Through The Eyes of a Woman
Vayechi: A Priest in G-d's Sanctuary
The sichah we shall learn today is particularly relevant to women. The
reason I chose it from among many others, is because of the qualities we learn from
the main character of the sichah, Rachel Imeinu (our Mother), one
of the seven co-founders of Yiddishkeit. The main impetus of the sichah
regards bringing good qualities into actual deed. This is the whole purpose of learning.
There's no point in learning it if it remains in the realm of theory.
The Rebbe gave instructions that this sichah should be printed and handed
out. Every week the Rebbe gives out a sichah on the parshah, or on
a subject related to the Jewish calendar. Usually, the sichah was delivered
as an informal discourse at a farbrengen. As with everything the Rebbe says,
it is then written down by chassidim. Sometimes the Rebbe gives the instruction
to publish it. The draft copy of the sichah is then given to the Rebbe to
check, and he adds footnotes and corrections. This particular sichah was
given out after the Rebbe had finished saying Kaddish after the Rebbitzin's
passing in 5748 (1988). Although he didn't say so explicitly in the sichah,
there are many people who maintain that the Rebbe was alluding to the Rebbitzin
in this sichah, even though overtly he was talking about Rachel Imeinu.
One of the very special qualities of Rebbitzin Chayah Mushka, and I think
that everybody knows this, is that she was a very private woman, and was totally
committed and devoted to the Rebbe's well-being. Keep this in mind as we go through
The background of the sichah is a very touching moment in Jewish history.
Parshas Vayechi is the final parshah of the book of Bereishis,
and it tells about the passing of Yaakov and Yosef. Before he passes away, Yaakov
calls all his sons to him in order to tell them what will happen to each of them
in the future. A person who knows when he is about to die is fortunate, for he has
the opportunity to settle accounts, and clear up any misunderstandings, and ask
for forgiveness from those he has slighted. A person who has a sudden heart attack
doesn't have time to finish off all his concerns.
As Yaakov was about to leave this world he called his children to his bedside,
and he parted from each one in a different way. Not all of his four wives had equal
status. There was no question that Rachel was regarded as his primary and most beloved
wife. And from the most beloved wife, her two sons also shared this favored status.
Incidentally, we have to know that all these things are really not as simplistic
as they seem. They have a much deeper meaning than common family rivalries, etc.
But for today, let's just take it at face value.
The first son he wanted to settle accounts with was Yosef. And so Yaakov explained
to Yosef that he had buried Rachel on the road to Beis Lechem (Bethlehem). Kever
Rachel (Rachel's Tomb) is in the middle of nowhere. But there was a purpose to her
being buried there. It wasn't that it was too much of a shlep for Yaakov
to take her coffin to the Maaras (Cave of) HaMachpelah in Hebron,
where Sarah, Rivkah, and Leah are buried. The purpose of burying her there, near
Beis Lechem, is revealed in the prophetic Book of Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) ,
and is also quoted in Rashi.
Yirmeyahu was a prophet during the era of the Destruction of the First Beis
HaMikdash. At that time, a significant number of Jewish people had begun to
worship idols, and one was even brought into the Beis HaMikdash! Yirmeyahu
saw that the situation was bleak and that HaShem was about to destroy His
Beis HaMikdash and send his children into galus. He tried to intercede
in Heaven on their behalf, pleading with HaShem in the merit of the Avos
(Patriarchs), Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. But there was no response. It was an
unprecedented situation. Even the prayers of the Avos were not answered.
Then Rachel pointed out that when she was about to get married to her beloved
Yaakov, on the day of the wedding, she heard rumors that her father Lavan was going
to marry her sister Leah to Yaakov instead of her. Now she and Yaakov, suspecting
that the wily Lavan might try and deceive Yaakov, and marry him off to somebody
else, had made certain secret signs so that he would know that the woman under the
chuppah was really Rachel. But Rachel realized that when Yaakov discovered
Lavan's trick, Leah would be terribly embarrassed. Could you imagine her being led
to the chuppah, and all of a sudden Yaakov says, "Hey, he's fooling me. This
is a trick!" And this poor kallah is going to have to face the embarrassment
of having the wedding stopped in the middle, and be accused of having deceived Yaakov.
