The Haftarah for the second day of Rosh HaShanah, from Yirmiyahu 31, is replete with poignant imagery and famous Pesukim. Passuk 14 describes the sound of Rachel’s bitter cries for her children being heard from Ramah. Later in the Perek, Hashem tells her to stop crying because her children will return. Who is this Rachel who is crying for her children?
The Meforashim have myriad approaches to this Passuk. Rashi (ad. loc s.v Rachel Mevakkah Al Baneha) quotes the Midrash Aggadah as explaining that the Rachel mentioned in this Passuk refers to Rachel Imeinu. When the evil king Menasheh brought Avodah Zarah into the Beit HaMikdash, all of the Avot and Imahot beseeched Hashem for mercy. Hashem was unmoved, KaVeYachol, until Rachel pleaded her case. She began with the argument that Hashem’s mercy greatly exceeds that of a regular person. Next, she explained how she allowed “competition” into her marriage. When Ya’akov was supposed to originally marry Rachel, Rachel and Leah arranged signs so that Ya’akov would not be able to be duped by Lavan should he attempt to substitute someone for Rachel. Rachel gave those signs to her sister and thereby enabled the marriage to transpire. Accordingly, argued Rachel to Hashem, that if she was quiet in that situation, Hashem should likewise “be quiet” in the face of the Jews bringing “competition” into the Beit HaMikdash. Hashem replied that this was indeed a sound defense.
Radak gives what is likely the Peshat of the Passuk. He explains that the “Rachel” mentioned in Yirmiyahu 14 does not refer to the actual person Rachel, but rather is used to personify the ten tribes that went into exile (the Mahari Kara has a similar approach). Since Efrayim was the leader of the ten tribes, his grandmother is used to convey the grief of their prolonged exile which was not suffered by Shevatim Yehudah and Binyamin. Radak then quotes a different Midrash which understands the Passuk as referring to the actual Rachel. This Midrash attempts to justify why Ya’akov buried Rachel on the way to Efrat, claiming that he foresaw that the Jews would be led into exile via that very way. By burying Rachel there, Ya’akov afforded the Jews the opportunity to pray for her to intercede on their behalf.
Finally, Targum Yonatan takes a very different approach. He understand Ramah as referring to an actual place (the other Meforashim understand it as meaning “on high”). Later in Sefer Yirmiyahu (40:1), immediately following the Churban HaBayit, the evil Nevuzaradan, the executioner of Bavel, is described as sending Yirmiyahu from Ramah. The crying in 31:14, explains the Targum, is that of the Jews crying at the time of that incident, assumedly because of the Churban. Targum Yonatan understands the image of Rachel crying as referring to Yerushalayim crying, although it is unclear how he derives that understanding from the words of the Passuk. The Targum then continues to explain that the reward of returning to Israel mentioned in Passuk 15 was given because of the merits of the actions of the Avot.
While the obvious reason why this Perek is read on Rosh HaShanah is because of the Zichronot mentioned in Passuk 19 (Mishnah Berurah 601:2), perhaps these various approaches can provide us with additional messages for the Yom Tov. Rashi’s approach teaches us the critical importance of being able to let things go and not harbor ill feelings and grudges. If Hashem can, KaVeYachol, allow “competition” into the Beit HaMikdash, certainly we can as well. Radak’s first understanding conveys the message of taking a long term approach to viewing Yad Hashem in our lives. The 10 tribes continue to remain in exile, but we still believe that they will ultimately return. In a similar vein, the Midrash that he quotes shows how things are put in motion long before we can understand their future purpose, as Ya’akov buried Rachel hundreds of years before the Jews came by that route to pray. It is incumbent upon us to believe that there is a Divine plan for what happens to us, even though it is often difficult to understand it as it unfolds. Finally, Targum’s mentioning Zechut Avot does not merely teach us that we benefit from the actions of our forefathers, but it is meant to encourage us to look to the Avot, and how they acted, for inspiration as to how we should conduct our lives. May we all be Zocheh to find meaning from the Haftarah on Rosh HaShanah to continually grow in our Avodat Hashem.