This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H & my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H & in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmother Channah Freidel Bas Sarah
-My great aunt Rivkah Bas Etta
-Miriam Liba Bas Devora
-Yechiel Baruch HaLevi Ben Liba Gittel
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamah of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
וַיְחִי ~ Vayechi
“Evil Eyes & Teary Eyes; Final Tribute to Rochel”
Before Yaakov Avinu passes away, he famously blesses all of his sons. However, before he does that, he has two private meetings with Yosef HaTzaddik in which two vital conversations take place. In the first meeting [Bereishis 47:29-31], Yaakov charges Yosef with the task of making sure that after Yaakov dies, he is taken out of Egypt and buried in the Land of Cana’an where his forefathers were buried.
The second meeting [Ibid. 48:1-7], we’re told, occurs when Yaakov is sick and his death is more imminent. At that point, he calls upon Yosef once more and tells Yosef that his sons Efrayim and Menasheh, Yaakov’s grandsons, are going to be considered Yaakov’s sons moving forward, so that when it comes to division of the Promised Land among all of the B’nei Yisrael, like any of Yaakov’s other sons, Efrayim and Menasheh will represent their own tribes. But that’s not all Yaakov tells Yosef at this time.
In this second conversation, Yaakov seems to make random mention of the “premature” death and burial of his wife and Yosef’s mother Rochel Imeinu. Yaakov explains that when he left Padan, Rochel died unexpectedly (while giving birth to her second and last son Binyamin) and Yaakov therefore buried her on the road to Efras, in Beis Lechem. So, why does Yaakov bring up Rochel’s sudden death and burial at the road? It seems to be out of context.
So, Rashi [to 48:7] deals with this issue by citing a well-known Midrash [Bereishis Rabbah 82:10 and Pesikta Rabbasi 3] based on the famous prophecy of Yirmiyah [Yirmiyah 31:14-16] about Rochel Imeinu weeping for her children (“…Rochel Mivakah Al Banehah…”-“Rochel is crying [lit., causing crying] concerning her children…”).
Simply put, Rashi explains that Yaakov is anticipating that Yosef would take him to task for not burying Rochel in the proper burial plot in Chevron where the Avos (Patriarchs) and all of the other Imahos (Matriarchs) are buried, so Yaakov preempts and defends his actions, essentially arguing that, “Although I am burdening you to bury me with my forefathers when I didn’t do the same for your mother, realize that Rochel could not be buried in the ideal location in Chevron because G-d instructed me not to bury her there, but rather on the road so that when, generations later, Nevuzaradan is exiling the B’nei Yisrael from the Promised Land and they pass that road, Rochel will emerge from her grave and cry for them, so that in her merit, the B’nei Yisrael will return home.”
The basis of Yaakov’s apparent defense to Yosef is certainly moving, but why specifically was it it in merit of Rochel’s tears that the B’nei Yisrael would return from exile? Rochel is no more a “matriarch” than the others. Moreover, she mothered fewer of the children of Israel than, say, her sister Leah did. Maybe Sarah Imeinu or Rivkah Imeinu could just as well have been buried on the side of the road to cry for the B’nei Yisrael. Meanwhile, Rochel can get a more appropriate burial next to her husband Yaakov. Obviously, whoever would be left on the roadside would be excluded from the Me’aras HaMachpeilah (Cave of Pairs) where each of their husbands are ultimately buried, so why was Rochel the chosen matriarch to be left on the roadside?
