The Yartzeit of Rachel Imenu

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

Although the date traditionally observed as the Yartzeit for Rachel Imenu is the eleventh of Cheshvan, the accuracy of this date is far from unanimous within historical texts. The primary source for observing the eleventh of Cheshvan as the Yartzeit is a Midrash[1] which lists the dates that each of the founding fathers of the twelve tribes were to have been born on. It states there that Benjamin was born on the eleventh of Cheshvan. The Book of Jubilees also confirms that Benjamin was born of the 11th of Cheshvan.[2] As the Torah records that Rachel died as she gave birth to Benjamin, we can derive from here that this day would be her Yartzeit as well.

 Nevertheless it appears from no less an authority than Rashi[3] that Rachel’s passing took place at the start of the summer, a view which is supported by others[4] as well. Yet other sources[5] contend that Rachel actually died between Pesach and Shavuot.[6]

Along with so many other issues in Judaism, there are often a multitude of opinions and traditions, and this is no exception. Even the Yartzeit of Moshe Rabbeinu, traditionally observed on the 7th of Adar is disputed with eminent authorities[7] insisting that his Yartzeit is to be observed on the 7th of Shevat. Nonetheless, there exists a concept within Torah thought that it is a Divine sign of legitimacy when ambiguous matters have been mainstreamed by the entire nation.[8]

Some commentators suggest an additional reason as to why Rachel was buried in a separate location away from the other Patriarchs and Matriarchs. While prayer at Ma’arat Hamachpela is certainly meritorious and worthy of Divine favor, some suggest that prayer at the tomb of Rachel is even more powerful. Indeed, it is only Rachel that in addition to her righteousness also has the tremendous merit to her credit for having saved her sister from embarrassment. It is owing to her concern about her sister’s dignity over her own that God specifically shows Divine mercy to those who pray there.[9] Had she been buried along with everyone else we may not have been able to access her unique and independent potential.

 

Concerning the accuracy of the site traditionally assumed to be that of Rachel’s Tomb, see: http://www.vbm-torah.org/archive/parsha65/12-65vayechi.htm, by Rabbi Yakov Medan where an alternative site is suggested as well.

For a deeper look into the issue of the accuracy of Rachel’s Tomb see these Hebrew articles by Dr. Yoel Elitzur: http://www.Daat.ac.il/Daat/tanac…el/ elitzur1.htm, http://www.Daat.ac.il/Daat/tanac…el/ elitzur2.htm,and
http://www.Daat.ac.il/Daat/tanac…el/ elitzur3.htm

 


[1] Yalkut Shemoni;Shemot, Rabbeinu Bechaya;Shemot

[2] Jubilees 32:33

[3] Bereishit 35:16

[4] Siftei Chachamim ad. loc.

[5] Pesikta 3 s.v. Bayom Hashemini

[6] Cited in Meorot Natan;Hilchot Chanuka by Rabbi Yitzchak Natan Kupershtok, in the introduction.

[7] Magen Avraham O.C. 580:8 in the name of the Yalkut Shimoni. Further study is required to understand why the Yalkut is relied upon as the date observed for Rachel’s Yartzeit, yet its registration of the Yartzeit for Moshe Rabbeinu has been rejected.

[8] See for example, Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 345:18 for a similar idea

[9] A “must read” Midrash about Rachel’s merits is to be found in Eicha Rabba in the introduction.

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot. www.rabbienkin.com

17 comments

  1. Had she been buried along with everyone else we may not have been able to access her unique and independent potential.
    ==============================================
    some might restate:Had she been buried along with everyone else we may not have been able to ponder her story and allow it to have a unique and independent impact on our future psyche/actions.
    KT

  2. Moshe Shoshan

    In the RZ world Rachel’s yahrzeit has become very popularin recent years. it is no coincidence that it coincides with Rabin’s Yahrzeit

  3. There are Kupat Ha’ir ads all over Brooklyn now promising that “Mamme Rochel” will daven for every day for a year, if you donate. To be sure, the smaller type clarifies that actually it will be representatives of Kupat Ha’ir going to the shrine of St. Rachel of Bethlehem and praying to her, but still. Maybe I’ll take a picture later.

  4. R’ Anonymous,

    Thank you for the valuable information. I think it is theologically helpful to clarify that no one (or at least no observant Jew) is praying to Rachel. Rather, observant Jews are asking the soul of Rachel to pray to HKB”H, just as Kalev asked the souls of the Patriarchs to pray to HKB”H when Kalev visited the Cave of Machpelah, as per the gemara Sotah 34b.

