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August 26, 2016 / 22 Av, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Rachel’

Sensitivity Of A Tzaddik

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

“But as for me, when I traveled from Padam, Rachel died on me in the land of Canaan on the road…and I buried her there on the road in Ephras, which is Bethlehem.” – Bereishis 48:7

Yaakov Avinu spent the final seventeen years of his life in Mitzrayim. While there he lived in peace for the first time in many years and remained in that state for the rest of his life. Near the end of his days he called in his beloved son Yosef and made an impassioned request: “Please do not bury me in Mitzrayim.”

After this event, when Yaakov felt his end drawing nearer, he again spoke to Yosef, saying, “On the road your mother Rochel died, and I buried her there.”

Rashi explains that these two conversations were connected. In this final meeting, Yaakov was expressing something he had held inside for many years. He was telling Yosef, “I know that you have harbored a complaint in your heart against me. You feel that when your mother died, I didn’t treat her with due respect. I didn’t bury her in a city, or even in an inhabited place, but right there on the road where she died. You should know I did this because Hashem commanded me to. Many years from now, when Nevuzaradan will force the Jews into exile, they will pass along that road where she is interred. Rachel will cry out with bitter weeping, and her tears will save the Jewish people.”

The Siftei Chachmim explains why Yaakov chose this particular moment to explain this to Yosef – “If not now, when?” He hadn’t told him up to then because he didn’t want to tell him about the suffering that was to occur. But he had to tell him now because it would be his last opportunity. He was about to leave this world.

This Rashi is difficult to understand. If Hashem had told Yaakov to bury Rachel there, why didn’t Yaakov explain this to Yosef years ago? Why did he allow his beloved son to feel some sense of ill will against him for so long? Yosef was not a fragile youth who would fall apart if he heard bad news. He was a mature, sophisticated talmid chacham. His role at the time was leader of all of Mitzrayim. He could have handled the knowledge that the Jewish nation would suffer. And Yaakov knew that eventually he was going to have to tell Yosef anyway. Why not just tell him right away and eliminate all those bad feelings?

The answer is that Yaakov was extraordinarily guarded in what he said. Every word was measured, every expression weighed. And he had a policy: “I am not the one to cause suffering to others. If I tell Yosef why I buried his mother on the road, I will have to tell him the Jewish people will be sent into exile. That fact will cause him much suffering, and I won’t be a part of it. When he has to hear the bad news, I will tell him, but not a moment sooner. If this will cause him to question my actions, if this will cause him to feel some element of resentment toward me, I am willing to pay that price rather than cause him the pain of knowing what will occur.”

This Rashi illustrates a number of beautiful concepts. First, we see the extraordinary sensitivity a tzaddik has in not causing another human being to suffer. Even though Yosef could “handle it,” and even though Yaakov would eventually have to tell him, he was willing to bear the burden of letting his son think of him as insensitive rather than cause him pain. We also see an incredible example of discretion. Yaakov was extremely guarded in the words that came out of his mouth. Yaakov had been separated from his beloved son for twenty-two years. For those two decades, Yaakov was living in a state of unending mourning. When they finally met, Yosef was so filled with joy that the tears couldn’t be stopped. The love between the two was overflowing. And yet, there was something that stood between them. Yaakov knew that within the heart of his son was a sense of resentment, of ill will. In Yosef’s mind, his mother had been mistreated; her final honor had been compromised. And his own father was the man who dishonored her.

It wasn’t just at one moment that this was a barrier between them. For the next seventeen years, every time they spoke and every time they were together, there was a certain wedge keeping them apart. And yet Yaakov wouldn’t say a word. Even though these feelings were completely unfounded, he wouldn’t talk about it because that would cause a Jew to suffer, and he couldn’t be a part of that. This self-control is illustrative of the way Yaakov lived every moment of his life.

Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

The Sensitivity Of A Tzaddik

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

 “Then Yaakov kissed Rachel. And he raised his voice and wept.” – Bereishis 29: 11

 

When Yaakov met Rachel at the well, he experienced conflicting emotions. He felt tremendous joy at having finally met his bashert, yet he raised his voice and cried. Rashi explains that he cried because he came empty-handed. He said, “My father’s servant came with ten camels laden with gifts and finery, and I come with empty hands.”

