The Power of Mama Rochel

Ve’ani b’vo’i miPadan meisah alay Rochel b’eretz Canaan b’derech b’od kivras aretz lavo Efrasa v’ekberehah sham b’derech Efras hee Beis Lachem (Bereishis 48:7)

When Yaakov realized that the time of his death was near, he became concerned that he would be buried in Egypt and not in his family’s burial plot in Me’aras Hamachpelah in Chevron. He called in his son Yosef, who wielded power in Egypt, and asked him to ensure that he would be buried with his forefathers in the land of Israel, a request to which Yosef agreed. Yaakov then continued and told Yosef that when he was returning to Eretz Yisrael, Rochel died on the road, so he buried her there in Beis Lechem.

Rashi explains that after asking Yosef to exert himself to arrange for his burial in Me’aras Hamachpelah, Yaakov felt the need to justify why he did not do the same for Yosef’s mother, Rochel. Therefore, Yaakov informed Yosef that Hashem told him to bury Rochel by the side of the road where she died so that she could help her descendants by weeping and praying for them when they passed by her burial place on their way to exile, as the verse says, “A voice is heard on high, wailing, bitter weeping; Rochel weeps for her children,” to which Hashem replies, “There is reward for your act … and your children will return to their border” (Yirmiyahu 31:14–16). For this reason, we refer to Rochel as “Mama Rochel,” our mother to whom we cry out in exile, who in turn beseeches Hashem on our behalf, and whose petitions are accepted as Hashem promises her that her children will ultimately return home.

In his autobiography, Harav Yisroel Meir Lau, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, records the following fascinating story regarding the unique status of Kever Rochel (Rochel’s Tomb), an unparalleled place of prayer to which countless Jews have traveled throughout the generations to pour out their aching hearts. Rav Lau writes that when the Israeli government was negotiating with the Palestinians following the Oslo accords, the question of the status of the city of Beis Lechem came up. Although Beis Lechem is a Palestinian city, Kever Rochel is also located there, and the Israeli negotiators insisted that Kever Rochel must remain under Jewish control.

However, to reach Kever Rochel from Yerushalayim, one must traverse a short road from Gilo, the closest Yerushalayim neighborhood. The Palestinians insisted that this road be under their authority, such that Kever Rochel itself would be under Israeli auspices, but the road to reach it would be controlled by the Palestinians. Yitzchak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister at the time, agreed to this arrangement. When word of this compromise got out, people were gravely concerned that with the Palestinians controlling the access road, it would no longer be safe to visit Kever Rochel.

Rav Lau intervened, meeting with Rabin and telling him that he must renegotiate and insist that the access road remain under Israeli control to ensure safe passage for Jews traveling to Kever Rochel. Rabin, who was not observant, could not comprehend why the Chief Rabbi was making such an issue about Rochel’s burial site. Rav Lau explained, “Rochel is our Mama, and a person never abandons his mother!” Rabin was impressed and moved by Rav Lau’s poignant declaration, and shortly thereafter he announced that he had changed his position on the issue and would demand that Israel retain control over the road to Kever Rochel, access which we continue to enjoy today, all because of Rav Lau’s impassioned words about the unique power of Mama Rochel.

Q: Rashi writes (47:29) that in requesting Yosef to place his hand under his thigh, Yaakov was requesting him to take an oath not to bury him in Egypt. The Ramban (26:5) writes that the Avos only observed the mitzvos when they were in Eretz Yisrael, and therefore Yaakov was permitted to marry two sisters when he was outside of Israel. What was the purpose of Yosef swearing not to bury his father in Egypt, as he took the oath outside of Eretz Yisrael and according to the Ramban it wasn’t binding?

Q: Other than Krias Shema al Hamitah and Tefillas Haderech, when should one say liyeshuascha kivisi Hashem — I await Your salvation, Hashem — which is part of the blessing that Yaakov gave to Dan (49:18)?

A: The Chida explains that the opinion of the Ramban only applied to the Avos when they were outside of the Land of Israel but planning to return there. As this was the case with Yaakov during his time with Lavan, he did not observe the prohibition against marrying two sisters. However, if the Avos found themselves outside of Eretz Yisrael with no plans to return, they did not permanently abandon their adherence to the mitzvos. Since this was the case with Yosef, Yaakov knew that he would keep his oath. Alternatively, the Avnei Nezer suggests that a person is inherently required to honor a promise that he makes to another person independent of religious obligations, and Yaakov therefore knew that Yosef would keep his word.

A: The Mishnah Berurah writes that one should recite this verse after sneezing. He explains this custom based on the Gemara in Bava Metzia (87a) which teaches that up until Yaakov, people died suddenly without any illness or other prior warning. They simply sneezed and died. Yaakov prayed that he should get sick before his death so that he would have time to prepare for it and repent. Although sneezes are no longer considered fatal, this verse should be recited as a reminder that they once were, and it is only through the prayers of Yaakov that we are able to survive them.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email