That issue merely concerns the Midrash which Rashi quotes. But there’s another, more fundamental problem with Rashi’s argument. R’ Shimshon Raphael Hirsch and the Or HaChaim both argue against the basis of Rashi’s suggestion, that Yaakov is mentioning Rochel’s death and burial as a way of defending himself, because if this were the case, this “defensive” statement should have been stated in the previous conversation—the first conversation that Yaakov had with Yosef, when Yaakov was telling Yosef to make sure he’s buried in Cana’an. In that conversation, it would have made plenty of sense for Yaakov to defend the manner in which he buried Rochel. There, the Midrash which Rashi cited would make the perfect argument. But, as we already mentioned, the conversation about Yaakov’s burial request and that entire scene has since ended, and this new conversation seemingly has nothing to do with Yaakov’s request to be buried in Cana’an. In fact, the Torah specifically states that this conversation is taking place “Acharei HaDevarim HaEileh”-“after these things” [48:1], after Yaakov’s request to buried in Cana’an. At this point, Yaakov is talking about something else, the topic of Efrayim and Menasheh becoming his children and their own tribes. What does Rochel’s death and burial have to do with the status of Efrayim and Menasheh as their own tribes? In this conversation, Rochel’s death and burial certainly seems all the less relevant. So, why is Yaakov bringing it up?
Both R’ Hirsch and the Or HaChaim argue that somehow, Rochel’s death and burial has to bear some significance on Yaakov’s decision to name Efrayim and Menasheh his own sons. Apparently, the circumstances in which Rochel died and was buried are the backdrop for this second conversation. The question is: How? Where exactly is the relevance of Rochel’s death and burial here?
They each answer this question by addressing another question that one might’ve asked concerning this conversation, namely, why Efrayim and Menasheh should become their own tribes altogether.
R’ Hirsch explains that because Yaakov’s truest and chosen wife Rochel died the earliest and for whatever reason, she could not be buried like a proper matriarch—because she had to be “left aside,” Yaakov made sure her status as a matriarch and as his mainstay would not be “forgotten” by raising Yosef, Rochel’s firstborn, as his own firstborn. Accordingly, Yaakov would give Yosef a double portion so that his sons Efrayim and Menasheh become his own children, as a way of perpetuating Rochel’s legacy.
The Or HaChaim suggests a very similar explanation but takes it even further. Based on the Zohar [Vayechi 215], the Or HaChaim writes that when Yaakov told Yosef, “Meisah Alai Rochel”-“Rochel died on me,” Yaakov was actually saying “Rochel died because of me [on account of me]”—that the circumstances in which Rochel died was apparently Yaakov’s creation. As a support, the Or HaChaim cites two Midrashim, one that Yaakov was punished with her death because he delayed his pledge to G-d [Vayikra Rabbah 37:1] (which he made back in Vayeitzei, Bereishis 28:20-21) or, more famously, that Yaakov unwittingly cursed her, sentencing her to an untimely death when she stole her father’s Teraphim [Bereishis Rabbah 74:9] (also back in Vayeitzei, Bereishis 31:32). (*Bear in mind that Rochel would not die unless, ultimately, Divine Justice allowed it; apparently though, whatever measure of undeserved mercy or favor she might have gotten in a normal case, she was deprived of, in part because of Yaakov.)
In any event, explains the Or HaChaim, because Yaakov “caused” Rochel’s untimely death, he was unable to bear more children from her afterward, so as Yaakov deprived Rochel of more children, Yaakov is declaring now that he bore Efrayim and Menasheh to Rochel vicariously through Yosef.
All of the above is fascinating and helps us understand the context for Rochel’s death and burial in this conversation a little bit better, however, what are we to make of Rashi’s position? R’ Hirsch and the Or HaChaim assume, against Rashi, that Yaakov was not defending his request to be buried in Cana’an when he digressed to talk about Rochel, however, as we explained, the starting point for Rashi’s suggestion was a Midrashic teaching about Rochel’s burial, about how Rochel’s spirit needed to be situated where she could later cry on the B’nei Yisrael’s behalf. Now, even if it’s not necessarily the case that Yaakov was defending his request about his own burial, as R’ Hirsch and the Or HaChaim argue, it could be that the Midrash which Rashi works with is still significant for the conversation about Efrayim and Menasheh.
