Jewish Mother's Day The 11th of Cheshvan
by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh
One of the most important days in the month of Cheshvan is the 11th, which commemorates the day of passing of our matriarch Rachel. Rachel was Jacob's most beloved wife and was the principal of his household and thus the principal of the entire house of Israel. From the first day of the year, the 1st day of Tishrei, the 11th day of Cheshvan is the 41st day. 41 is the numerical value of the Hebrew word "eim," which means "mother," thus the 11th of Cheshvan is truly the Jewish Mother's Day.
"Rachel cries for her children, she will not be comforted…"
Rachel constantly mourns over the exile of her children, the Jewish people, and the Almighty comforts her with the words: "Withhold your voice from crying and your eyes from tearing, for there is a reward for your actions… and the children will return to their border." Literally, "return to their border" refers to the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. But, more deeply, it refers to the return of our people to our natural spiritual environs: Judaism and our ancestral Jewish nature. These are the borders that truly circumscribe the uniqueness of our people. Amazingly, numerically, the value of the Hebrew word for "border" (g'vul / גבול) is exactly the same as the value of the word for "mother" (eim / אם); both equal 41.
In Hebrew, Cheshvan is written with the four letters: חשון. The borders (the first and last letters) of Cheshvan are chet - ח and nun - ן, which together spell the word chein - חן, meaning "beauty." The word chein - חן, "beauty" equals 58. The 58th day of the year is the 28th day of Cheshvan.
Rachel is described as the most beautiful woman in the Torah. The numerical value of the two middle letters, shin and vov, שו, is equal to isha -אשה , meaning "woman." Thus, the name of the month itself hints at the special and unique grace endowed to women.
King Solomon says that external beauty by itself is deceitful. If external beauty is all that a woman seeks then the name of the month becomes Marcheshvan, which means Bitter-Cheshvan. It is of such a woman King Solomon says: "And I find the woman to be more bitter than death." But, of true beauty, the beauty of a Jewish woman that emanates from within, he says: "The woman of beauty shall support honor." This true beauty is given to us, the Jewish people, by G‑d through the Torah, for "there is no truth but Torah" and "there is no honor but Torah."
It was Rachel, who was first endowed with this real beauty. Rachel is described as the most beautiful woman in the Torah, "She had a beautiful face and a beautiful figure." Thus, Rachel was the embodiment of the verse: "A woman who fears G‑d, she shall be praised," praised both for her grace and true beauty.
The beauty of the Jewish woman is not just a passive agent of spirituality. The sages teach that the offspring of Esau and his grandson Amalek can be defeated only by the children of Rachel.
Who embodies the spirit of Amalek in our day and age? In Hebrew, the words "Amalek" (עמלק) and "doubt" (safek / ספק) have the same numerical value. Thus, the spirit of Amalek that continues to plague each and every Jew is doubt; doubt in our faith, doubt in our Torah, and doubt in ourselves and the moral justification of our path.
But, sometimes the spirit of Amalek becomes bolder and captures a Jew (whether he be a private individual or a political figure) to the point of driving him or her to unconscious or even conscious self-hatred. This can result in a Jew's cooperation with the enemies of our people.
Finally there are the direct spiritual offspring of Amalek: those enemies who threaten the lives of Jews and our return to the Land of Israel.
The sages say that beauty is a woman's weapon. With everything that we have said about Rachel, her role as our matriarch, as the progenitor of Jewish nature, and of her beauty, it should now be clear that our weapon for defeating Amalek is the special beauty and grace of the Jewish mother. Joseph the tzaddik (righteous one) inherited his mother Rachel's beauty and he too is described as having a beautiful face and a beautiful figure. That is why the prophet says about him that "the house of Jacob will be fire and the house of Joseph its flame and the house of Esau straw, and together they will ignite him and consume him; and there will be no remnant for the house of Esau."
True Jewish beauty and grace destroy the enemy indirectly but, beauty is no regular weapon. True grace and beauty work by attracting the sparks of holiness that are bound within the enemy. These sparks are G‑d's will that the enemy still exist. Yet, when they are redeemed by their attraction to true beauty, they escape the enemy's grasp, leaving him void of any Divine source and causing his demise. True Jewish beauty and grace destroy the enemy indirectly by leaving him void of any beauty or grace himself, making him irrelevant and powerless.
The battle against Amalek in our generation must be conducted primarily with our ability to communicate to all around us the true nature of Jewish beauty and grace. It is to this beauty of Jewish nature and character that we return during the month of Cheshvan by reconnecting with our matriarch Rachel, with our own Jewish nature, and with ourselves.
Also visit: Rachel's Tomb
Rachel lost her own spiritual luxury - the privilege of being buried in the Cave of Machpeilah - in order to help her children. This represents the unparalleled quality of the "Jewish mother" who is always willing to sacifice her own needs, spiritual or physical, for the sake of helping her children.
And this is the inner reason why Jewish identity follows the maternal and not the paternal route. For even though the father possesses a greater degree of spirituality - since he has the privilege of observing more mitzvos than a woman - the quality of a Jewish mother is nevertheless greater, that she is willing to forego much of that spirituality in order to enable her to raise a family with tender loving care. And since this quality is even more quintessentially Jewish than the spirituality of the man, it is the mother that actually makes her children Jewish.
Based on Likutei Sichos of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Mama Rochel understood that tending to a broken heart comes above even Kavod Hashem....
When Rochel, out of frustration, complained to Yaakov about not having children, Yaakov got angry with her. The mefarshim say, based on a medrash, that Yaakov was punished for getting angry at Rochel and telling her that she needs to daven to Hashem and not complain to him.
Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro points out that Yaakov was defending Kavod Shamayim (the honor of Heaven) and was correct that Rochel's complaints were unjustified. His mistake was that he addressed the words that she spoke and not the pain in her heart. Had he pierced the veil of her soul, he would have known that because of her anguish, the words escaped her mouth and she was not accountable for them. He should have been slower to defend Kavod Shamayim and faster to understand human suffering.
This he explains was the greatness of Rochel. After the destruction of the first Temple, when Bnei Yisroel went into Galus, all the Avos and Imahos came before Hashem with all their great zechusim but were turned away empty handed. All the heroism of the Akeida, Yaakov's Torah, and lives of pure mesiras nefesh to build Klal Yisroel, did not impress Hashem in that dark moment of history.
The only one who merited Hashem's attention was Rochel Imeinu. What was her great act that warranted this special treatment? That she gave the simanim to her sister and helped fool Yaakov. With this bravery, in her mind, she was sabotaging the history of the Jewish nation since she understood that it was her and Yaakov that were destined to build the nation. Nevertheless she chose to cast aside her own destiny and Hashem's grand plan in order to save her sister from a single embarrassing moment.
Only Rochel, who had such a deep understanding of another person's pain and how it carries more weight than the entire Jewish experience, can be Hashem's emissary to bring his children's pain before Him. Only tears from Mama Rochel can bring the Geula.