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In the merit of our mother, Rachel

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The following story was told by educator Rabbi Eliezer Chaim Cohen of Bnai Brak.

Originally published in the Mother Rachel magazine, Issue #52, by Mosdot Kever Rachel (Rachel’s Tomb Institutions).

And this is how the story went.

It all started with one young man, we'll call him Tzachi. This is not the place to expand on Tzachi's complex, difficult, and painful life story, which led him to the edge of an abyss.

Tzachi's journey was full of ups and downs. A Jewish soul longs to cling to a loving Creator. But Tzachi had certain leanings that pulled him down again and again.

One of Tzachi's most difficult challenges were his friends. During the years he spent on the street, his friends were the ones who somehow always led him down back to the starting point.

This past Elul (the month before Rosh Hashana), Tzachi and I spoke for hours. I explained to him that this is an auspicious month to get close to G-d, and how in His love He longs to bond with each of us no matter what our spiritual situation is. Tzachi got stronger, he participated in Rosh Hashanah prayers, and fasted on Yom Kippur. On Sukkot I gave him a lulav & etrog (4 species), and he promised to use them every day.

In the middle of the holiday I spoke to him again. I felt that he wanted to tell me something, but he was very hesitant. Finally he told me. He said that a big party was going to take place on the night of Simchat Torah in Kibbutz Re'im in the south. All his friends were going there, and he also really wanted to go, but on the other hand, it falls out exactly on the night of Simchat Torah. 'It's also a kind of joy, but not exactly the way the Torah likes...' Tzachi hinted to me about what was to unfold there.

I trembled. I explained to Tzachi what Simchat Torah is, it’s the peak moment of the month of Tishrei (first month of the Jewish calendar), the moment of supreme uniqueness in which the peak of love and connection between us and G-d is revealed.

Tzachi heard, he understood, but he was still unable to decide. I spoke to him the next day as well, I used all the tactics I could think of, all the persuasions. And Tzachi still hadn't decided.

Hoshana Rabba (the day before Simchat Torah), I went to say the entire book of Psalms at Rachel’s Tomb, as I have been doing for many years. After two hours of connection and transcendence, I put my head on the gravestone and shed tears. I asked Mother Rachel to give Tzachi the strength to face the temptations that stand in his way. From the experience I have gained in life, and I have gained a lot, there is nothing like the power of Rachel's tomb to return our children to the bosom of our heavenly Father.

In the morning I called Tzachi again, and already from the background noises I knew he was with his friends on the way to the party.

"Tzachi, believe me, it won't be good for you there. It's not too late," I told him painfully. "You can still return..." Tzachi didn't answer and the call disconnected.

I felt so sad. The hours passed and the depression did not let go of me. I couldn't stop thinking about Tzachi. Suddenly a thought flashed in my mind. Maybe Rachel, our mother, wants something more... At noon on Hoshana Rabba, I called Mosdot Kever Rachel (Rachel’s Tomb Institutions) and donated a handsome amount on behalf of Tzachi, to be saved from his friends and their influence.

Less than 10 minutes later I see Tzachi's phone number on the screen: 

"Honored rabbi, I have a plan... but I need your help. Do you have NIS 2,000 I can use?"

"For you, I have. What's the plan?”

"There is a wine and alcohol store here. There is a certain type of alcohol that my friends love, something extremely strong, but also very expensive. If I buy a decent quantity of it, I'll make sure they drink enough before the party, and everyone will fall asleep until morning, and that way we won't have to go to the party - but I'll also come out of here as a man... do you understand, your honor?''

Normally I wouldn’t have agreed to such a plan. But since I saw that this happened as a result of my donation to Rachel’s Tomb, and I was also moved by the fact that Tzachi desired and tried so hard to overcome his obstacles, I went along with it, and gave him my credit card information. We entered the holiday of Simchat Torah with much joy and happiness, hoping that Tzachi's plan would be successful.

On the morning of Simchat Torah, the sirens sounded in our neighborhood, and later the rumors started reaching us as well. We knew that something unusual was happening in the south, but we had no idea how dramatic it was. After the holiday ended I started hearing reports about the extent of the terrible massacre that took place in the surrounding settlements. Like all the people of Israel, I was enveloped in heavy mourning, but I still did not connect all of this to Tzachi. I didn’t know the location of the party, and I didn't connect a single thing between the terrible massacre and Tzachi's party.

At four in the morning after I had barely managed to fall asleep, the phone rang. With half-closed eyes I look and see Tzachi’s number on the screen. I pressed the green key, and the terrible sound of sirens and deafening screams poured into the receiver. In between I hear Tzachi sobbing like a little child. unable to speak. I heard only fragments of words.

"What happened?" I ask in obvious horror. Suddenly I realize that Tzachi is there, in the inferno.

"Your honor, you saved us, thank you, your honor, you saved us all... thanks to you we live..."

It is difficult for me to describe the entire course of the conversation with Tzachi. But what I heard left me in complete shock. Tzachi and his friends were staying with a couple of friends who lived in one of the settlements near the border, and they had planned to go to the big party at Re'im late Friday night.

Tzachi's plan was successful beyond his expectations. He managed to convince his friends to have a 'mini party' before going out, and take a few sips of the drink he bought... one sip led to a second and a third, in the end they all fell asleep there in the apartment until the morning, and did not go to the party. Because they fell asleep early that night, one of them woke up at a relatively early hour. Realizing what was happening, he woke up all of his friends, and they barricaded themselves inside the safe room.

They stayed there in utter fear for close to 18 hours, during which they heard the terrorists walking around inside the apartment, trying to open the safe room. When they realized that it was tightly closed, and they weren't even sure that anyone was there, they left and went on to other houses...

And so, I had the privilege of being the messenger of Rachel, our mother, to save seven of her children from death. Soom after they recovered from their ordeal they all came to my house, all seven of them, with tears in their eyes, tears of love and embrace: we want to keep the vow we made to the G-d, in the moments of terror, that we return to Him, return to live a life of true love. Thanks to Rachel, our mother. “V’Shavu banim.” “And the boys returned.”

Photo credit: 

Tomb of Rachel

Whoiswho, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

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