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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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And Ya'akov kissed Rachel, and he lifted up his voice, and he wept. (BERESHIS 29:11)
Rabbi Naftali Amsterdam, the Rabbi of Alcsot, related that soon after he was married, he was approached by his Rav, Reb Yisrael of Salant, with the following question, "Reb Naftali, tell me please, are you occupying yourself with doing chesed?"
He answered, "My dear Rabbi, I do not have any money with which I could do chesed."
"That is not what I mean," explained Rav Yisrael, "I mean do you do chesed within your own home, with your wife? You should know that you have not taken your wife as a slave to serve you. Your wife is as your own body, and you must help her."
Rabbi Amsterdam's aptitude for doing chesed for his wife became especially apparent when he married a second time. He remarried at an advanced age, after the death of his first wife. Very soon after the marriage, his new wife became ill, and he had to take care of her. It was quite a sight to see the old and feeble Reb Naftali serving his wife. He used to clean the house, wash and dry the dishes, light the furnace, and perform all the difficult household tasks. He did them with love and happiness, because such a grand opportunity to perform chesed had come his way. (OLAM CHESED YIBANEH, D. 106)
Rabbi Naftali's actions showed his great attachment and devotion to his wife. They should be an example for us to follow.
"And he lifted up his voice and he wept."1 Why did Ya'akov cry when he met Rachel? He said to himself, "When Eliezer went to bring Rivkah, what is written? 'And the slave [Eliezer] took ten camels.'2 But I am not bringing even one earring or one bracelet."
What is the reason that Ya'akov cried when he realized that he had not brought anything with him for Rachel? Why did he cry when he saw that he would not be buried with Rachel? Why did Rachel lose the right to be buried with Ya'akov just because she said that he would sleep with Leah?
The wealth of the Patriarchs was important to them, not for the sake of the wealth itself, but rather for the purpose of serving G-d. They knew that they could bring more people to serve G-d, could do more chesed, and generally have a greater influence on the people around them if they had more wealth. This is the reason that Ya'akov took the trouble to return to retrieve the small pots he had left behind.4 When our Sages say that the possessions of tzaddikim are more precious to them than their own bodies, 5 this should be explained to mean that their attachment to wealth is so great, only because of the greater power it gives them to serve G-d.
Our Sages teach us that just before he met Rachel for the first time, Ya'akov had an encounter with Elifaz which left him penniless.6 Ya'akov then realized that he was courting Rachel without any money, due to his encounter with Elifaz. He understood by this turn of events that not only would he be unable to serve G-d with as much power as he would have, had he not lost his wealth, but also he would have more difficulty courting Rachel now that he had lost the wealth of Avraham. Because Ya'akov unfortunately lost this money, he would have to suffer the consequences: years of hard labor for Lavan and having to wait seven years before he could marry his beloved Rachel.
Crying symbolizes a great loss. To Ya'akov, the diminished wealth was a great loss since he perceived the great spiritual potential that it had.
Rachel lost the right to be buried with Ya'akov because she said that he would sleep with Leah.7 0ur Sages interpret this verse to mean that she was belittling the act of sleeping with a tzaddik and therefore was punished. Being close to tzaddikim is very important, for only from them can we learn how to live and how to love G-d at the highest level. Thus, when Rachel was willing to forfeit her right to sleep with Ya'akov, this showed a lack of appreciation for the great significance of being close to a tzaddik. For this lack of appreciation, she lost the right to be buried with Ya'akov.
According to the other explanation of the midrash, the reason for his crying was that he saw through prophecy that he would not be buried beside Rachel. This shows how dear his wife was to him. Since he loved her so much, he wanted to be near her even after death. We find that tzaddikim have influence on those that are buried near them. It is written about Elisha, for example, that a person who was buried near his grave even came back to life.8 Since Ya'akov knew that Rachel was a very righteous woman, he wanted to have her influence upon him even after death.
More simply, we could explain that since he had "real love for Rachel, as it is written: "And he loved Rachel more than Leah," 9 he wanted to be buried near her, as it is customary to bury a man and his wife next to one another. This was especially true, since he considered her to be his closest wife; as Rashi writes, "the tent of Ya'akov" was considered the tent of Rachel. Therefore, he felt great sadness that he would not have the privilege of being buried near the wife who was so dear to him.
Marriage is an Eternal Bond
The custom of burying a man near his wife teaches us about the eternal bond between them. Marriage is not a convenience, it is an everlasting connection. Two people have to see each other as an integral part of their whole identity, and this should affect every decision they make during their entire lifetime together. Making a decision that might cause hurt or disappointment to your spouse is really causing harm to yourself. There is much truth in the common saying, that "your wife is your better half."
Problems arise when a person sees his spouse as someone to deal with, instead of seeing her as part of himself. You cannot come home late without notifying your spouse, since you are really hurting yourself. You cannot be angry with the mistakes of your spouse, because you are being angry at yourself. You cannot buy something without consulting your spouse, since this would be like doing something blindly, without even thinking about it yourself.
Man and wife are really more than equal partners; they are one entity. When your spouse is in pain, you should feel that pain as if it is in your own body. Many people have been inspired by the well-known story of Rabbi Aryeh Levin, the tzaddik of Jerusalem, who once went with his wife to the doctor and said to him, "Doctor, my wife's foot is hurting us."
These feelings of unity will become internalized when one practices them. The more you do, the more you feel. The more you invest in your relationship with your spouse, the greater will be the rewards.
For our holy ancestor Ya'akov, even death could not end his love for his wife. He loved her so much he cried when he found out he would not be buried beside her. The Ya'akov's great disappointment should help define the level of love that we should have for our spouses. The love should be so great, that even death cannot disrupt the closeness that both spouses feel for one another.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network