aware that Moshiach was destined to come from this union."
Why should the beginnings of Moshiach occur in such an undignified manner?
Ramak explains that when a very lofty soul is about to descend into the world, the forces of kelipah [evil] oppose the soul's descent vehemently. Sometimes, however, kelipah will consent to the soul's descent if it occurs amidst a particularly sinful act. Thus we find that from this undesirable act the ancestor of Moshiach was born.
When one looks deeply and intently at someone else, that person will turn around and return the look, because the penetrating gaze awakens the core of the soul. You have made a "connection". A spiritual connection.
Thought has the same effect. Bringing someone to mind has the effect of arousing that person's innermost powers. Bringing someone to mind when praying is beneficial to both parties: to the one doing the praying, and the one being prayed for. "We pray for Rachamim, for Compassion. The Gemara says, "Even if the sword is on your neck, don't refrain from Rachamim. " This is usually interpreted, "Don't stop praying, asking G-d for compassion."
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach zt"l wrote: Reb Berish Aushpitziner interpreted it differently, "What do you do at the last minute if the sword is on your neck? At that moment the only thing you can do is have compassion on somebody else. Then you open gates in Heaven for compassion, and it can come to you too. HAVE Rachamim, don't ask for it."
Rachamim is on the level of prophecy. If I have compassion on somebody who is in bad shape, then I have a vision of how that person could be. I compare what he is to what he could be and I say, "Oy Vey, I have to help you to get there." This is very important for peace, because sometimes we don't want to make peace with someone because we lost the vision of how that person could be. The highest peace between people is when they know how each other could be, and how they will be.
A person has to live in two worlds. We have to live in a world where there is evil and we are fighting it, and we have to live in a world where there is no evil, like after Moshiach has come. The highest combination of these two worlds is Rachamim. That means I see you the way you are, but I also know how you could be on the Moshiach level.
When someone has pain, and I feel that pain, that means I love the person. If someone hurts himself and has a little bit of pain, deep down it brings back all the pain he ever went through. If you are connected to him on the level of Rachamim then you feel with him all the pain he ever felt, in this lifetime and in other lifetimes. If you feel that pain, you have to make peace with the other person, and you also know how to do it. "
To pray for someone else, visualize that person, have them in mind as you pray. The compassion that you are asking Heaven to show them, will also be shown to you. If you Daven for someone else, that which you Daven for will be given to you first.
I was always under the impression that Judaism firmly believed that there are no intermediaries between man and G‑d, and to pray to the deceased is blasphemous and outlawed by the Bible. If so, why is it permissible to ask the Rebbe to intercede on one's behalf at the Ohel?
Yes, Jewish customs can be perplexing. Judaism is all about having a direct connection to G-d. An intermediary is a form of idolatry (see "Unidolatry" for more explanation of why this is forbidden.). Yet for as long as there are records, Jews have been in the habit of asking righteous men and women to have a chat with G-d on their behalf.
We see that the Jewish people asked Moses to intercede many times and he accepted their request. If he hadn't, we wouldn't be here--so G-d obviously figured it was okay. The Talmud (Baba Batra 116a) tells us that "If there is someone ill in your house, go to the wise man of the city and ask that he should pray for him." Of course, this person also needs to pray for himself, as his family should as well--and any Jew who knows that another Jew is ill should pray for him. But you need to go to that wise man as well.
The same with visiting graves: On the one hand, as you pointed out, the Torah tells us not to "beseech the dead." It's listed along with all the other "abominations" practiced by the people that lived in Canaan before we came there. And yet, we have an ancient and popular custom to visit the graves of righteous people and pray there.
Just how ancient and popular is this custom? The Torah tells us that Caleb, one of the twelve spies that Moses sent to spy out the Land of Canaan, made a personal detour to Hebron. What was his interest in Hebron? The Talmud (Sotah 34b) tells that he wished to pray at the cave where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah are buried. He prayed there for mercy on his soul and he was saved from the fateful decision of the other spies.
The Talmud also states that it is customary to visit a cemetery on a fast day (Taanit 16a). Why? Typical of the Talmud (and anything that involves Jewish people), two opinions are provided: Some say that this is simply to remind those who are fasting of their own mortality--a graveyard can be a magically effective cold-bucket of inspiration when you're feeling smug and self-assured. But others say that this is in order to connect to ask the souls of the righteous who are buried there that they intercede on our behalf. In fact, the Zohar states that if it were not for the intercession of those souls who reside in that afterworld, our world would not endure for a moment.
So why is this not called "beseeching the dead?" And why doesn't asking any tzaddik, living or dead, to intercede on our behalf constitute making an intermediate between ourselves and G‑d?
This very question was raised by a nineteenth century foremost authority on Jewish law, Rabbi Moshe Shik (known as "the Maharam Shik"), a student of the Chatam Sofer.
He explains as follows:
A Jew is not permitted an intermediary. There must be nothing between the Jew and G‑d.
Nevertheless, as previously established, it is permissible for a Jew to ask another Jew to be an intermediary between him and G‑d.
Rabbi Shik explains this apparent anomaly in the name of his teacher, the Chatam Sofer: When one Jew approaches another and tells of the pain he is suffering, the other Jew feels it just as he does. Now they are both in need of prayer. The Jew does not feel he is praying for an "other"--he is praying for himself.
In other words, all Jews can be considered as one body. If the toe is hurting, it needs the head and the heart to help it. So too, if I am in need, I can call upon all other Jews--and especially those who are the head and the heart of our people--to pray for me as well. Because if one Jew is hurting, we are all hurting.
Rabbi Shik then extends this to the deceased, as well. According to the Talmud and the Zohar, those righteous souls who have passed on from this world are still very much in touch with their students and family and care for them and their problems. We petition them to pray on our behalf--and they do and often their prayers are more effective than our own. After all, we often don't fathom the seriousness of these problems from our limited perspective as much as they might from their much more lofty view.
Praying at a gravesite does not mean you are beseeching this dead person to rise from the grave and appear before you. That is the abomination to which the above-cited verse refers. Neither are you, G‑d forbid, praying to the dead—a practice that is most certainly forbidden. But you are able to connect with these souls, since, when it comes to the soul, all of us are truly one.
You are simply expressing your faith that the righteous never really die, truth is never truly lost and even the grave cannot prevent you from connecting to this great teacher and righteous soul. Just as this tzaddik cared and took care of others during his lifetime--not as "others" but as he cared for his own soul--so too now, nothing has changed and he still can feel your pain and pray with you.
The Zohar states this as well, when it tells us that the tzaddik is here with us after his passing even more than before. During his lifetime, the tzaddik was limited within a physical body. Now he has transcended those limitations. But he never transcends his sympathy for the plight of another soul--no matter where that soul may be found. Just as during his lifetime, he ignored the boundaries of "I and you," so now he can ignore the boundaries of life and afterlife.
This is the fundamental reasoning behind beseeching those in the grave to intercede on our behalf. And this, in fact, has been the common practice in Jewish communities around the world.
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"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked. "Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad." "How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice. "You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."