Rashi goes on to explain to us why he didn’t bring a gift for Rachel. When Yaakov found out Eisav was plotting to kill him, he fled from his father’s home. Eisav sent his son Alifaz to chase down Yaakov. Alifaz was a tzaddik, and when he approached Yaakov he said, “I can’t kill you because you are an innocent man. On the other hand, what will be with the command of my father?” Yaakov said to him, “A poor man has the halachic status of a dead man. Take my money, and it will be considered as if you killed me, so on some level you will have fulfilled your father’s words.” As a result, Yaakov came to the well empty-handed. When it was time to propose to Rachel, he didn’t have the gifts that would be expected, and so, he raised his voice and cried.

This Rashi become difficult to understand when we focus on who these people were. The Avos may have walked the same planet as do you and I, but they lived in a very different orbit. Their every waking moment was occupied by thoughts of Hashem. They lived and breathed to attain closeness to Hashem. That was the focus of their lives and existence. It was the only thing that mattered to them.

For many years Rachel knew that she was to marry Yaakov and be a matriarch of the Jewish people. You have to assume that when she finally met her bashert she was overcome with joy. Here was the man she had waited for. Here in front of her was this great tzaddik, the man of her dreams, offering to marry her so she could fulfill her destiny. It is hard to imagine she was concerned at that moment about glitter and trinkets.

Yet Yaakov cried because he didn’t have a diamond ring to give her. The question is – why? All that Rachel really wanted was being delivered to her. If so, why did Yaakov cry?

It seems the answer is that the lack of gifts may not have bothered Rachel much, but the bottom line was that it wasn’t respectful to her. When you come to your kallah, you bring her a gift. That is the way dignified people act. On some level, it isn’t treating her with the kavod due to her, and that caused Yaakov pain – so much pain that he raised his voice and cried. On some level, it was a slight to the honor of Rachel. It wasn’t befitting her significance, so it moved him to tears.

Every Person Hungers for Recognition

This is a tremendous lesson to us because the people we live among aren’t on the level of Rachel. To them, a slight to their honor is something that causes real pain. People will go to great lengths to protect their reputation and dignity because these things are very important to them. And for that reason we need to develop a real sensitivity to other people’s dignity and honor.

But this concept goes much further. The reality is that there are few people who get enough recognition and respect. We humans have many needs. We need food and drink, we need shelter and protection, and we need friends and companionship. Most of our needs are met. The one need that that is almost never met is the need to be appreciated. It is something we hunger for, something that is basic to our success and vitality. Yet there is no store where it can be bought, no marketplace in which it can be acquired. And a person often can go around with a deep hunger, not even realizing what is amiss.

One of the greatest acts of kindness I can do for another person is to treat him with honor. If I find your currency and can acknowledge you in that vein, I can give you that which you deeply crave – and it costs me nothing.

The great dichotomy of human conduct is that I must run from my own kavod, yet run after yours. When it comes to my honor, I have to train myself that it is vain and frivolous, yet when it comes to yours, I have to do everything in my power to give you as much honor as I am able. A person who learns to find this balance becomes a popular and welcome companion, and is able to help others meet one of their deepest, unmet needs.

Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 7/01/11

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Tznius: Wrapping It Up

 

Dear Rachel,

I had no intention of contributing to your column’s most recent debate — until this week, when I attended the graduation of my kindergarten-aged son. Rachel, I am still in shock. Mind you, this is no hick-town modern day school but a well-known yeshiva run by a recognized, well-respected rabbinical head, in a sizable orthodox community.

No, it is not Lakewood I refer to; most families here happen to be middle of the road Modern Orthodox. Of about twenty mothers in attendance, a mere six of us were decently dressed. The others ranged from untznius’dik (cap sleeves with arms completely bare; own hair exposed without even an attempt at head-covering), to outright coarse (skintight tops that leave little to the imagination and… you get the picture).

My heart ached for the Rosh Yeshiva who must have been pained to the core of his being, and for the innocent little boys whose futures are being compromised by none other than the parents they look up to.

To be candid, I grew up in a very modern home where females wearing pants was the norm. (I stopped the practice when I later discovered such attire inappropriate for a Torah-abiding Jewess.) And yet I have to say that for all of our modernity, I never dressed in the crude fashion that some religious women seem to have no problem with.

