I chose for my Bat Mitzvah speech to talk about the names my parents gave me: Meira- Rachel and the connection between them.
I was born 12 years ago, on Friday night, the 10th of Cheshvon. My parents chose to give me two names that hold special meaning for this date.
A week before I was born, a soldier by the name of Nachshon Waxman was kidnapped by terrorists. Everyone in Israel was filled with concern over the kidnapping and there was a rare and wondrous feeling of unity among all the Jews in Israel. Everyone prayed for Nachshon’s safe and speedy return home.
As Shabbat approached, Esther, Nachshon’s mother, requested that everyone light an extra Shabbat candle for Nachshon’s safe return.
My mother’s labor pangs had already begun as she lit the Shabbat candles, adding an extra one for Nachshon, and said a prayer of her own for his safe return home.
As my mother’s labor pangs became stronger, my parents decided it was time to go to the hospital. On the way, the ambulance driver informed my parents of the tragic news of Nachshon’s death through a failed rescue attempt that also took the life of Nir Poraz, an officer, who was first to storm the house where Nachshon was being held captive.
In those days, people would travel through Beit Lechem to get to Jerusalem. The skies were overcast and as the ambulance passed Rachel’s Tomb, a soft rain began to fall. “Rachel is crying for her children”, said my father sadly.
In the small hours of the night, I emerged into the world. My father, who took an active part in my long delivery, says that the moment I was born, he held me and I smiled (probably gas… ). That smile, he says, lit up the great darkness he felt that came from the tragic deaths of Nachshon and Nir. He asked to name me Meira – meaning: to give forth light. Together my parents added the name Rachel, for Rachel Emeinu, her great chessed, the proximity to her yortzeit and her burial place in Bethlehem where we visited on Tuesday, and the connection between her selfless chessed and Nir Poraz, who bravely stormed the house where Nachshon was being held captive and gave up his life in attempt to saving Nachshon’s.
Rachel Emeinu is a wondrous figure in the Torah. Even though she passed away 3,559 years ago, all through the generations Jews have visited her burial place where they poured out their hearts in prayer. There is something in Rachel’s character, in her life of suffering that says to us: “You can tell me all your troubles. I will understand”. In her lifetime as in her death, Rachel knowingly relinquished her love, her comfort and her personal happiness for her family whom she loved above all. Rachel, who was barren for many years and yearned for children of her own, while her sister Leah, her rival and husband’s wife, gave birth every year, died in childbirth, while giving birth to her second child, Binyamin.
The question that arises is why, out of our Four Mothers, it is Rachel’s gravesite in Beit Lechem where people flock to in order to pray for mercy?
And why was Rachel, unlike the Jewish nation’s other forefathers, who were buried in the Patriach’s Tomb in Hebron, buried alone, in Beit Lechem?
The answer to these questions can be found in Breishit Rabah, chapter 82: verse 10: Yaakov saw through the divine spirit that in the future, the Children of Israel will pass Beit Lechem on their way to exile. He hoped that Rachel would feel their great pain and pray in heaven to Hashem for mercy. For that reason he decided to bury Rachel in Beit Lechem as opposed to Hebron.
Indeed, 1000 years later, the Jews placed an idol in the holy Temple and Hashem thought to destroy the temple for eternity and send the children of Israel to permanent exile. The souls of all our forefathers tried in turn to dissuade G-d from His decree.
Only when Rachel’s soul intervened was the decree altered. Jeremiah 31:15 The LORD says, “A sound is heard in Ramah, a sound of crying in bitter grief. It is the sound of Rachel weeping for her children Refusing to be comforted, because her children are gone”
And what was it that Rachel said through her weeping over the Children of Israel going out to exile?
“G-d of the Universe”, she said. “I waited 7 long years to marry my loved one Jacob. When the day finally arrived, my father plotted to replace me with my sister Leah. I realized that she would go through terrible humiliation if the scheme would be made public during the wedding party, so I had mercy on her and I gave her the secret code that Jacob and I had made up in case my father’s scheme was realized. I put aside my private feelings so as to spare my sister the shame in front of all those people and tried my best not to be jealous of her. In retrospect I brought my rival into my home! So if I was able to endure, Almighty G-d, surely you need not be so severe with your children because of the idol, your “rival”, so to speak, into your home.”
Hashem’s mercy was immediately evoked and He said:
“Restrain your voice from weeping, your eyes from shedding tears for there is reward for your labor declares HaShem. They shall return from the enemy’s land and there is hope for the future’ declares HaShem: ‘The children shall return to their land.” Jeremiah 3:15-17
On my Bat mitzvah day, I pray that through the virtue of Rachel Emeinu along with the dear soldiers, Nachshon Waxman and Nir Poraz, the terrible decrees against Am Yisroel will be revoked.
May it be Hashem’s will that we merit the return of all Am Yisroel to all the borders of the Land of Israel, and that we may be worthy of living here in peace and complete security and be able to sing out in a great voice: “The children shall return to their land”.