So in order not to embarrass her sister and make her go through this pain, she revealed
to her those secret signs. In essence, she gave up her dream, her hope of marrying
Yaakov. This was real self-sacrifice, mesirus nefesh. She took in a rival
wife. She did not have to do it, but she chose to do it. She chose to give her privileges
to her rival. This argument was convincing. Matching her decision, HaShem
could also overlook the treachery and infidelity of some Jews and forgive them.
Yosef, being a true understanding son, then understood why Yaakov didn't bury
Rachel in the Maaras HaMachpelah. Yosef certainly wouldn't bear a grudge
against his father on his deathbed. But the emphasis here is not on Yosef bearing
a grudge against Yaakov, but his sadness that his mother lost the tremendous merit
of being buried with such great tzaddikim. But Rachel was a true tzadeikes
herself. In her merit her exiled children will come back to Eretz Yisrael,
as Yirmeyahu prophesied. "And so," Yaakov explained, "even though logically, I should
have buried her in the Maaras HaMachpelah, rather than in the middle of nowhere,
for the sake of the Jewish people, I did not." For she was buried outside the borders
of Israel, in galus, and she pleads with HaShem on behalf of her children,
who are still in galus. And in her merit, they will return with Mashiach.
The Rebbe explains that this was Rachel's nature. She was always willing to sacrifice
her own interests for the sake of others. Could you imagine a girl waiting seven
years to marry her husband, and then give him up for the sake of someone else? But
this was Rachel -- she gave up her own good for another person's benefit.
Concern about somebody else's good rather than her own good, her own honor, was
her hallmark. So HaShem took note of that. Even though after death a person
is no longer conscious of certain things, we all know that married couples make
an effort to be buried near each other. She forfeited that privilege. She gave up
being with Yaakov for thousands of years until Mashiach comes.
And this is what Yaakov was telling Yosef: "Your mother was a very special person."
And that's why Yaakov loved her so deeply, the Rebbe explains. He didn't love her
because she had a beautiful face. The reason he loved her so much is because he
loved the beauty of her character. He respected and honored this beautiful trait
which is so valued in the Torah -- not looking for one's own glory but
for the good of others.
Rachel was one of our mothers. And so all Jewish daughters, being the direct
offspring of Rachel, inherit this trait genetically. There is an aspect of Rachel
which is truly a part of the makeup of every Jewish woman. There are many things
that a Jewish man is obligated to do. He is obligated to leave the peyos
of his beard, he is obligated to pray with a minyan, he is obligated to pray
three times a day, and he wears tallis and tefillin, and tzitzis.
There are so many external signs and external things that a man does that anybody
can point to the man, and say, "Of course, this is a Jewish man." It's clear to
anybody. A man has numerous obligations throughout his day that are very obvious
and very visible.
But what about a Jewish woman? What are the obligations of a Jewish woman? She
is exempt from all time-bound positive mitzvos. She doesn't have to leave
peyos. If she has five minutes to pick up a Siddur and say the morning
blessings and the Shema, she's happy that she got to pray for a few minutes.
The external signs of Yiddishkeit are not obvious in a woman. She could wear
a sheitel that looks so natural that it wouldn't be obvious to someone in
the street that she is covering her hair. The difference between a man and a woman
in this regard is that the woman serves HaShem in a way that's much more
secret. A man serves HaShem overtly, whereas a woman serves HaShem
covertly. No one knows that when you're walking in the street you're thinking about
the love and awe of HaShem.
What does a woman do most of her life? What did Rachel do for most of her life?
The woman has the role of an akeres habayis, a wife and mother. And out of
deference for the seriousness and the holiness of this role, HaShem lightens
her burden in other things. If she cannot find the time to do anything more than
nurse her baby and feed herself and maybe go back to nursing her baby, and take
care of her husband and children and her home, she has done all that is required
of her. A woman should know that she can serve HaShem totally. She has done
everything she has to do, because what HaShem asks of her is to maintain
her home. That is the primary goal, and if she has done that, she is perfect. If
she has time for davening, wonderful. If she has time for more, even more
than wonderful. She might even have time to go out of the house and do a mitzvah.
But that is not her prime identity. Her service to G-d is in and through
The Gemara relates that one of the Sages declared that he never called
his wife his wife, but his home. Because without her there is no home.
