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Friday, November 23, 2012

Kever Rachel, Where Are You? Reviewing An Ancient Controversy©

By Vardah Littmann

I hope I will not be shocking our readers too greatly. And I must admit I myself was taken aback to hear the assertions of our learned tour guide Rav Menashe Bleiweiss. Let me not hold you in suspense much longer, but do please hold onto your hat or tichel. He said that (are you ready?) it could be that the kever of Rachel Imeinu near Beit Lechem may not be her gravesite, but it might possibly be that her resting place is really in the Shomron.
I will present to you, dear UPDATE readers, the controversy that Rav Bleiweiss detailed. Is Kever of Rachel Imanu in Nachlat Yehudah just outside of Jerusalem (where we know it to be)? Or is it in her son Binyamin’s portion?
Five Stones Near Moshav Adam
Moshav Adam, in Nachalat Binyamin five kilometers northwest of Jerusalem, is located not far above five stones that were clearly put here by human beings. These are low, flat, rectangular structures that were placed here with a purpose. They are certainly meant to signify something.
As you stand looking out from Moshav Adam, most of the rocks can be clearly seen. Two of the stones are in nearby caves and can’t be seen by those viewing from above. This is so even though the caves that look like rock quarries are visible. From time immemorial the Arabs have called them “Kuver (graves) benia Yisrael”. There are some who claim that this configuration of rocks is the real Kever Rachel since there are reasons to believe that Kever Rachel is in this precise area.
The Evidence in Four Passukim
Let’s look closer at four relevant passukim. The first is in Parshas Vayishlach: “And Rachel died, and she was buried on the way Ephrath, that is Beit Lechem” (35:19). We are being told how after Rachel died in childbirth, she was buried in Efrat. Where is Ephrath? There are modern signs saying Efrat next to Kever Rachel, but can we rely on them?
The second passuk is in Vayechi where Yaakov instructs his Yosef to bury him Eretz Yisrael. Because he thinks that Yosef may be upset with him for burying his mother on the way when he came from Paddan, he gives the background as to why to he did so. He explains that Rachel died while there was still a stretch of land before reaching Ephrath, so he buried her on the road, on the way to “Ephrath, which is Beit Lechem.” From here we see that Ephrath and Beit Lechem are synonymous, one and the same place. Another example of this would be Chevron and Kiryat Arbah.
The next passuk is from Shmuel. After Shmuel anoints Shaul, the Navi tells the new king he will meet two people at Kever Rachel on the boundary of Nachalat Binyamin (Shmuel I, 10: 2). The Gemara explains that the portions of Binyamin and Yehudah meet up in Jerusalem on Har HaBayis. There is a strip of Nachalat Binyamin in the Beis HaMikdash. But what we consider is Kever Rachel is well within Yehudah’s portion. It is definitely not as the Navi says on the border of Binyamin.
The last verse we will look at is Jeremiah 31:14. This passuk tells us that Rachel is crying and refuses to be comforted since her children are being exiled. It mentions her wailing is heard on the Ramah. Aram, an Arab city right across from Moshav Adam, is identified with Ramah.
So we understand from all this that there seems to be a contradiction in the verses. On the one hand, it does say that Rachel is buried in Ephrath/ Beit Lechem, and we do have a tradition that Beit Lechem is in Yehudah. But it could be that the name of the place called Beit Lechem, near the traditional grave we know, is a Christian tradition.
There were many other places also called Beit Lechem in portions of different tribes. Also the name Ephrath could be that of the dry river valley opposite Moshav Adam, called Wadie Keltin in Arabic and known as Ein Prat in Hebrew.
The Toseftah takes up our quandary: Where is Rachel buried? Is she in Yehudah or is she in Binyamin? All the other Avos and Imahos are in Chevron. The Toseftah says that Rachel is buried in the traditional place as we know it. He reconciles the problem posed by what Shmuel said to Shual by saying that: “Now, Shaul, you are in Binyamin. Go meet the men at Kever Rachel.” This explanation is not pshat and very far stretched.
The Route Taken in Galus Bavel
When we look at a map of the Middle East, what we see is mostly desert-land which is very inhospitable. In ancient times people used to travel along the fertile area which was north of Eretz Yisrael in what is now Syria, going up into present-day Iraq, and then going down into the lush Babylonian valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
This was the way of Avraham’s “Lech Lecha.” It was the road Yaakov traveled. In order to reach Jerusalem from Bavel, one needs to travel north and not south. So when the Jews were going into Galus Bavel, the logical route would have been to the north, past Shiloh, in the direction of Adam.
Rashi on Numbers 26:54 says that Rachel had a special mission and had to be buried separately from the other Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Her destiny was to be found there on the way as her children went into Galus Bavel and also when they returned, so she could advocate for them. The above fact that Rashi brings seems in favor of her gravesite being in the “Binyamin area” since this is the way they traveled into exile. It is also the place she would best be found to greet them as they returned home.
After the Sale of Yosef
The Sefer Hayashar brings that after the sale of Yosef, when he was on his way to Egypt, he stopped and prayed at Rachel’s grave. Yosef was in Shechem and was brought down on the main road that passed by this area in Binyamin where it is believed her grave may be. But on the other hand, Yosef was headed towards Egypt in the south, and he could just have well stopped at the accepted place that we know as Kever Rachel.
The Sifrie (Deuteronomy 33:12) also discusses the controversy surrounding Rachel’s gravesite. Chazal say here that Rachel died in the area belonging to Binyamin. Rabbe Meir (Baal Ha Nes) holds strongly that Kever Rachel is without a doubt located in Binyamin. It makes more sense that the mother would want and would be situated in hers son’s share of the Land. Why would she be in Yehudah’s portion when he was not her son? The other mandeamar says that Kever Rachel is in Yehudah.
The Ramban’s Observations
In 1263 the Ramban had to flee Spain, and he came to the Holy Land. In his commentary on Chumash in Parshas Vayishlach, he breaks from usual style and what he writes reads almost like a travel log. He says that he sees with his own eyes that that there is not even a mile between Kever Rachel and Beit Lechem. This is clearly referring to the known location.
And then the Ramban says that he is not sure that this is the correct place since it doesn’t correspond to what is known about the gravesite. He also says that he has seen the grave is neither in the Ramah nor near it. He concludes that a “voice is heard in the Ramah” must be a metaphor.
He says further that it appears to him that Yaakov buried Rachel on the road and did not take her into Beit Lechem/Ephrathah since he knew by prophetic spirit that this would be in Yehudah’s section, and he wanted her to be within the border of her son Binyamin. He then says the road on which Rachel’s tomb stands is near Beit-el in the area belonging to Binyamin.
But all the above should not bother us too much. Generations of Jews over many centuries have prayed at the traditional Kever Rachel. Thus, the place has acquired great kedusha, and its holiness is indisputable, even if the real resting place of Rachel Imeinu may possibly lie under Moshav Adam.

I would like to thank Rav Menashe Bleiweiss for the information presented in this article.

1 comment:

  1. No doubt this is the true locaton that Imma Rachel gave birth to Binyamin,and that on Tisha b'Av. This is of great portent for the redemption of those still in galui, 2,730 years (7 x, Vayiqra 26; 390 years, Yehezqel 4:5)and counting.