Perhaps we could argue, in a similar vein to the approach of the Or HaChaim, that indeed, Yaakov had a role in the circumstances which caused Rochel’s death. However, perhaps there’s another factor involved here. That other factor might be what is known commonly as “Ayin Hara,” the “evil eye.” Might Yaakov have unwittingly subjected his wife Rochel to the Ayin Hara?
What exactly is meant by “Ayin Hara”-“evil eye” and what does it mean to be subject to the “evil eye”?
In basic terms, “Ayin Hara” is created when someone has something which is potentially coveted by others—whether because of beauty, bounty, favor, excellence in quality or quantity—and that thing is exposed to the public eye. What happens is that the “prized possession,” when carried around in a boastful manner, attracts jealous attention from others which can cause various misfortunes for the possessor. Why does that happen? The Maharal explains [in his comments on Brachos 20A], from a mystical perspective, that “Ayin Hara” is a destructive, spiritual force that overwhelms the individual. But on a very simple level, the Michtav Eliyahu explains that one’s publicly exhibited gifts or privileges in life arouse Divine Judgment against its holder, keeping one under constant trial and evaluation regarding whether or not one deserves to benefit from or, Chas Va’Shalom (G-d forbid), lose out on that gift or privilege due to the way one chooses to act with it. Even the most genuine individuals can suffer from Ayin Hara if they bear even the slightest guilt because of their gifts, for example, when their pride is not properly channeled, or when the incite jealousy from others. It’s not superstition or dark magic as much as it is a manifestation of Divine Justice and a withholding of mercy.
One of the earliest examples of Ayin Hara is when Hagar apparently miscarries during her first pregnancy [Rashi to 16:5 citing Bereishis Rabbah 45:5]. Chazzal explain that, in fact, Hagar conceived twice with Avraham before bearing Yishmael, and it was because she boasted about her pregnancy and disparaged the barren Sarah (Sarai at the time) that Sarah cast an “evil eye” on her (perhaps a jealous eye) which caused Hagar to miscarry.
In light of the above, might we argue that Rochel was targeted by Ayin Hara?
The first quality the Torah tells us about Rochel is about her physical beauty [29:17], certainly something subject to the jealous eye. That’s all the Torah reveals about her before we’re told that Yaakov desired to marry her (presumably, there were other significant factors, though this is the only one ascribed to Rochel explicitly). On the contrary, her older Leah, we’re told, had tender eyes [Ibid.]. Chazzal explain that Leah had tender eyes because she was always crying about the fact that people said that Rochel would marry Yaakov, while she would marry Yaakov’s wicked older brother Eisav [Rashi to 29:17 citing Bereishis Rabbah 70:16, Bava Basra 123A]. Certainly, there was of pain, perhaps a measure jealousy, which Leah had for Rochel.
And ultimately, when both Leah and Rochel would marry Yaakov, Leah would have many children. Why was she entitled? The Torah explains that it was because Leah was relatively “hated” in comparison to her sister, and because she did not receive the same love from Yaakov that Rochel had, Hashem opened her womb [29:31]; meanwhile, Rochel remained barren for many years. Why? Perhaps it was a manifestation of Ayin Hara, specifically the crying eye of Leah, which in part, was triggered by the extra favor Yaakov had and expressed for Rochel.
One could argue further that it is for this reason as well that just about every single time that Yaakov wants to be with Rochel, she’s taken from him and he gets Leah in exchange. First, it was in marriage; Yaakov was waiting to marry Rochel, but he was given Leah first as per Lavan’s scheme [29:23-25]. The second time it happens, he is prepared to spend the night with Rochel, and again, he is given Leah, as per Rochel’s deal with Leah regarding Leah’s Duda’im (plant that she got from her son) [30:14-16]. In the same vein, Rochel would die the earliest of all of Yaakov’s wives, and not even be buried with him, while who would be buried next to Yaakov? Leah.
