The Torah portion this week, Vayishlach, features the end of Rachel’s life. She had a hard labor, and birthed to a son. She named him Ben-oni (the son of my generative power) just before she died. So, then, how does this son that Rachel bears at her death, represent her generative power?
This represents a Jewish understanding of the power of birth that is intertwined with death. At every end, there is new life. Through every struggle, there is a rebirth. Even at her death, Rachel was able to produce a child and name him after her ability to generate new life. Every ending yields a new beginning.
This shouldn't happen in the absence of the proper grief and mourning that accompanies challenge, endings, and death. But, after some time, a spiritual shift can be made, and room can be made for newness.
For example, there is a beautiful Jewish tradition where, at the end of the period of shiva, it is customary to for the mourners to go outside and walk around the block with their community. This is the opportunity to enact a spiritual shift while one is also moving through space and time with the community. In the wake of a death, we begin to construct life anew, without the physical presence of our loved one. In that ending, we construct a new beginning.
The Torah tells us that Jacob buried Rachel in a tomb by the side of the road to Bethlehem. And, if you take that road today, you can visit the site.
The Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 82:10) tells us Jacob,
"had a prophetic vision that the exiles would in the future pass through there.”
And, thus, Rachel would be able to elevate the prayers of all travelers there. Her death, and her ending, would now yield new life and new blessings for others. And, we are told, that her post-humous blessings would be especially efficacious-- she had a special place in God’s heart because she had been so patient and compassionate in her lifetime, waiting for 14 years to marry her beloved Jacob.
So, out of her struggle and her death, comes a new blessing for every visitor to her burial site. May we all bring forth new blessings, even out of the struggles we face. Amen.