Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rachel - Gracious in Life and Death

When we think of famous biblical figures, the people who typically come to mind are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses, to name a few. While all of these men are incredibly important to the Jewish people (and the rest of the world, for that matter), there is one person whose significance is often overlooked: Rachel. This Jewish matriarch rivals even the most important biblical figures because of the graciousness with which she treated other people - even when it came at great personal cost.

Rachel was loved by Jacob, who devoted seven years of physical labor in order to gain her hand in marriage. But her father, Laban, had a plan that would deceive him into marrying her older sister, Leah. Figuring that Laban would do this, Jacob and Rachel developed a secret signal before the wedding. On the night of the ceremony, the bride was veiled and Jacob didn't realize that Leah had been substituted for Rachel. In a moment that would change the course of the rest of her life, Rachel decided to give over the signal in order not to humiliate her sister. This meant that she would basically be forfeiting her own destiny in the process.

The lessons we can learn from Rachel are invaluable. Among them, we should always show concern for family members (i.e. fellow Jews), as well as be careful not to embarrass another person. While we are never required to do that which is beyond our abilities, we must always make a sincere effort to protect the dignity of other people. For example, if we accidentally fail to greet someone at a gathering - and they take it as a deliberate embarrassment - the onus is on them to give us the benefit of the doubt. However, if we go out of our way to defame someone in public, the onus is on us to ask them for forgiveness and cease engaging in such behavior.

Even in death, Rachel's graciousness continued. There is a famous Midrash on Jeremiah 31:14-16 that speaks of her high stature. Upon seeing the Jews' suffering after the destruction of the First Holy Temple, all the major biblical heroes came before God and pleaded for it to stop - but to no avail. Then, Rachel approached God and cried out that He show mercy to His people on account of her interpersonal behavior. God was moved by her plea and went on to promise that the exile would eventually end and the Jews would return to their land. For this reason, Rachel was buried at a location that Jews would pass during their travels into exile; they could let out their cries, and she would be able to pray to God on their behalf.

Incidentally, a United Nations cultural organization recently declared Rachel's Tomb a mosque. Although it is commonplace for anti-Semitic groups to claim that Jews have no ties to Israel, historical evidence prevents them from gaining any serious credibility. Therefore, they often resort to revisionism, which much of the world is all too willing to accept. During these trying times, let's treat one another in a manner of which Rachel would be proud, and perhaps she will intercede with God once again. In particular, make sure never to intentionally humiliate another human being. Rachel gave up her entire destiny to avoid embarrassing someone else. All we have to do is give up some of our ego.

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