Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ill-Fitting Farewells to Our Matriarchs

In Parshat Vayishlach, we read of the deaths and burials of two of our four Matriarchs - Rivka and Rachel. Each one is tragic in its own right - not the kinds of ends or burials we would have expected of our Matriarchs, who were in essence Queens of the Abrahamic Kingdoms of G-d.
Our Matriarch Rivka has passed away totally alone before her beloved son Yaakov and his family can reach her home in Chevron. How tragic!
(Sarah also passed away all alone. Avraham and Yitzchak had been in Har HaMoriah at the Akeida when she died. Moreover, after she died, she had no burial spot, and she had to lay unburied until Avraham could negotiate buying a piece of land for her grave. This is not what we expect the end of our Matriarchs to be.) 
Poor Rivka. What nachas she would have had if Yaakov and his wonderful family had reached her encampment and surrounded her with their love, excitement and action. Instead, she had sacrificed her relationship with her ailing husband Yitzchak and her elder son Esav in order to secure the bracha for Yaakov, who she knew truly deserved it. She had selflessly sent her son away to her brother's home to save his life. And then when her final day arrived, she died alone and was buried alone and even in secret.
The Stone Edition of the Artscroll Chumash says, "The Torah did not mention Rebecca's death explicitly because those who attended her decided to bury her secretly, at night, for if she had had the sort of burial she deserved, Esau would have come and people would have spoken disrespectfully of her as the one who gave birth to such a wicked person.Since they kept her death quiet, the Torah, too, only alluded to it (Rashi)...Ramban comments that her death was kept hidden, as it were, because she was buried in tragic circumstances: Isaac was blind and could not leave home to honor her properly, Jacob was absent, and Esau would not come because he hated her for securing the blessings for Jacob. Consequently, she h ad to be buried by her Hittite neighbors."
How heartbreaking is this story!!
The circumstances were different, but Rachel's end is also tragic! Finally she is to give birth to her second child, and at least put her on par with the two handmaids Bilha and Zilpa, and she dies in childbirth in the middle of nowhere. And then after giving her son a sad name that could have ruined his life, Ben Oni - son of my mourning - she dies. Rachel is B"H buried by her family, but she is buried along the roadside - not even by the next town of Bethlehem or Efrat, just on the road. (Of course, we know the Midrash that she had to be buried there so that her children would stop there to weep along their path to exile, but still...)
There along a lonely road stood the burial place of our Mother Rachel. Today Kever Rachel is just outside Jerusalem and just at the tip of Bethlehem. But then, it was nowheresville. Poor Rachel.
It seems that the only one of our Matriarchs who received the final honors and burial she deserved was Leah. She was buried by the entire family right into the family plot of Me'arat HaMachpela. She was buried next to Yaakov, the love of her life, and her partner in eternity.
Why our Matriarchs, who sacrificed so much for their children and their future children, should have had such unfortunate endings, I do not know. However, Leah's honorable end is surely a tribute to her lifelong prayers to become Yaakov's primary wife and a proof to all of us that Hashem sees into our hearts and answers our prayers.

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