They say “a picture speaks a thousand words”, regarding my tapestry I say: the needlework speaks millions of words. To the visitor in my home, the needlework is a beautifully knitted picture of Kever Rachel (Rachel’s Tomb). In our tradition Rachel is the ultimate mother of Israel, the mother who cares and cries for her children, as the prophet says:
“Thus says the Lord; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.” (Jeremiah 31:15)
Our sages teach, that the reason Jacob buried Rachel in Bethlehem instead of Hebron with the other matriarchs, is because of Bethlehem’s unique location. Bethlehem is in the outskirts of Jerusalem, the Jews would, therefore, have to pass by the intersection as they were forced to exile from their homeland. At least, Jacob thought, they should say goodbye and cry to their mother in their time of peril. Indeed from that tragic time until today throughout the violent and bloody chapters of our bitter exile, Jews would come to Rachel’s tomb to find refuge and warmth. They would cry on her grave as a child wrapped in his mothers cloak, and then leave mysteriously comforted and consoled.
To me, however, this magnificent artwork is much more. This tapestry was hand-stitched by my wife’s great-grandmother, Sara, many years ago. It was in the lonely year of mourning (the twelve months after immediate relatives passing) after her mother, and she couldn’t attend weddings or other celebratory events; she would stay home herself and reminisce, mourn, and think of her loving mother while she stitched this tapestry. Her mother’s name was Rachel.
After completing this beautiful project, she hung it in her humble apartment as a tribute to her mother. While people choose to adorn their homes with profiles or portraits of their loved ones, in this image Sara commemorated her mother’s soul. Rachel, the noble, dignified woman; the loving mother. Shortly before she died, she gave this needlework to my mother-in-law with the request that she will pass it on to the girl that will be named after her. Within a month of her passing, my wife was born. She was named Sara.
As I contemplate on this needlework, its details, colors, its meticulous, perfect pattern, I realized that it not only says the story of a mourning daughter, it says the story of a nation. It says the story of countless mothers and daughters. It tells us what our mothers thought of life and how they loved us before we were born. It tells us how our heritage was carefully passed over from parent to child to grandchild, with care and caution like the most precious treasure. It reminds me of Moses telling us:
“Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations; ask thy father, and he will declare unto thee, thine elders, and they will tell thee.” (Deuteronomy 32:7)
It now hangs over my daughter’s crib. I pray she sees this beautiful image as she falls asleep and first thing when she awakes. May she dream of her great-great-grandmother sitting alone on a rocking chair in the late night hours stitching and remembering her mother. May she grow to be another link in God’s golden chain of mothers and daughters passing on timeless traditions and infinite wisdom hidden by simple discipline.
My daughter’s name is Rachel.