A woman may look like every woman does anywhere else in the world while she's sweeping
the floor, and while she's doing the wash and dressing her baby. These are all things
that any other mother and wife does. But if she keeps in mind that these children
are Jewish children, and she knows that she's raising them to be G-d-fearing
Jewish kids, and she does it knowing that she is serving HaShem, then she
is completely different from any other woman anywhere else in the world.
What did Kohanim do in the Beis HaMikdash? They cleaned and scrubbed,
they cut up meat and cooked it, and they washed and scrubbed again. So too with
a woman. She is the Kohen of the Beis HaMikdash. And it is the holiest service
that can be, much more internal and pnimi than the divine service of a man.
A man's service easily leads to arrogance. It is a terrible pitfall. Look what
a good davening I did today! I learned so much. I'm so holy. I daven,
I learn, I do so many mitzvos. Arrogance is something that is very detestable
to HaShem. Arrogance in Yiddishkeit is the worst of all negative traits.
If a person is arrogant, there is no room for HaShem. HaShem says,
"I cannot dwell together with an arrogant person." It is much less likely that a
woman will be arrogant. She just doesn't have time to think about herself and how
wonderful she is. People are constantly asking her to do things for them. So she
is much less likely to regard herself as the holiest and the wisest. Her service
is deeper and much more humble.
According to the Shulchan Aruch, the Jewish identity of a person
follows the mother. If a person has a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, even
if the father was a big tzaddik, the child is not Jewish. But if the mother
was just a plain Jewish lady, even if the father is a gentile, the child is 100%
Jewish. Why is this so? Because a woman serves HaShem with her essence, with
her soul. This essence is passed on to her offspring, and so they are Jewish. A
man's way of serving HaShem is primarily by revealing light, rather than
serving with his essence. And that is why he has specific actions to perform.
For his service is outward-directed. What identity goes by the father? Tribal identity!
A person's tribe, whether he's a Kohen, Levy, from the tribe of Reuven, Shimon,
or Yehudah, is determined by his father's tribe. But that is more of a superficial
attribute. What is a Jew? Whether a person is a Jew or not, i.e., the essential
matter of his being Jewish or otherwise, is determined by the mother; details go
according to the father. That relates to the way the mother and the father serve
The Midrash explains that when Avraham became aware of the holiness of
the Maaras HaMachpelah, he immediately decided to buy it as a burial place
for himself, and his wife and children. Rachel didn't mind giving up the holiness
and specialness of the place for the sake of her children, to be buried instead
in a place where there is no glory at all. (It was only in the 1840's that the building
that now stands over Rachel's Tomb was completed by Moses Montefiore.) For thousands
of years, Kever Rachel was just a grave at the side of the road --
without glory, and without credit. But because it was an expression of Rachel's
nature to be completely self-effacing, had she had any say in the matter, she would
have preferred to be buried in a place where she could be of assistance to
her children -- the Jewish people in exile. And that is why Yaakov buried
her there, and not in the Maaras HaMachpelah, out of respect for what would
have been her wish.
When we say that she gave up her life for her children, you must realize that
we are not talking about her children who were all tzaddikim. We're not even
talking about her grandchildren. We're talking about children tens of generations
later. You know, there's a difference between your son, and your sons ten generations
later. And what kind of children were they? These were children who served idols!
They were so bad that they had to be thrown out of Israel -- into exile!
But Rachel gave up her place, her glory -- the honor of being buried in
a holy place, next to her husband Yaakov -- for these very children. And
so HaShem noticed that she wasn't concerned with superficiality. You know,
"My son is good, I'll be good to him; my son is bad, I'll be bad to him." That's
superficial. But if you're a real mother, you know that this is my son. Today
he is bad, tomorrow he'll be good -- but he is my son, no matter how he
is behaving today. It is not based on his behavior, but on something far
deeper, and so I have hope in my son, because of the essential connection between
a mother and a son. Rachel had this depth of perception and character, and
so she was able to perceive that. She was able to feel a kesher atzmi, an
essential bond, between herself and those children, regardless of the situation,
and other non-essential factors.
Thus her reward was middah keneged middah -- measure for measure.
This means that in the same way that you committed that sin or that mitzvah,
HaShem returns in kind. She realized this essential bond, that despite their
faults and failings, the Jewish people were her children. And thus her reward was
that in her merit they will return from exile.