One of the places where my husband and I most like to daven is Kever Rachel. We go there frequently - sometimes for a particular reason, and sometimes just because. Sometimes the inner chamber is jam-packed with visitors, and sometimes there’s plenty of room with just a few people coming and going. But no matter what day or time of year it is, there always seems to be something going on at Kever Rachel.
We recently came to Kever Rachel to celebrate the chalakeh (upsherin) of our niece’s baby. Taking advantage of the location of the event, I hopped inside for a quick tefilah and found just a handful of women davening there. This was in stark contrast to the outdoor area, which was a major hub of activity. Our group of ten to fifteen people carved out a little spot for ourselves, our plattered refreshments, a chair on which to give the haircut, and one very excited three-year-old boy. As the men passed the scissors from hand to hand, gingerly cutting his silky, auburn locks of hair, we noticed a chatty group of women nearby performing the mitzvah of hafrashas challah and saying Tefilat Nishmat out loud. Their corner exuded optimism and enthusiasm. They seemed to be perfectly comfortable going about their business as visitors from all walks of life passed them by. As we sang to our three-year-old, brimming with pride as he showed off his tzitzis, we noticed another group in the area immediately next to us. I didn’t speak to anyone from that group to know for sure, but they appeared to be conducting a seudas hoda’ah of some kind. As they expressed gratitude to Hashem by closing their eyes and passionately singing Tov Lehodos and other soul-stirring songs, several of them tried unsuccessfully to hide the unbidden tears running down their cheeks by turning their backs to their family. Their carved-out area was thick with intensity and emotion. They felt that Kever Rachel would be the most meaningful venue for their event, but attempted to maintain some semblance of privacy despite being in such a public area. As each group continued its activity within its own daled amos, a kallah suddenly arrived in her wedding gown accompanied by her lively entourage. The members of the hafrashas challah crowd caught a glimpse of the kallah, hesitated for a short moment, but then could not help themselves and as a cohesive group charged from the challah toward the kallah and requested a brachah. As a kallah fasts on her wedding day and is therefore considered to be free of sin, the brachah of a kallah is believed to be exceptionally potent on that day. The kallah, delighted with her role, magnanimously listened to each one, and didn’t move on until each woman who approached her had received her own personal brachah.
The traditional yahrtzeit of Rachel Imeinu, 11 Cheshvan, is the undoubtedly the busiest day of the year at Kever Rachel, inside, outside, and beyond - but by far the most crowded time that I personally ever experienced at the site was on Zos Chanukah, the last day of Chanukah, which is viewed as a most auspicious time to daven. On that day, traffic heading towards Kever Rachel was backed up extraordinarily far out and parking was nearly impossible. Inside the compound, there was absolutely no place to stand. Literally. Every inch of the floor was occupied by a jumble of women of all ages and stages, facing in every direction, pouring their hearts out. With the exception of a group of women joining together to say Nishmat, each woman was in her own private world, seemingly oblivious to her surroundings. Each woman looked as if she was attempting to shake the heavens on behalf of those near and dear to her while simultaneously carrying the weight of the entire world on her shoulders. The intensity of kavanah on the faces of young and old was something to see. Some covered their faces with their Tehilim and siddurim, and some reached upward with their hands. Some cried out loudly and continuously while others moved their lips without a sound, as their tears silently streamed down their faces like a flowing river that replenishes itself over and over again. There was a charge in the air.
The midrash states that Yaakov Avinu did not bury Rachel at M’earat HaMachpela, but rather on the road on the way to Beit Lechem, because he foresaw that when the Jews would pass that way on their way into galus after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, Rachel Imeinu would sense the pain of her children and she would cry and beg for Hashem to have mercy on them. According to the introduction to the midrash on Megillas Eicha, when the Jews went into galus, Hashem sent Yirmiyahu HaNavi to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov Avinu as well as Moshe Rabbeinu to ask that they beseech Hashem to redeem His children. They implored Hashem to save us in the merit of what they had done during their lifetimes. But Hashem didn’t respond to their pleas. It was only when Rachel Imeinu intervened on our behalf that Hashem was moved and promised her that in her merit He will eventually bring us back to our land.
Visitors from all over the world flock to Kever Rachel because Rachel Imeinu is the quintessential mother, willing to sacrifice everything on behalf of her children. People are drawn to their mother at every age and want to bask in the warm embrace, acceptance, and unconditional love that only a mother can give. It’s hard to think of a better place to daven than that!