As I’ve learned it, tznius is a mandate, not an option. In light of the fact that our future generations are being detrimentally affected, I find the blitz of criticism leveled by readers on the original letter-writer unwarranted. Since when has it become “wrong” to take a stand for our principles and to defend Hashem’s laws?

Where is the outcry from influential sources?

My heart is bleeding

Dear Heart,

For weeks now this column has deferred to readers who have had plenty to say about a volatile issue that, as you indicate, affects all of us.

Though many letters were indeed critical, others echoed sentiments and opinions similar to yours. In fact, readers have done such a remarkable job in addressing the topic that what remains for this column at this time is to re-emphasize the importance of guarding our manner of dress (as well as demeanor) and to stress the gravity of being lax in the inyun of tznius (which in actuality encompasses the traits of modesty, humility and restraint).

Needless to say, not all letters made it to print. One reader (submitting his comments to the editor of The Jewish Press) fiercely decried the publication of the tznius column as it originally appeared in Chronicles of June 3rd. The following is an excerpt of his letter:

I wonder how Rachel considers this a crisis in the community? Unless she is talking about the xxxxx community, in which case I would understand because there it is socially acceptable to equate transgressions of halachic law with criminal abuse… I wonder why a woman not covering her knees is considered by Rachel to be a crisis on the level of an agunah who can never remarry, or a young child being repeatedly molested by his Rebbe or a woman battered by her husband. 

I myself am a “black hat” Jew, who adheres to the strictest interpretation of the law, and I am very, very offended by this article… equating a religious “transgression” with molestation and abuse is intolerable.

Sir, with all due respect for your religious convictions, your remarks are most baffling, on many counts.

1) This column tries its best not to discriminate; when a fellow-reader is in distress, we consider it a crisis. Others are equally welcome to disagree, to commiserate or to debate the sufferer…

2) It is not for us to determine the magnitude of one mitzvah over another; we refer you to the words in Pirkei Avos that forewarn us not to judge one mitzvah more (or less) significant than another. Thereby the out-of-control lack of modesty in our midst most certainly qualifies as a Chronicle of Crisis.

3) We do know that among the numerous mitzvos in the Torah, only one – the theme of tznius – is linked to the presence of the Holy Shechinah in our midst. We are warned specifically (in Devarim 33:15): “Ki Hashem Elokecha mishaleich b’kerev machnecha l’hatzilcha; v’haya machanecha kadosh…” – For Hashem your G-d walks among you to save you and deliver your enemies before you; your camp should therefore be holy … to not cause Him to turn away from you.

4) The Jewish nation is considered a “lone sheep among seventy wolves.” But our Creator watches over His children, as long as we maintain our modesty. One should shudder at the thought of our vulnerability should we chas v’shalom turn Hashem against us. (For that matter, do we know why tragedies – such as the molestation and abuse you speak of – fall upon us?)

Several years ago, as readers worldwide will recall, the topic of shmiras halashon was being confronted in every community and on every level, via live shiurim, tapes, pamphlets and workshops, in order to shake our people to the seriousness of its transgression and awaken us to the dangers we place ourselves in with carelessness of speech.

Many people may not be aware that the same Chofetz Chaim who has brought the laws of lashon hora into our living rooms for our own protection in this world and in the next, also wrote a compendium on the laws of tznius. Titled Geder Olam, this work clearly outlines the laws of tznius, as well as the hazards in flouting them: parnassa issues; shalom bayis difficulties; children going off the derech; etc. This volume belongs on the sefarim shelf of every home library.

To “My heart is bleeding”: You speak of your own “modern” upbringing and subsequent growth. Perhaps the mothers (you encountered at the graduation) are yet to embark on their own journey into the wonderful and immensely satisfying world of our religion and heritage. Let us hope and pray for them all.

* * * * *

We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to  rachel@jewishpress.com  or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.

Rachel

Why Psychology & Marriage Therapy Fails

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Statistically, about half of all couples marrying this year will see their marriage end in divorce. For couples undergoing marriage therapy, surprisingly or perhaps not surprisingly, the rates of divorce are no different about one-half will suffer divorce.[1]

Does marriage therapy help? Unfortunately, the answer is “Not much.”

