On the eleventh of Cheshvan, while giving birth to her 2nd son, Binyamin, Rachel, the beloved wife of Ya’akov, died, and was buried on the road to Bethlehem.
The site of her burial in Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem, known to us by tradition, is covered by a stone edifice. Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, Israel.
For millennia, Jews have come to this site to pour forth their hearts in prayer, and to awaken her merit in any time of travail, for the community as well as for the individual.
Our mother Rachel was not buried in the tile cave of Machpelah in Hevron together with the other Matriarchs and Patriarchs of our people. Instead, she was buried on the road to Jerusalem, exactly where she died, while coming back to Jerusalem from the House of Lavan with Ya’akov.
Why did our Father Ya’akov bury Rachel on the road in Bethlehem?
According to Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov’s Book of Our Heritage, Ya’akov saw prophetically that in the future, Jewish exiles would pass by on that road and she might seek mercy for them.
When Nebuzaradan exiled the Jews from Israel, and they in fact passed her grave, Rachel emerged to weep and to ask for mercy in their behalf, (Yirmeyahu 3l): “Thus did the Lord say, a voice is heard on high, lamentation and hitter weeping, Rachel weeps for her children, she refuses to be consoled for her children, for they are not.” And God in fact answers: “Thus did the Lord say, refrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for there is reward for your labor, said the Lord, and the children shall return to their boundary” (Rashi Vayechi, and Midrashim quoted by Radak, Yirmeyahu 31).
Another Midrash relates: When the Patriarchs and Matriarchs went to intercede with God over the image which Menasheh placed in the Temple, God was not reconciled. Rachel entered and said before Him: Lord of the universe! Whose mercy is greater? Yours? Or the mercy of a person of flesh and blood. Surely, Your mercy is greater. Have I not brought my rival (Leah) into my house? For all the work which Yaakov did for my father, was done by him, only for my sake. When I came to enter the chupah, my sister was brought in my place. And not only did I keep silent, but I even gave her my signs. You too — though Your children have brought Your enemy into Your House – be silent towards them! He said to her: You have defended them well, there is reward for your labor, for your righteousness in having given your signs to your sister (Rashi Yirmeyahu 31).
From the time when the People of Israel went into their first exile until Yirmeyahu’s prophecy of redemption (‘and the children shall return to their boundary’), the grave of our mother Rachel has always been and will always remain a House of Prayer to Israel, for she is a mother to all Israel, and always awakens mercy in their behalf.