“Mama Rachel, I missed you!” I half-sob. “Mama Rachel . . . how could I have waited so long to visit you?!” Tenderly, I stroke the navy-velvet covered Tomb of Rachel – the Mother of Jews through history.
Women, from all walks of life, fill the anteroom. They converge around Rachel’s resting place, to weep . . . to plead . . . to unburden their hearts . . . on Mama.
The low wailing and whimpering of the worshippers punctuates the feeling of comfort and awe, which hovers over the room.
In the men’s section, a group of boys loudly chant Psalms in sweet, youthful voices while the members of Kollel Kever Rachel sway over their Gemaras.
For years, my friend had been trying to persuade me to visit Rachel’s Tomb. “There’s an ar-mored bus,” she cajoled. “It takes you right to the site.” Fifteen years I put off visiting the holy tomb. Armored buses made me nervous. I was fearful about the intifada. Hundreds of people flocked to the tomb daily. I couldn’t push myself.
But I was ecstatic when I heard that security permitted private vehicles access to Rachel Imeinu’s Tomb during the auspicious period be-fore Rosh Hashanah and until Yom Kippur, when Jews flock to graves of tzaddikim, entreating for a blessed, sweet year.Now was my opportunity.
Our car wound its way towards Beit Lechem through Jerusalem’s glorious view, where grassy hillocks meet the skyline, roads awash with the history of our people. We saluted the soldiers at the checkpoint and in a matter of minutes pulled up in the designated parking lot.
Even though I was aware that the tomb’s original fa?ade had been changed due to security reasons, I couldn’t help but search for that familiar oblong-shaped building with the domed roof that Sir Moses Montefiore had built in 1841.
That building is now encased in another modern brick building. A long hallway brings us right up to the rooms preceding the tomb. The original main entrance is now the entrance to the men’s section where the domed roof begins and stretches over the women’s side.
Of all our righteous Patriarchs and Matriarchs, why did Rachel merit G d’s acceptance of her plea that the Jews be returned to Israel after the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed?
It was sisterly love. Rachel refused to shame her sister Leah, at great personal sacri-fice. She revealed the signs that Yaakov had pre-arranged with her to Leah. Yaakov, who was to marry Rachel, suspected that Lavan would switch his daughters and have Yaakov marry Leah, so he gave Rachel signs. To not let Leah get embarrassed, Rachel gave her the signs.Hashem listened to Rachel’s prayers. And they continue to be heard until this day.
Yaakov buried Rachel in a roadside grave between Efrat and Beit Lechem and not in the family burial plot – the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. He foresaw that his descendants would pass Rachel’s Tomb while being driven in captivity to Babylon and the tomb would be a place of comfort for them.
The rise of the intifada decreased the flow of visitors to the tomb. The only Jews there were our soldiers who devotedly guarded the site. For years Mama Rachel lay desolate, aching for the return of her children. Until a young Torah scholar, Rabbi Moshe Menachem Kluger, couldn’t bear Rachel’s solitude. He initiated the Kever Rachel Institution and inspired friends and rela-tives to join him at the site.
He arranged for scholars to learn and pray at Kever Rachel, and paid for armored buses to bring worshippers back and forth.
“Doesn’t it get overwhelming?” I asked Mrs. Kluger, who mans the Kever Rachel yeshuos hotline.
“Of course,” Mrs. Kluger chuckles. “My fam-ily is roped into answering the phone. My chil-dren are updated on all information concerning Kever Rachel.
I feel Mama Rachel’s strength behind me, helping me.”
The Kever Rachel Institution ensures 24-hour Torah study at the tomb, daily minyanim, and that Sefer Tehillim is completed each day. It also maintains the on-site mikveh, and ensures that armored buses bring hundreds of people each day, and many thousands on the 11th of Cheshvan, Rachel Imeinu’s Yahrzeit.
At her last Yahrzeit, an estimated 50,000 Jews visited the kever, and a live web cam was set up.
According to the story, once the phone rang at Kever Rachel hotline. “How much is a chicken?” a voice inquired.
“Ehh, you have the wrong number, this is not a butcher shop,” answered a puzzled Mrs. Kluger.
“I know; it’s Kever Rachel,” insisted the woman. “How much is a chicken? I want to pay for a Yahrzeit meal.”
This woman’s son had a physical disability and thus was having difficulty in finding his shidduch. A friend suggested praying at Kever Rachel. At the site, this woman met an acquaint-ance who related that she was helped after she prayed at Rachel’s Tomb and promised to sponsor a meal for the Yahrzeit.
“If my son is helped,” prayed this woman, tears rolling down her cheeks. “I will also donate money to Kever Rachel.” Two weeks later, her son met his bashert.
Now that woman was calling to fulfill her promise.
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“I desperately need a salvation,” Zahava said in a choked voice. “My mother is sick with cancer. As for me, I’m in my 40’s and childless. My husband and I are only children of Holocaust survivors. If not for us, there’ll be no continuation.”
She requested that people learn Torah for her and her mother’s sake, at Rachel’s Tomb at chatzos – midnight.
Two months later, Zahava called again. “There’s news!” she whispered excitedly. I just received the test results. I’m pregnant!” Within the year, Zahava called to relate the joyous news of the birth of her healthy baby boy, and that her mother was in remission.
* * *
Rachel’s Tomb is desolate no longer. Mama Rachel has been reunited with her children.The website is keverrachel.com. The num-ber for the hotline is 02-580-0863 in Israel, and 888-2-ROCHEL in the U.S.