Husband and wife arrive at the psychologist (counselor or therapist) for marital therapy. The psychologist attempts to make both happy, a sort of 2 for 1 deal which rarely works. Counseling is individual oriented with the specific objective of helping the individual find happiness. The marital counselor is caught in a Catch-22: facing two dissimilar individuals, suffering together, both seeking to find happiness. Unfortunately, the therapist has no common framework in which to offer help.

In psychology’s happiness-based weltanschauung, marriage is a means, not an end – and, as a result, lacks any valid reason to assume permanence. Marriage may have been the answer for such a couple seeking happiness 4, 5 or 10 years ago, when they were in love and dreamed of spending the rest of their lives together, but what about now? They’re different. People do change after marriage. What guarantees their compatibility or love 5, 10 or 20 years after celebrating their marriage? If marriage will increase their happiness, then, psychology advocates marriage. But if, say, 10 years later, marriage fails to offer them the same happiness, then, psychology may well advocate ending the marriage. Marriage therapy and counseling notoriously fail owning to their explicit “happiness focused” paradigm.

Marriage demands effort; there are no shortcuts. It’s not always easy working on oneself, overcoming personality imperfections and becoming a better person. It’s much easier to blame one’s spouse, indulge one’s failings by quitting and simply trading in the old model for a newer one. And that’s exactly what occurs in half of American marriages today. Marriage has become disposable, expendable; a temporary means serving a goal of individual happiness rather than being a hallowed end, worthy of sacrifice.

This “happiness” malady is well bred into the American psyche. The Declaration of Independence guarantees our “right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Beyond the clichés, while the Declaration of Independence guarantees one’s right to the pursuit of happiness, it fails miserably to guarantee finding happiness.

In contradistinction to the American ideal of inalienable rights, self-evident truths, manifest destiny and the pursuit of happiness, the Torah lists 613 commandments. In place of freedoms and rights, the Torah places obligations – lots of them. We eat only kosher, dress modestly, pray three times a day, fast when we want to eat and eat marror when Hashem says to. We refrain from work on Shabbos and live according to the Laws of Family Purity and Chazal state “Only he who submerges himself in Torah is truly free.”

Marriage, according to Judaism, is an end, not a means. Marriage is the ideal state of humankind; human perfection is attained only through marriage. Improving one’s marriage brings him or her closer to Hashem. “It is not good for man to dwell alone. I will create for him a helpmate beside him.” Life challenges. Marriage challenges and people find happiness by overcoming challenges. The Hebrew word nisayon translates, not as difficulty but as challenge – based upon the word nes, which means to elevate.

Marriage succeedswhen it is viewed as permanent and husband and wife are absolutely dedicated to their marriage’s enhancement. The Torah’s many teachings clearly depict marriage’s importance and permanence.

In a Jewish wedding ceremony, the man gives a wedding ring to the woman and through this act consecrates her as his wife. In Jewish Law, the monetary transaction of acquiring a wife is learned out from a monetary transaction in a different Biblical verse with similar syntax; dealing with Avraham’s purchasing Machpela from Ephron the Hittite. It seems odd that acquiring a wife is learned from buying a burial plot for one’s wife who had just died? Death annuls the marriage bond. Avraham’s crying for, eulogizing and burying Sara followed her death when they were no longer married!

This is exactly the lesson! All that Avraham did following Sara’s death showed that their bond continue to exist even after death. Marriage creates a permanent bond between husband and wife, beginning in this world and continuing in the World to Come. Unlike other monetary (chattel) transactions, which are passed on to inheritors, the bonds of marriage are not only in the physical realm but in the binding of the souls – the nefesh, ruach andneshama of husband and wife. This permanence of bonding can be learned specifically from Avraham’s purchasing Machpela – which is where Adam and Chava, Avraham and Sara, Yitzchak and Rivka and Yaakov and Leah are resting. The Talmud shows that the bond created under the chuppah remains forever.

