by Wendy Kenin @greendoula
So after the Jewish New Year holiday series, what next? The only holiday during the month of Cheshvan is Shabbat – but that’s the most important of all of them! During Cheshvan, the month when we are reading in the Torah from Bereshit about the beginning years of the world again, we can pay special attention to the yarzeit of Rachel Imeinu, our matriarch Mama Rachel, whose husband the patriarch Jacob laid to rest on Cheshvan 11 in the year 2208 (1553 BCE) next to the road in Beit Lechem after she died giving birth to Benjamin her second son. This year Cheshvan 11 falls on November 3-4, 2014.
Rachel’s Tomb, considered the third holiest site to the Jewish people, is visited by thousands of people every year, but particularly on her yarzeit. Rachel “Our Mother”, who lived for many years barren while her sister bore children to her husband, whose cry HaShem responds to by promising that her children the Jewish people will return home, is understood to hear the prayers of her people and to advocate for them.
While Kever Rachel has been the subject of art over the centuries, today it is enveloped in a military compound as it has been subjected to religious war and turmoil. Access to this sacred site had been obstructed at various times over the centuries and so the militarism of the site is for the purpose of maintaining access for Jewish people as well as for preserving the site’s integrity and keeping Rachel, Our Mother safe. Considering this past summer’s news of the destruction of the Tombs of Yonah and of Daniel in Iraq by Muslim extremists after they had survived all these centuries, the military protection of Rachel’s Tomb looks better than ever.
Even if you can’t make it to Kever Rachel in person to honor her during the anniversary of her tragic death, this day has been dubbed “Jewish Mother’s Day” and you can observe her yarzeit from wherever you are. Certain customs to consider include learning Torah with others, giving charity in honor of the deceased, and blessing and sharing food with others. Herein lies more possibility for raising the spirits of the Jewish people, in the merit of and with love for our precious matriarch Rachel Imeinu, the embodiment of Jewish grace.
Judaism revers women and mothers. We exercise our elevated female role throughout the Jewish calendar cycle – from special mitzvot for women relating to Shabbat, to celebrating the new month each Rosh Chodesh, to resting while the Chanukah candles are lit. Cheshvan 11 offers the Jewish people another occasion to focus on the special strengths of women while also honoring our matriarch Rachel in her sacred resting place in the Holy Land during her yarzeit. We can do this individually or in groups, and I recommend doing it in groups!
Unity is a mandate. While we may have work to do individually internally and externally, Judaism offers structures throughout the annual calendar to stay connected in community and never to isolate ourselves. Being present for a minyan, or participating in simchas can bring greater blessings. Staying engaged in earthly activities with other Jewish people in the physical world, particularly focused on Torah learnings, is our way. We convene throughout festivals, sabbaths, rituals, and even on our very special Jewish Mother’s Day.
This blog entry is an excerpt from an October 12, 2014 article titled, “Sacred Sites and Sacred Rights: Earth-Connected Spirituality from the Jewish New Year through ‘Jewish Mother’s Day.'” Read the article in it’s entirety on Times of Israel here.