“So Rachel died. She was buried on the road to Efrat – now Beis Lechem. Over her grave Yaakov set up a pillar, it is the pillar at Rachel’s grave to this day.”
— BERESHIS 35:19-20
The Tomb of Rachel, known in Hebrew as Kever Rachel, is revered as the burial place of our holy matriarch Rachel Imeinu. Situated in the northern region of Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem, the site attracts thousands annually. Rachel Imeinu was the wife of Jacob and the mother of Joseph, who eventually became the leader of Egypt during the famine, and Benjamin, who was the last of the Tribes of Israel. She passed away during childbirth at the tender age of 36 years, while traveling on the ancient road from Beth El toward Hevron.
The sad tale of Rachel’s burial is one of the most powerful and fundamental passages in the Torah. Indeed, Jews across the world make a point of commemorating her death more than any of the other matriarchs.
The Talmud explains the reason behind this unique phenomenon.
Jacob intentionally did not bury Rachel at M’earat HaMachpela, where the other Jewish forefathers were interred, but rather on a roadside on the way to Bethlehem. The Talmudic Scripture explains that Jacob foresaw through a prophecy that the Jewish Nation would pass by the area as they were being sent away to exile following the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.
Jacob buried her on the deserted roadside, knowing that Rachel’s descendents would use the opportunity to pour out their hearts to their loving mother. Her maternal compassion would then be aroused and Rachel would pray for their welfare before God himself.
“Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be consoled for her children, for they are no more.”
— Yirmiyahi 31:15
This legendary tomb is a sacred destination where the most heartfelt requests are granted. Rachel Imeinu is buried on the roadside specifically so her orphaned, exiled children can tearfully pray at this historic spot. The Talmud assures that Mother Rachel hears those sincere cries and storms the gates of heaven on her children’s behalf. The Talmud notes how after Rachel Imeinu intervened on behalf of the exiled Jewish nation, Hashem was moved and promised her that in her merit, He will eventually usher in the final redemption.
The traditional Yahrtzeit of Rachel Imeinu, marked on the 11th of Cheshvan, is undoubtedly the busiest day of the year at Kever Rachel and viewed as a most auspicious time to pray. Visitors from all over the world flock to the tomb to bask in the warm embrace and unconditional love that only a Jewish mother can provide.
“And when I came from Padan, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan, on the road, a short distance from Efrat; and I buried her there on the road to Efrat, which is Beis Lechem.”
— BERESHIS 48:7
Upon Rachel’s untimely passing, Jacob set up a monument over her grave. Each of his twelve sons placed a stone on Rachel’s grave, so that twelve stones representing each Jewish tribe were piled one atop of the other, and Jacob’s stone was set on top of them all. Indeed, a lasting testament to Rachel who represented the quintessential mother, willing to sacrifice everything on behalf of her children, and always there in times of anguish.
The building that houses the tomb has undergone countless changes over the centuries. In the wake of The Galilee earthquake of 1837 which devastated the Tomb, Jewish-British philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore purchased the site in 1841 and made extensive renovations, including repairing the iconic white dome atop the structure. In the aftermath of the Palestinian violence during the First Intifada, Israel’s Ministry of Religion built a secure fortress around the original structure replete with three-foot-thick concrete walls, so visitors can pray in safety.
The original Tomb structure is still recognized around the world as one of the most famous symbols of the Land of Israel and the Jewish people. Its likeness appears on countless photos and paintings, and Kabalistic literature states that at the time of redemption, the Divine Spirit will rest eternally on Rachel’s Tomb.