The Torah perspective on the permanence of marriage even after death leaves no room for doubt. The Torah places special emphasis on spousal burial together after death. When Pharaoh met Yaakov, Pharaoh was astounded at how aged Yaakov looked and asked how old he really was. Yaakov answered Pharaoh that his days were few and troubled. Yaakov suffered greatly during his life: dealing with the treacherous Lavan, the evil Esau, Rachel’s premature death giving birth to Binyamin, his daughter Dina’s abduction and violation by Shechem, Yosef’s disappearance, Shimon and then Binyamin being taken into captivity by the Egyptian viceroy and yet only once does the Torah give witness to Yaakov being driven to tears. When he first met Rachel, he “raised his voice and wept” because he saw prophetically that, while he would marry Rachel, he would not be buried with her.” Only this sorrow broke Yaakov, his inability to spend eternity next to his wife, Rachel.

Lavan merited that the Twelve Tribes trace their lineage to Rachel, Leah, Bilha or Zilpah, all his daughters because he exclaimed “[this match of Rivka to Yitzchak] is from Hashem”. He was the first person to verbalize that matches are the work of Hashem.

Jewish marriage, and by extension, marriage counseling or therapy must be based on the eternity of marriage and the singular unity of husband and wife. The goal is successful marriage; the client is the marriage, not either spouse. Husband and wife must be educated to make their marriage the best possible. When marriage rests on sound footing, both marriage partners find contentment, happiness and joy. For these reasons, I named my first book on marriage, Together We Are One – Making Marriage Work opening with the words of the Ramban, “And they [the children and grandchildren of Yaakov that went down to Egypt] were seventy souls and their wives were not counted [separately], for a man [together] with his wife are one.”

[1]Lee Baucom PhD. “Save the Marriage”

Eliezer Medwed

The Portuguese-Jewish Cemetery In Ouderkerk aan de Amstel

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Beth Haim, the Portuguese-Jewish cemetery in Ouderkerk aan de Amstel

Kerkstraat 10, 1191 JB Ouderkerk aan de Amstel

http://www.bethhaim.nl/

 

 

There is something profound and soothing in the ancient Jewish practice of using the euphemism beit chaim, “house of life,” to refer to a cemetery. It is as if the rabbis did not even want to coin the phrase beit mavet, “house of death,” for fear of inviting the evil eye.

 

Walking on a cold and rainy day through the Portuguese-Jewish cemetery in Ouderkerk, about five-and-a-half miles south of Amsterdam, it was impossible not to appreciate the euphemism on a completely different level. Somehow, the cemetery Beit Haim, which dates back to 1614, is still very much alive.

 

 

 

Most of the 6,000 marble memorials in the oldest part of the cemetery (the full cemetery contains more than 27,500 tombs) have sunk into the ground. Walking through the cemetery and later over tea in a house on the burial grounds, Dennis Moshe Ouderdorp, caretaker of the cemetery, and Jewish tour guide Vera Querido agreed that the 17th century Sephardic Jews who introduced the marble stones must have known they would sink. Perhaps the transience of the heavy stones embedded into the unstable ground even appealed to them, Querido suggested.

 

            What is clear is that the cemetery is home to an impressive group of Dutch Jews, from Menasseh Ben Israel, a diplomat who petitioned Oliver Cromwell to permit Jews to return to England and who was a close friend of Rembrandt’s, to Baruch Spinoza’s parents (Spinoza himself is buried in a church in the Hague) to Eliahu Montalto, French queen Maria de Medici’s doctor.

 

 

 

 

It is common knowledge that several artists, most famously Jacob van Ruisdael (1628-1682), painted the Jewish cemetery at Ouderkerk. Two pieces by Ruisdael, which are partially imaginative (ruins of a castle in the background are completely manufactured), even include Montalto’s tombstone.  In an interview about five years ago, Ruisdael scholar Seymour Slive, Gleason professor of fine arts emeritus at Harvard University, called Ruisdael’s imagination one of his strengths, adding that his “genius is that he is not an ape of nature.”

 

Slive, who claimed that Ruisdael did not paint the cemetery for Jewish patrons (both Ouderdorp and Querido agreed with that assessment), called the painting an allusion to the “transience of all life, and the ultimate futility of humankind’s endeavors.”

 

Despite puddles of water obscuring the faces of the tombstones, it was easy to see transience everywhere. Several stones contained skeletons (one full skeleton swings a sickle) and hourglasses, often with wings – all symbols borrowed from non-Jewish artistic traditions and adapted to Jewish memorials. The double tombstone of Rebecca Ximenes (died 5453 or 5454) and her daughter Esther features similar iconography.

