Rachel’s Tears and Divine Mercy

Rachel’s Tears and Divine Mercy November 10, 2015

Two weeks ago, a friend of mine had her third child. There were some complications when he was born, and although both mom and baby are both healthy now, it was scary, especially for her. As I heard bits and pieces of the story throughout the day, I found myself terrified, anxious, excited, angry, and sad, all at once. I felt strangely connected to this little life, even though it wasn’t my baby. Perhaps it was because my pregnancy with Lola was full of complications, some little and only mildly nerve-wracking, some big and terrifying, and when she was born preterm with meconium in the amniotic fluid and the cord wrapped around her neck, I felt all those same emotions. But I think it was more than just that.


That same day–roughly the same time that little boy was being born–I found myself stuck in the worst traffic I’ve ever been in, without any exaggeration. The highway was stopped dead. People had shut off their cars; some were getting out to try to get a better idea of what was going on. I, having been moderately proud of myself for getting out the door more or less on time, was frustrated that I was now definitely going to be late to work (again). As I tried to find a way around the traffic and listened to the radio to figure out what was holding us up, I learned that a person was contemplating jumping off an overpass only a couple miles south of where I was. The frustration turned into that same cocktail of emotions again. This time, though, I didn’t have a good reason.

All of this made me want some sort of reassurance from the Divine. Usually, my approach to any challenge I face is to roll up my sleeves, make a plan, and get through it. I can usually convince myself it’s going to turn out okay. But I couldn’t do it alone, not this time.

I found myself up to my ozen in the Midrash Rabbah (with a lot of help), looking for something I could hang onto. After six years of formal theological education, I can no longer handle pop Christian pithy sayings or overused, poorly interpreted verses. I get so caught up in my own exegetical reasoning that the beauty and mystery of what we call scripture is lost on me. The Midrash Rabbah helps me work around this. I found the story of Rachel crying out for her deceased children in Jeremiah, and a longer midrash that connects this to Lamentations. In this story, Abraham, Isaac, and Moses all try to convince the Divine to be merciful to the Israelites, reminding Her of their piety, devotion, and zeal, but She is not convinced. Rachel comes into the picture, reminding the Divine of the way she and Leah sacrificed for one another, not out of piety, devotion, or zeal, but out of mercy and grace. If they, as equals, can have mercy on one another, how could the Divine be unrelenting when it comes to petty idols? The Divine is persuaded to have mercy on the Israelites because of Rachel’s tears for her children. The Divine does not listen to piety, or to devotion, or to zeal, but instead She listens to a mother’s tears of agony; to a woman’s heartbroken rage.

In this, I could find truth.

In times when I’m needing reassurance that everything will be okay, I don’t want to hear about trust or holiness. I don’t want to hear about “God’s plan”. I want to hear that the Divine responds to the impassioned tears of a woman, because perhaps, She might hear me as well.

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