By Rose Marie Berger
A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children,and she would not be consoled, since they were no more. (Matthew 2:18)
Why, the rabbis have asked through history, are the tears of Rachel different from the tears of other mothers? Rachel’s grief is complex and beautiful. Her barrenness, her inability to accept Jacob’s love for her even without children, her jealousy of her sister Leah, Rachel’s death in childbirth, her burial by the side of the road–all this creates the harmonies and countermelodies in Rachel’s lament.
The Torah scholar Rashi quotes a midrash saying that Rachel was buried in ba-derekh (“no place” or the transitional space between one named place and another named place) because it was on the route that her children would take when they were forced into exile. The midrash honors Rachel as the mother of many, even though she gave birth only to Benjamin. It also teaches that there is no place where her children may be forced to go where she will not be with them.
When Herod murders the children in Bethlehem because the Infant King of the Jews was not handed over to him by the magi, Rachel’s wailing rises up. Her cries signal a new exile. And why will she not be consoled? Because justice has not been served. Rachel will scream and mourn and cry out–driving Herod mad–until there is accountability for every dead child.
Rachel weeps still.
“Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother and in his name all oppression shall cease.” – O Holy Night
This reflection is from Syllables of the Perfect Word: Advent Reflections 2004. Rose Marie Berger is a Catholic peace activist and poet, and is an editor at Sojourners Magazine.