But it wasn’t merely fate alone that would keep Rochel away from Yaakov. It is clear from both the text and Chazzal that a lot of this was Rochel’s own doing. For example, Chazzal say that it was specifically when Rochel traded her night with Yaakov for the Duda’im that Rochel ultimately forfeited the opportunity to be buried next to Yaakov [Rashi to 30:15 citing Bereishis Rabbah 72:3]. Moreover, Rochel’s early death wouldn’t have happened either if she didn’t have Lavan’s Teraphim in her possession. Moreover than that, Chazzal tell us that Leah’s marriage to Yaakov would not have happened if Rochel didn’t give away the “signs” to Leah which Yaakov had established with Rochel in the event that Lavan attempt to switch the wives. It seems that Rochel has been putting herself out of Yaakov’s reach, and particularly in place of Leah. Why would she do that?
Chazzal explain that although Rochel and Yaakov had established secret signs, Rochel pulled out of her deal with Yaakov when she realized how hurt and humiliated Leah would be if Yaakov would realize the scheme and rejected her outright [Rashi to 29:25 there citing Megillah 13B and Bava Basra 123A]. Did Rochel have any idea that she would be jeopardizing her relationship with Yaakov by doing this? Completely. But, she was more concerned about the honor and feelings of her sister. (*Whether or not the extreme Rochel hit with her actions should be imitated is a separate discussion; we’ll assume that the model is not entirely drawn to scale, though the model and its message are undoubtedly crucial.)
This sacrifice is highlighted even greater the second time when she wants the Duda’im from Leah (*Why she wanted the Duda’im is its own discussion). In that scene, Rochel asks for the Duda’im upon which Leah responds “First, you take my husband, and now, you want to take my son’s Duda’im?” Any of us in the same situation would have rightfully lashed back and argued, “How dare you! Yaakov wanted to marry me, and if not for my sacrifice for you, you wouldn’t be married to Yaakov in the first place! You took my husband!” That is not what Rochel does though. She simply sucks in her pride and basically intimates that if Leah truly feels this way—if she’s truly hurt that she doesn’t have her husband’s love, and that it’s due to the favor that Yaakov has been showing Rochel alone—Rochel is willing to give her night with Yaakov up to Leah.
Rochel can make this sacrifice because she realizes that as a result of the favor that she has gotten from Yaakov, Leah is in pain, and as such Rochel would affected by the Ayin Hara. To combat that Ayin Hara, Rochel continually lowers herself, sacrifices herself for Leah so that her feelings will no longer be hurt. The way she deals with the situation is heroic on many levels, but where did this Ayin Hara situation begin? From Yaakov.
And this would not be the last time that Yaakov unwittingly causes Ayin Hara to ultimately plague his relationship with Rochel. It happens again in the life of Rochel’s progeny. First, Yaakov’s favorite, good-looking son Yosef [Bereishis 37-39] became the subject of his sibling’s envy and he was taken away from Yaakov for many years as a result of it. And later, Yaakov is afraid of losing his other son from Rochel, Binyamin as well by the same token.
And because of Ayin Hara, like Rochel, Yosef faced many trials due to his “gifts,” for example, with the seduction of his master’s wife. And like Rochel, Yosef would overcome the Ayin Hara, not just by passing his tests, but when push would come to shove and Yosef would meet his brothers once again, despite the way they treated him, he would not harbor ill-feelings. On the contrary, like Rochel with Leah, he would suck in his pride and support his brothers during the famine. That Yosef overcame the Ayin Hara is alluded to Yaakov’s blessing to Yosef later on the Sidrah [Rashi to 49:22].
Coming back to Yaakov’s conversation with Yosef, when Yaakov explains “Meisah Alai Rochel,” it could be that Yaakov was admitting that he subjected Rochel to Ayin Hara, the eye of envy, which caused Divine Judgment to act against her. Again, that’s why her womb was closed, that’s part of why she died early, that’s part of why she would not be buried next to Yaakov.