 

 

 

 

            Rebecca’s stone shows her namesake, the biblical Rebecca drawing water for Eliezer’s camels (Genesis 24), while the stone for Esther, who died a mere 27 days after her mother, shows a pair of arms emerging from the clouds using an axe to chop down a tree. The symbol suggests that just like the tree, Esther’s life has been cut short. Two putti weep at the bottom of Rebecca’s stone; a winged hourglass resting on a skull and cross bones appears at the top of Esther’s stone.

 

Biblical figures and episodes appear in several other stones. A double stone for Mordechai Franco Mendes (died 5448/1687) and his wife Sara Abendana (died 5456/1696) contains four biblical narratives: the binding of Isaac, David playing the harp, Jacob’s dream and Abraham forging a peace treaty with Abimelech’s general Phicol.

 

Four crying putti figure into the double stone of Rachel (died 5455/1695) and Hana Vega (died 5461/1701). Rachel’s stone contains an illustration of the meeting of the biblical Jacob and Rachel, as Rachel tends her father Laban’s sheep. Hana’s stone includes a depiction of the biblical Chana, mother of the prophet Samuel.

 

 

 

 

King David playing his harp appears prominently atop a stone for David Da Rocha (died 5469/1708), and an inscription identifies the deceased as not only someone who shared the biblical king’s given name, but also a fellow musician. The gravestone of Moses de Mordechai Senior (died 5490/1730) might be the most ambitious in its depiction of 11 biblical scenes: Moses with the Ten Commandments, Haman leading Mordechai, David playing the harp, Abraham looking heavenward, Jacob’s dream, King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, Sara, Rebecca, Rachel, Judah and Benjamin.

 

Despite all the biblical characters, it was hard not to compare many of the tombstone illustrations with a work displayed at Museum het Rembrandthuis, Rembrandt’s house-turned-museum. Jan Ewoutsz’s 1537 woodblock print, “Allegory of Human Transience,” shows a skeleton with his hand on a man’s shoulder. The man holds an hourglass in one hand, and his other arm is wrapped around a very muscular looking baby. The skeleton points to an inscription: “Nascendo Morimur,” “As we are born, we die.”

 

With minimal rearrangement and massaging, Ewoutsz’s work could look exactly like the tombstones of the cemetery at Ouderkerk some 100 years later. On the one hand, this means that there is nothing unique in the artistic program of the tombstones. Like the old Jewish cemetery in Prague, there are even nudes depicted on the stones, which suggests an open-minded approach to the sacred burial process.

 

But it would also be a mistake to focus exclusively on the derivative nature of the stones. Whether or not their designs and motifs were innovative, the Portuguese Jews of 17th century Holland saw importance in decorating their tombstones lavishly. It should not surprise us that such a burial ground attracted the attention of artists like Ruisdael and Romeyn de Hooghe. And if Querido is right that the use of imported marble might have been some kind of postmodern (or pre-postmodern) attempt to arrange for even the stones themselves to decay and sink into the water, that would be a very interesting artistic approach to their burial program indeed.

 

 

Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.

 

 

I am indebted to L.A. Vega’s Het Beth Haim van Ouderkerk: The Beth Haim of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, which provided much of the background on the cemetery. This article is the first in a series on Jewish Amsterdam and The Hague, which is based on a trip sponsored by the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions.

Menachem Wecker

Learning From ‘Mother’ Rachel

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Throughout the centuries, following the Jewish people’s exile from the land of our forefathers, when the name Rachel was evoked, the word “Imeinu”- our mother -was attached to it.

Traditionally, Jews cry out to “Mother Rachel,” one of the nation’s four matriarchs, asking for her help in alleviating whatever woes we are enduring; beseeching her to petition Hashem on our behalf for relief and succor. Many have risked their lives to visit her burial place, known as Kever Rachel, in Bethlehem.

We are like distressed children who run to their mother for comfort and soothing, knowing that she loves us and that our well being is her all consuming priority.

Mama Rachel, we call her.

Yet ironically, she actually isn’t.

Rachel technically is our step-mother. And aunt.

