The Selflessness of Rachel by Rabbi Sariel Malitzky


In a remarkable display of selflessness, Rachel suppresses her own desire to marry Yaakov and teaches her sister the signs she has prepared with Yaakov to verify her identity at their wedding. By doing so, Rachel enables Leah to trick Yaakov into marrying her. While this is no doubt a righteous and inspiring act of kindness, it is puzzling that the Midrash groups this act of kindness with the extraordinary self-sacrificing actions of the Avot.

The Midrash Eichah Rabbah states that when Hashem was destroying the Beit HaMikdash, the Avot gathered together, invoking their own merits to plead with Hashem to be compassionate towards the Jewish people. Avraham and Yitzchak each mentioned his respective role in the Akeidah. Yaakov reminded HaKadosh Baruch Hu that he was willing to give up his life to Eisav in order to save his children and protect the future of Bnei Yisrael. Moshe recalled how he led the nation out of Egypt. However, despite these extraordinary demonstrations of devotion, Hashem was not convinced by their pleas. The Midrash continues, stating that at that moment, Rachel stood up and articulated how she handed over the signs of identification to her sister, Leah. Hashem, impressed with Rachel’s display of kindness, only then decided not to destroy Bnei Yisrael.

Without diminishing the greatness and selflessness of Rachel, the question begs itself: was her act really greater than the self-sacrificing devotion that Avraham and Yitzchak display? Was it really more impressive than Yaakov’s willingness to give up his own life?

Rav Shalom Shwadron explains that while the Mesirat Nefesh, self-sacrifice, of the Avot is indescribable, it is expressed in temporary actions. Their acts, as great as they are, are not ones with which they must live or ones they must encounter on a daily basis. However, Rachel’s challenge and greatness does not end when she enables her sister to marry Yaakov. Rather, she faces a difficult test for the rest of her life. She must fight the temptation to remind Leah that Yaakov did not choose her and that she owes her marriage to Rachel. Despite this temptation, throughout her entire life Rachel is able to refrain from speaking about what had transpired the evening she taught Leah the marriage signs.

In fact, later in the Seifer when Reuven brings Leah Dudaim (loosely translated as flowers) and Rachel asks for some of them, Leah angrily upbraids Rachel. She proclaims, “…Ham’at Kachteich Et Ishi VeLakachat Gam Et Dudaei Beni,” “Was your taking my husband insignificant-and to take even my son’s Dudaim!” (BeReishit 30:15). At that moment, Rachel could have been outraged with Leah. She took Leah’s husband? On the contrary! Leah’s marriage is indebted solely to Rachel. Yet Rachel is silent and does not mention anything to Leah. It is because of this ever-constant challenge and undying kindness that Rachel is able to persuade Hashem to spare Bnei Yisrael.

Rachel’s acts of Chessed offer a valuable message. So often, we do acts of kindness for selfish reasons. What will we gain from this Chessed, how does it make us feel, and who can we get to owe us a favor are all questions we ask before performing an act of kindness. Rachel does an act of kindness that is completely selfless on her part, and she persists selflessly to continue her act of kindness.

Perhaps, it is this idea that led Rambam (Hilchot Matanot Aniyim 10:8) to write that one of the more optimal forms of giving charity to the needy is when the giver is unaware of the impoverished individual that he is supporting. When one gives charity without knowing whom his money is supporting, he has no ulterior motives. He will not make the poor feel bad or expect anything in return. It is a purely selfless act of kindness and giving, like that of Rachel. Let us all learn from the selfless Chessed of Rachel and try to altruistically help those in need without expecting anything in return.

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