But Ayin Hara is only half of why Rochel suffered the way she did. The other half, as we explained, was caused by the way Rochel responded to the Ayin Hara, how, at her own expense, she put Leah before herself so that Leah would not be hurt and overwhelmed with envy. Because Rochel put Leah first and “gave up” her relationship with Yaakov, Rochel would die on the road and not be buried next to Yaakov. For these incredible sacrifices, Yaakov would recognize Rochel’s true heroism in retrospect and now and grant her those children which the Ayin Hara, or Divine Justice, deprived her of because of him.
This goal also explains why Yaakov blesses Yosef saying [48:16], “V’Yidgu LaRov”-“and they should proliferate as fish,” which Rashi points out, is a blessing that Yosef’s progeny be like fish, which are apparently not subject to the “Ayin Hara” [Brachos 20A], the eye of envy which has taken a toll on Yaakov’s family. It also explains why Efrayim and Menasheh ultimately overcame the “evil eye” themselves, when they proved not to be jealous of one another when Yaakov placed the younger son before the older one.
Coming full circle, we return to the Midrash quoted by Rashi. For some reason, Rochel needs to be by the roadside to cry for the B’nei Yisrael when they’re exiled by Nevuzaradan. Why are Rochel’s tears the saving grace for the B’nei Yisrael—why specifically in her merit will they be redeemed? Moreover, what relevance, if any at all, does this Midrash have, in Yaakov’s conversation with Yosef about Efrayim and Menasheh?
If one looks at Rashi’s comments on the verses in Yirmiyah, he quotes a slightly different, perhaps extended version of the metaphor quoted in the Midrash. There, he explains that in the time of Menasheh Melech Yehudah (not to be mistaken with Yosef’s son), when Menasheh spread idolatry and even introduced idols to the Beis HaMikdash [Melachim Beis 21] which ultimately triggered the Babylonian Exile, G-d’s wrath raged and could not be appeased despite the attempts of all of the Avos and Imahos…all except for Rochel. It was only then when Rochel cried for the B’nei Yisrael that everything changed. What could she have possibly said to achieve Divine compassion? To elaborate on Rochel’s sentiment in the Midrash, she challenged Hashem saying, “I understand that Your honor was hurt when the B’nei Yisrael exchanged You for their idols, but you know what? I jeopardized my entire relationship with Yaakov when I allowed myself to be exchanged for Leah and even gave her the ‘signs,’ just to protect her from being hurt. If I overlooked my own honor and hope out of mercy for someone else—if I acted for someone else completely at my own expense, You can go beyond the letter of the law and do the same for Your children.”
It was upon this argument that G-d “conceded” to allow the B’nei Yisrael to return home in the future. Despite the fact that most of the B’nei Yisrael are not even descended form Rochel, Rochel can cry for them as “her children” because if not for Rochel’s self-sacrifice on behalf of Leah, Leah would not have had any of her children from Yaakov. Leah might not have ever married Yaakov in the first place! Rochel suffered for all of them as she overpowered the Ayin Hara and moved aside for Leah! Thus, all of Leah’s children are really Rochel’s so that Rochel’s tears are a merit for the entire B’nei Yisrael. Because, it mattered to Rochel when Leah cried, it should matter to Hashem and to all of us when Rochel cries as well.
It is in this same merit that Yaakov declared Efrayim and Menasheh, the sons of Yosef, his own sons, as a tribute to Rochel who put herself on the line and bore no more children, because she was too busy caring about the feelings and tears of others.
In the end, it will be in this same merit—in the merit of overcoming Ayin Hara by being sensitive to others’ feelings and by displaying self-sacrifice as did Rochel, that we will ultimately be able to return home from Galus, back into our borders in the Promised Land and be redeemed.
May we all be Zocheh to overcome Ayin Hara in our lives by being sensitive to others’ feelings and making sacrifices for one another so that Hashem will accept our tears and prayers, redeem us, and bring us back into Eretz Yisrael with the coming of the Geulah in the days of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Chazak! Chazak! V’Nis’chazeik! (Strength! Strength! And may we be strengthened!) Have a Great Shabbos Chazak!
-Josh, Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