In one of the most moving and famous excerpts from Yirmiyahu/Jeremiah, God describes a scene involving Rachel in Heaven: “A voice on high is heard: wailing, bitter cries. Rachel cries for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children – for they are no longer.” We are taught that this scene occurs in the parallel spiritual world as the Jews are being led out of Israel in chains and devastation; Rachel’s tomb which was strategically placed on the path that Jews would one day walk back upon on their way to exile serves as a witness to their suffering and a function to arouse Heavenly mercy.
As a recent Oleh, I’ve spent many days studying in Ulpan (ok, socializing too), and as any student of Hebrew can tell you, grammar is everything. One or two letters change the same root word from being active to passive; leaving off a syllable can have you addressing a man as a woman, a single person as a crowd, etc. Much of ulpan is spent hammering in the rules of dikduk – Hebrew grammar – because once you have that down pat, learning the vocabulary and applying it becomes that much easier.
If we look at the Hebrew wording of the quote above from Yirmiyahu from a (modern) grammatical point of view, we notice something strange. The Hebrew word for “crying” is bocheh/bochah (the slight difference in pronunciation indicates that the first one is used for males and the second, for females). The word used here, though, is mevacha – which, grammatically, literally means “to cause others to cry”. Perhaps this passage can be read as “Rachel is causing others to cry for her children”: creating a commotion in Heaven, raising a ruckus among the angels and souls, drawing attention to her cause, and refusing to rest until others understand the gravity of the plight of her descendants. She becomes an unstoppable force that will not rest until she receives her answer. Then, fortified with support, she arouses God’s response of “restrain your voice from crying and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your actions.” He doesn’t say “a reward for your tears”, rather, “a reward for your actions“. I’d argue that this means that Rachel’s sincere efforts of persuading others to get involved in her cause, so to speak, is what merited God’s continuing words: “Your children shall return from the enemy’s land. . .and shall return to their borders”. Her own tears are powerful, but when mixed with the unconstrained tears and calls of innumerable others they become impossible to ignore.
Activism has always been the way to create change, and nowadays one can’t throw a stone without finding something else that will benefit from activism, be it environmental, political, medical, political, human rights, political, etc. It can be painful and feel fruitless sometimes. But it is necessary, in whatever capacity one can do it, even through simply educating oneself from the couch. A small pebble thrown today can create a tidal wave of positive change down the road.
There’s a quote I read years ago from South African novelist and anti-apartheid activist Alan Paton (cited in an article by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks) that is now taped to my kitchen wall. It reads, “When I go up there, which is my intention, the Big Judge will say to me, ‘where are your wounds?’ And if I say I haven’t any, He will say ‘was there nothing to fight for?’ I couldn’t face that question.”
There is always something to fight for, and accountability will not be ignored.
In the merit of our mother Rachel’s causative tears, may we merit seeing the complete redemption and pray that our collective tears finally be able to stop for good. And may we always use our knowledge and strengths to create a better, more just world.