The Jewish people, as we have been called for thousands of years, are the descendants of Leah, Rachel’s sister. The name “Jew” – Yehudi – in Hebrew is derived from the name Leah gave her son, Yehuda. Those of us who are Leviyim or Kohanim are the offspring of another of Leah’s sons, Levi. There were 10 others tribes, two of which were of Rachel’s seed (Ephraim and Menashe) but they disappeared. These tribes broke away from the kingdom that was headed by the House of David (who was from the tribe of Yehuda) and created their own. The Kingdom of Israel as it was called, was eventually invaded and many of its residents were exiled. With the passing of time, the inhabitants of that break-away kingdom disappeared and are known as “The Ten Lost Tribes.” There are many theories about what happened to them – but the fact is the only recognized descendants of Avraham, Itzchak and Yaacov are Leah’s progeny. (Another tribe that came from Rachel, Benyamin, was almost decimated and its remnants blended into Yehuda.)

Yet despite the fact that Rachel is not the biological ancestress of the Jewish people, the Torah says Rachel weeps for her children and advocates for them in Shomayim. Why does it not say that she petitions Hashem on behalf of her nieces or nephews, or stepchildren?

From their end, Jews worldwide embrace her as a mother, calling her Rachel Imeinu, instead of Tante Rachel. Why have generations of Jews poured their hearts out to a woman we call mother, rather than qualifying that she is in fact a maternal aunt – and/or a stepmother.

Perhaps it’s to remind us that DNA isn’t the be all and end all; that blood isn’t the only pertinent criteria in defining someone as a mother or father – or a son or daughter. You don’t have to be biologically connected to be someone’s parent – or someone’s child.

In today’s world, death and divorce and second or even third marriages have created what is known as blended families.

In these atypical families, husbands and wives raise their own children, their spouse’s, as well as the offspring they have together. This means that not everyone in the family is actually gene “related.” There are step-siblings whose DNA is completely different; half-siblings with a common parent and full siblings.

In addition to blended families whose members have various degrees of kinship, there are infertile couples unable to conceive or carry a pregnancy who create their family through adoption. In these situations, the parents and children (unless siblings are adopted together) are not “flesh and blood” at all.

Unfortunately, while the various members of these non-traditional families consider each other as one family, some of their relatives do not share these same sentiments.

Over the years I have heard of situations where grandparents favored their “real” grandchildren over those they viewed as being “collateral damage” of a remarriage or adoption. At family gatherings, the “real” grandchildren were showered with expensive gifts while the “not real” ones received a small token gift at best – or nothing at all, at worst.

And it hurts. The children, who no doubt experienced so much pain, turmoil and trauma due to a death or a divorce, must endure even more when they are treated as outsiders by their step-parent’s or adopted parents’ relatives. They feel like outsiders and their inevitable resentment and bitterness can undermine the shalom bayis of the whole family, which already is tentative as each member struggles to adjust to a new reality.

It may be hard for a grandmother to hug her daughter’s adopted son with the same enthusiasm as she hugs her biological grandson. After all, she may see her own face or that of her beloved husband or parents reflected in the features of the tiny face smiling up at her. It is only human to be attracted to or reach out to the familiar (root word is family).

But the Torah teaches us that we are in fact one big family and should treat each other as such. Rachel Imeinu cries for who she views as her children. She doesn’t say, “Hey Jews, children of Judah and Levi, you are Leah’s offspring. Go to Hevron, go to Ma’aras Hamachpeila where your “ema” is buried and cry to her. I’m not interested in your problems.”

A woman I know frequently criss-crosses the United States, often flying off to Israel for a grandchild’s bar or bat-mitzvah celebration, a vort or a wedding. A divorcee with kids, she married a man with several children of his own.

Between the two, there are many simchas to celebrate and she told me that she goes to every one, and will continue to do so if her health allows it. When I commented that it must be difficult to wait in airports, eat airplane food, and endure all the hassles that traveling entails, she told me “They are all my grandchildren, how can I not go?”

Rachel Imeinu couldn’t agree more.

