Photo Credit: Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Editor’s Note: Rebbetzin Jungreis, a”h, is no longer with us in a physical sense, but her message is eternal and The Jewish Press will continue to present the columns that for more than half a century have inspired countless readers around the world.

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In last week’s column I described some of the nerve-wracking aggravation that comes with travel. Going to Eretz Yisrael, however, is different. There, everything is different, because Eretz Yisrael is our land. Hashem gave it to us as our eternal inheritance. So no matter how long we may have been away from it, the land remains as close to us as it was thousands of years ago.

When our father Jacob, after many years of exile, returned to Eretz Yisrael, he sent a message to his brother Esau that he had been delayed but was now coming – meaning he had never relinquished ownership of the land.

For almost two thousand years we too have been delayed, but throughout the centuries the land remained engraved on our hearts and souls. So going to Eretz Yisrael is different, and that which we would find aggravating in other countries somehow does not affect us in the same way in the Holy Land. It’s not that I have blinders on; I am fully aware of the challenges that come with living there. And yet I still maintain that it is different.

Allow me to share just one example.

Whenever I speak in Israel, I am careful to set time aside to visit the gravesites of our ancestors. On a recent visit we engaged a taxi and asked the driver to take us to Kever Rachel and to wait for us. Now, taking a taxi in Israel is in and of itself an experience. Nowhere else do you have conversations with a driver the way you do in Israel.

I am in the habit of asking a driver his name. When I asked this particular driver his name, he replied, “Benjy.”

“You mean Binyamin,” I said.

“What’s the difference between Binyamin and Benjy?” he asked.

“There’s a huge difference,” I responded. “Binyamin has a history; Binyamin has roots. Binyamin represents glory and splendor – the Holy Temple itself was in the territory of Binyamin. But what is Benjy? What history does a Benjy have?”

We then got into a wonderful discussion about Torah and Judaism, something that can only happen in Israel, and in the end he conceded that Binyamin represents a legacy that Benjy does not.

Before we knew it, we had arrived at Kever Rachel and designated a spot where he should wait for us. There were about a dozen women at the Kever, each engrossed in her individual prayer, shedding tears and pleading for Hashem’s mercy.

Soon I too was pouring out my heart – when, suddenly, I was jarred. A busload of Sephardic women had arrived, and as more and more of them made their way into the small room in which we were praying, I felt as if I were being crushed.

Since I am slight of build, it doesn’t take much to knock me over, and here I was, being pushed and shoved until I felt I was on the brink of falling. If this had happened to me in any other country, in any other place, I would have been outraged. At the very least, I would have said, “Ladies, watch where you’re going. You’re crushing me!” And I must admit that my instinct was to voice my protest here as well.

But then I started to think about where I was, and all the pushing and shoving took on a different dimension.

“Mama Rachel,” I whispered. “Behold your children. Millennia have passed since you left this world and during those thousands of years we, your children, have been cast to the four corners of the world. We were tortured and oppressed. We experienced the barbaric savagery of the nations. Our children were torn from our arms. Our blood flowed freely at all times and in all places. The skies became dark from the smoke of the fires that consumed our people.

“But despite it all, we, your children never forgot you. We kept your memory alive in our hearts and souls. We knew exactly where you were buried, and now, when Hashem in His infinite mercy allowed us to return to our land, we fought and gave our lives to be able to come to your resting place to pray, to thank you for your endless tears that testify that you never gave up on us.

“So, Mother Rachel, just behold these women coming from different parts of the land, pushing and shoving – not for a bargain on a sales day, not to see a rock star, or any of the other attractions that have become synonymous with our times. None of that would bring these women out. They all came to give you honor and to ask you to pray with them and intercede on their behalf in front of Hashem’s Throne.”

I finished my davening and tried to make my way out, but no sooner had I emerged from the crowd than another lady approached me. “Come,” she said, “let’s say Nishmas together.”

We already had stayed an inordinate amount of time and were very much behind schedule. The taxi that had brought us and was supposed to be waiting had already left. Here we were in Bethlehem (not the friendliest of towns) and we wondered how we would get another taxi – but we could not resist such an amazing invitation, to say Nishmas on the way out of Kever Rachel.

Nishmas kol chai – The soul of every living being blesses and praises You.” Can there be a more spectacular, meaningful prayer to recite on taking leave of Kever Rachel?

To be sure, if I had been delayed at any other place I would have politely declined. “I’m sorry,” I would have said, “but there is a meeting I have to make.” But here, instead of being annoyed, my heart was filled with joy.

What a zechus – merit – to say Nishmas at Kever Rachel with a group of women from every part of Israel and from so many countries outside of Israel who were united as one because we were all children of Mama Rochel.

It was late when we finally got into another taxi, but I felt like singing with joy. What a magnificent day it had been – to pray to Hashem as one entity with Am Yisrael and to be immersed in the fervor that has kept our people alive through the ages.


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