Cleaving to the Holy Presence in Our Holy Land
בדרך אפרת היא בית לחם
“Behold! We have received the tradition from our Sages that Rachel was buried on the pathway, for Yakov foresaw that when Israel will be exiled they will travel by this path, and then Rachel will plead mercy upon them… ‘Rachel is crying upon her children’… and then HaShem will answer her ‘cease your voice from crying and your eyes from tears… for (your) children will return to their borders’… therefore we come before You HaShem so that You remember the merit of our holy Patriarchs and of our righteous Matriarch Rachel… and merit us to raise our children… and may we see them together in the ingathering of exiles in full redemption speedily…” (Prayer at the Tomb of Rachel)
Rachel is singled out from all the Patriarchs and Matriarchs as not being buried at Maarat HaMachpela in Hebron, as we see in this week’s parsha, in order to arouse mercy for Israel in exile. This depiction follows perfectly with what we have learned previously that Hebron is identified with ‘Zion’ according to the Arizal. Therefore, Rachel was buried specifically outside of Hebron, the home-city of Zion, as if to show self-recognition with those exiled out of our homeland, the Holy Land, and thereby arouse mercy for them. According to the Arizal, Rachel also represents the strongest tie to the Holy Land not only more than all the Patriarchs, she being a woman especially tied to the Feminine Land (see two previous parshiot), but also even more than the other Matriarchs.
This matter explains why specifically Rachel was buried outside Hebron, so that even those in exile will remember that the spirit of the Holy Land, the spirit of Rachel, still lingers with them and calls them back home. However, why was Bet Lehem singled out for the burial of Rachel and not some other location traveled by those exiled? According to the Arizal, Leah represents the spiritual power capable of maintaining the Jewish People even in Exile. As we noted last week, Hebron represents Rachel, while Jerusalem represents Leah, according to the Arizal. According to this, we may perhaps say that the ‘high lights’ of the Bais HaMikdash of Jerusalem are which enlighten and give hope to Jewry in the darkness of Exile. The ancient route which connects Hebron to Jerusalem was known as the ‘Path of Efrat’, mentioned in our title quote as the burial place of Rachel. On this route lies Bet Lehem, which means the ‘House of Bonding’ (as in ‘hilhim’ – to glue or bond (Vayikra Raba 3); also bread is called ‘lehem’ because it is a ‘bonding’ of flour and water, bonds people and more). We can infer from this that Bet Lehem represents the bonding of Hebron to Jerusalem, Rachel to Leah, and ultimately the bonding of Jewry in the Diaspora to Hebron which gives the fuller thrust of devotion towards the Holy Land in general and not only to the Holy City of Jerusalem and its Temple.
Fascinatingly, Bet Lehem can also hint to the mitzvah of ‘lehem’, i.e the two loaves of Shavuos (see Meg. Ruth read on Shavuos which takes place mostly in Bethlehem) offered in the Holy ‘Bayit’ – the Bais Hamikdash. Halacha maintains that newly harvested grain may only be offered even in the Temple after offering the ‘Two Loaves’ which must originate from the Land of Israel, a matter that shows the dependency of Jerusalem and the Temple on the general Land of Israel, symbolized by Hebron.
From and for this union of Hebron and Jerusalem, of Rachel and Leah, emerges the power of Bet Lehem, birth-place of David forerunner of the Mashiah, who ruled in both Hebron and Jerusalem. From and for this union emerges Beit Lehem, ‘birth-place’ of Mashiah himself (Midrash Eicha 1, 51).
Real Stories from the Holy Land #146
“I was driving to Jerusalem very close to sunset, and I still had not davened mincha. I prayed to HaShem to allow me not to miss even one prayer without a minyan. Nevertheless, sunset was very close, so I drove to a nearby natural spring in order to wash my hands for prayer. Lo and behold, at the spring ‘happened’ to be a group of Hasidim drawing water for matzos, and they called just then to daven mincha…” B.H.D