Cheryl Kupfer

Respecting A Parallel Reality

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

It goes without saying that the process of getting set up on marriage-oriented dates, going out several times and eventually making the decision that “this is the one” is emotionally and even physically taxing. However, as hard as getting to the chuppah may be – being happily and successfully married is even more difficult and challenging. Two diverse individuals with distinctive mindsets, shaped by their unique experiences from the minute they were born, must suddenly mesh their way of looking at things and their way of reacting to them.

To put things in a perspective – if identical twins, who were raised to a great extent in the same environment, have different opinions, attitudes, preferences and points of view – how much more so a young man and a woman who have been strangers for most of their lives.

It is very helpful that the two have similar haskafot in terms of their life’s goals, covering serious matters such as religious observance, child rearing, materialism, etc. However, while this basic compatibility is a necessary component to a successful relationship, it is just one stepping stone on the bridge to marital happiness. What is crucial as well is that each partner in the union have the ability – and willingness – to respect each other’s version of “reality.” Because the fact is no matter how much the two are compatible, and how much they see eye to eye on the bigger issues, there will be situations where they will have a different, even conflicting viewpoint, and each will expect – and need – validation of their feelings and perceptions.

Case in point: Two young women who have been friends “forever” go to exercise at the gym. “Leah,” a recent newlywed, is slim and athletic and goes often to work out. “Rachel” goes only occasionally and still is carrying 20 extra pounds from two pregnancies. Leah decides to try the new high intensity aerobic spinning class, while Rachel heads for a low impact, slow movement class, which is 15 minutes longer.

The two friends meet up in the changing room, both drenched in sweat. “What a hard workout,” exclaims Rachel as she tries to catch her breath.

“Not as hard as mine,” declares Leah, as she checks her pulse.

“What are you talking about, my workout was so much longer than yours! I’m totally wiped,” insists Rachel, who is still breathing heavily.

“How can you compare your workout to mine,” Leah says condescendingly, “mine was a killer. I almost quit half-way through it. But I pushed myself to finish.”

“So did I. I thought I would have a heart attack.” Rachel counters, her voice sounding miffed. “You’re used to this kind of stuff. It’s easier for you. I’m going to be sore for days.”

It is pointless for these friends to argue about who had the harder workout. Each feels theirs was the more physically demanding one. Each wants validation or recognition of this fact. The truth of the matter is – they are both right – based on where they are coming from. They have parallel realities that are not in sync with the other.

Trying to convince the other person that their perception is flawed or inaccurate is an exercise in futility. No one gets into a debate thinking they are in the wrong. Quite the opposite, a person in a dispute or on a larger scale, a nation that is at war, is convinced that they are in the right. They even insist that G-d is on their side. It is clear that they have conflicting “realities,” and what is so “obvious and evident” to one makes no sense or is “out of left field” to the other.

In a marriage, husband and wife will face situations in which each will insist that their assessment or version is the valid one. A husband, for example, comes home very late and expects some pampering and sympathy – because he had a very stressful day at the office. He is an accountant and it is tax season. His wife on the other hand shares her litany of woes as she tells him what her day was like: a colicky baby, a toddler who loves throwing his food up in the air and a four-year-old who threw-up twice.

This couple can do one of two things – argue over who had it worse and walk away feeling frustrated or resentful or they can respect and acknowledge each other’s reality and each say something that translates to, “I recognize your misiras nefesh on behalf of the family, and I ‘m sorry you had such a difficult day. I hope tomorrow will be better for you.”

The ability to validate that which you might not necessarily agree with will cement a marriage more than yichus, money or looks and is a quality that every person dating for tachlis should look for in a potential spouse.

It is important to remember that all human beings have a deep-seated need to have their “realities” recognized and corroborated. A child who loses his adored stuffed “teddy” – no matter how torn and ratty looking it may be, is as devastated by his loss as would be a woman whose favorite pearl bracelet went missing – the one her beloved Bubbi gave her when she turned bat mitzvah.

Perhaps in his parents’ eyes, the teddy bear is worthless and easily replaceable -not remotely close to being on the same level as the missing jewelry, but in the child’s reality, he has lost something priceless and his grief is very real.

That his parents acknowledge this, that they respect and validate his parallel reality – is crucial in building his self-confidence. In terms of a married couple, it is the direct path to shalom bayis.

Cheryl Kupfer

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/on-our-own/respecting-a-parallel-reality-2/2010/08/18/

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