    Parenthetically, it is because of Sotah 34b that I think that even according to the responsum of R. Waldenberg (referenced in R. Bleich’s current Tradition article and available at http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14513&st=&pgnum=175 ) prohibiting a Jew from entering a mosque, a Jew must necessarily be permitted enter the Cave of Machpelah today (which currently serves as a mosque), since “ein adam oser davar she-eino shelo” (as per the gemara in Avodah Zarah 53b), and the Cave of Machpelah has been a place of Jewish prayer since the days of Kalev.

  5. Tosafot (Sotah 34b, s.v. avotai) elaborate how prayer at a grave theologically works. The visitor prays to HKB”H, Who then informs the soul of the deceased that the visitor is in trouble, (which then presumably prompts the soul of the deceased to itself pray).

  6. Shalom Spira, that’s the ideal. The sad fact is that most Jews don’t realize this and do, literally (and innocently, I stress), pray to the dead. My parents remember that on the tours of Europe they took with R’ Leiman, he took pains to stress, at each cemetery, that if one must pray, it should be to God. They say it didn’t seem as if many of the people grasped what he was saying.

    It will continue, of course. They question is, should we encourage it.

    “the Cave of Machpelah has been a place of Jewish prayer since the days of Kalev.”

    a) The building on the site was built by Herod. The actual cave is below it, with the actual burial area a bit out of the bounds of the building.

    b) Let’s stress that the *Midrash*, written centuries even after Herod, says Kalev prayed there. Believe it or not, we should be accurate with our language.

  7. In the interests of accuracy, Rachel is not even really our mother! If you’re from the tribes of Yehudah or Levi, like most of us, then Leah is your mother and Rachel your aunt. 🙂

    (Yes, Yirmiyahu says that Rachel cried for her children – presumably that refers to the tribe of Binyamin, who lived around Ramah.)

  8. Sorry… I misspoke… let me rephrase my previous comment [as one should never juxtapose the word” grave” with (lehavdil) the word “theologically”, since the word “grave” implies death whereas (lehavdil) “theologically” comes from the root “theo-” which means “G-d” (Yishtabach Shemo); see Rashi to Menachot 29b (s.v. de-i chakim) why such a linguistic juxtaposition is forbidden.]

    Tosafot (Sotah 34b, s.v. avotai) theologically elaborate how prayer at a grave works. The visitor prays to HKB”H, Who then informs the soul of the deceased that the visitor is in trouble, (which then presumably prompts the soul of the deceased to itself pray).

  9. R’ Nachum,
    Thank you and ye’yasher kochakha for the illuminating he’arot.

    R’ Shlomo,
    Great point… Indeed, your objection is raised by the gemara in Berakhot 16b, which observes that any given Jew does not know whether he is a descendant of Rachel or Leah.

  10. except without rachel giving her the simanim there would be no descendants, so just as anyone who raises an orphan/teaches a child torah is called mother….

    KT

  11. There are a number of authorities who sanction addressing the dead directly in prayer and requesting that they entreat God on one’s behalf. This is similar to the High Holiday liturgy that includes prayers in which we request the angels to seek mercy from God on our behalf.

    Pri Megadim, OC 581:16; Sefer Chassidim 450, Darkei Teshuva, YD 179:36; Minchat Elazar 1:68; Maharam Shick, OC 293;Yabia Omer 1:34

  12. Ari Enkin-R Asher Weiss in the new volume of Minchas Asher on RH/YK and Sukkos discusses the issue of the recitation of Machnisei Rachamim.

    Nachum-WADR, I don’t think that most Jews are as ignorant as you intimated in this regard, and that their tefilos merely ask the soul of Rachel Imeinu to pray to HaShem Yisborach because of the unique Zcusim of Rachel Imeinu, as set forth in the Pesikta to Aicha Rabasi.

  13. Once in my life I visited Kever Rachel. As I got there I felt that I was entering a place of lower holiness than where I had come from.

    I attribute this feeling to the fact that Kever Rachel is located just outside of Jerusalem.

  14. Shlomo, if it’s any comfort, there’s a lot of discussion as to where, exactly, Rachel was buried. It’s not a given that it’s the current site.

    “This is similar to the High Holiday liturgy that includes prayers in which we request the angels to seek mercy from God on our behalf.”

    “We”?

  15. Moshe Shoshan

    btw its spelled yahrzeit

  16. Nachum, my awareness of that discussion may have been another factor.

  17. MiMedinat HaYam

    jusrt like everbody claims descent from david hamel;ech (and other rabbonim, etc.) so do we claim descent from rachel imenu.

    also “rachel me’vacah al ba’neha” from yirmiyahu, a major theme of RH.

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