Let My People Know

"Exile epitomizes the grief of Rachel"

Many years ago Rabbi Steinsaltz delivered two series of lectures on the army channel of Israel Radio.

One series was on men of the Bible and the other was on women of the Bible.

These lectures became the basis of the Rabbi’s book Biblical Images: Men and Women of the Book.

The original American edition included illustrations, including the print of Rachel by Gustav Dore shown here.

The following is an excerpt from Rabbi Steinsaltz’s essay on Rachel:

“Rachel is the mother figure of the Jewish people and appears thus not only in the Book of Genesis but also in later scriptures and texts.

She has become the feminine aspect of the Jewish nation—a compelling image of maternal lament:

“Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted.” (Jeremiah 31:15)

Because she is the mother who understands pain and anguish, Rachel’s tomb has become a place of pilgrimage for all those who sorrow and mourn, and it is to her that people come to pour out their hearts…

…As the mother of the nation, which did not, after all, issue entirely from her offspring, Rachel weeping for her sons is suited to be the tragic figure of exile and suffering.

It is exile that, in fact, epitomizes the grief of Rachel:

Whether it is for a homeland won and later snatched away;

or whether it is for long years of waiting for the consummation of a youthful love;

or whether it is death at the moment of fulfillment.

Therefore, for many centuries during the First and Second Temple periods, and certainly after the destruction of the Temple, Rachel came to symbolize the Shekhinah (Divine Presence) in exile.”

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Excerpted from “Rachel,” in Biblical Images by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz