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Jan 26, 2009

Did Rachel Imeinu appear or not?

In the story that just won't die, until now I have pretty much just brought reports of other people saying it is true or not. Rachel Imeinu appeared and saved our troops, or she did not (I generally brought those saying it is true, because that side is much more interesting).

A number of people have asked me if I believe the story or not, and if it happened or not. When answering the question at different times, a couple of different points and questions were brought up. So I have decided to make a post out of the answer.

Did it happen? Did Rachel Imeinu really show up and save our troops?

The truth is that I have no idea. If I did not witness it, all I know is what others tell me. The story spread. Truthfully, the story is one of those that are not really believable, or at least it has various explanations as to how it happened. A good Arab woman, perhaps. A Jewish woman living in Gaza married to an Arab but still wanted to help the IDF. It never happened at all.

But to say it did not happen, it could not have happened - to dismiss it out of hand - disturbs me.

We have all grown up, if you grew up religious, hearing the stories of miracles. We all heard how Eliyahu Ha'Navi appeared to this person or that person. How Eliyahu helped make a minyan in this forsaken village or learned b'chavrusa wuth that secret talmid chochom. We all grew up on the chassidishe maaslech of this or that spirit of some long dead gadol appearing to someone and direcing him how to proceed successfully to maneuver through some problem.

If all those stories could have happened, and I at least grew up believing them to be true, then there is no reason to think the story of Rachel Imeinu could not have happened. Did it happen? I don't know. Could it have happened? I see no reason why it could not have happened. And if you are going to dismiss this story with a wave of the hand, you also have to dismiss all those stories the same way.

Another point I would like to mnetion is the machlokes between various rabbis on whether we should or should not believe it, on whether it did or did not happen.

I noticed that the rabbis who said it happened are the great rabbis Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu and Rav Ovadia Yosef. The ones who prominently say it did not happen are the younger rabbis Rabbi Aviner, Rabbi Cherlow and some others.

I noticed that the ones claiming it did, are older rabbis. Rabbis who are involved in the world of kabbala. Rabbi Eliyahu is one of the greatest mekubalim alive today. Rabbi Yosef is as well.

The younger rabbis, I would hesitate to call them "second tier rabbis" out of respect to them, but in relation to Rabbis Yosef and Eliyahu, I think it is reasonable, are younger, more rationalists, less involved (at least publicly) in kabbala. Perhaps because of that they insist it did not happen - they are younger, closer connected to the modern way of thought that rejects these types of stories - our level of emuna in miracles is not nearly at the level of the simple Jew of the previous generations, and the younger rabbis and their way of thought could very well be a product of our lower level of emuna.

I am not knocking Rabbis Cherlow and Aviner and saying they are no good - I am just saying they are younger, less involved in kabbala, have a more "rationalist" and perhaps scientific approach. While Rabbis Yosef and Eliyahu are more involved in the esoteric and kabbalistic worlds. Perhaps that is why we see a "machlokes" between them on thi sissue.

What do you think?


  1. have there been any interviews yet with those soldiers reportedly involved?

  2. I am not aware of any interview.

  3. The classic sign of an urban legend is that the story happened to "somebody", even a 2nd degree contact of the person relating the story - but never a 1st degree contact, and certainly never in the first person.

    This story, as beautiful and as inspiring as it may be, fits perfectly into this definition.

    Chitznik asks, "have there been any interviews yet with those soldiers reportedly involved?" Chitznik, I think you already know the answer to your own question.

    No, there have been no interviews. Nor will there be. Because it didn't happen.

    Let me be clear - there was definitely an unprecedented level of siyata dishmaya in the Gaza campaign. Our soldiers were protected to a practically unnatural extent from any harm, and we owe an enormous hakaras haTov to HKBH for the fact that He watched over His people with such care. But it was all "al derech hateva". I do not think that Hashem needed to resurrect Rachel Imenu in order to protect the soldiers; the rule is that Hashem interacts with the world through natural means.

    And yes, the same goes for all the chassidishe maaselach, and the Golem of Prague, too. Lo haya, v'lo nivra.

    It's a terrible pity that people need to clutch at these little stories to strengthen their faith, and even worse that we bring children up on them, because when they get older, wiser and more cynical, they start doubting these stories, and that undermines everything that we have taught them. Children trust everything their parents say, because we establish credibility for ourselves when the hot stove really does burn, and when the medicine we give them really does make them feel better. When we foist cheap inspirational stories on our children, as if they're the truth, we undercut our credibility, and you have no idea just how catastrophic that is for chinuch. If the Golem of Prague didn't really happen, and Aba said it did, maybe Matan Torah didn't really happen either (C"V)?

    Beware of these "inspirational" stories - they are a double-edged sword.

  4. i agree with you that it doesnt matter if it really happened or not. I choose to believe it did, and I am content believing that (sorry Shaul). When it comes to miracles, the idea is what they do for us, nor whether we have a bedtime story to tell. It will strengthen my emuna to know that Gd is sending messengers down to help us. that is simply the level of our emunah these days, like you mentioned.

    Besides that i think it is humurous that everyone is quoting Rav Eliyhau. All he said is that he davened for her to help her children, and then commented, seemingly humurously: "did she say i sent her?" Thats like something i would say to friend of mine. He didnt readily admit that it was her, as much as he admitted to the possibility that maybe it was her.

    I don't have a problem with it either way.

  5. Shaul, I agree with you, and I think that many rabbis throughout the generations have already done a fabulous job undercutting their credibility.

  6. Whether the story as told is true or not, and I'll note I've definitely heard it grow a beard as I've heard it told back to me from 5 different people, it's impact is another matter.

    See this post here for my first hand account of hearing this story being told in a secular setting in Tel Aviv.

  7. It seems pretty clear now that it wasn't Rochel. Apparently when the soldiers woke up in the morning they realized it was Leah. :)

    Seriously, I agree with everything Shaul said.

    Of course, Jews who believe in God and the Torah, can never say that this can't happen. We believe that Hashem can do anything. But there's a huge leap between saying that it can happen and saying that it did happen. And one can "believe" anything they want, but it definitely undermines the credibility of our religion when these urban legends get passed around as fact. It's not a harmless belief.

    Further, while I have great respect for Rabbis Yosef and Eliyahu, it is the height of irresponsibility for them to use their positions to validate something they can't possibly know without having witnessed it first hand.

    There's no reason that Palestianian women weren't out there helping our soldiers. Many Palestinians risked, and gave, their lives to assist us in the success of this mission. If we have a simple, plausible, explanation like that, why do we have to twist ourselves into metaphysical pretzels?

  8. The issue here is process.
    The question is one of metzius: Did this happen pr did it not.

    When faced with such a question, regarding an event that took place less than a month ago and to which there would be many eyewitnesses, who are readily available and undoubtedly eager to share the miracle story, why shouldn't we say, "Well, where are the witnesses?" (Even one!)

    The issue is not a theological one as to what HASHEM could to and would do, but one of metzius regarding a very recent event.

    WHat process should we use for determining this?

    Why,, as intelligent people, should we accept the version of those who have no more evidence than we do ourselves?

  9. I agree with DS. Which is why I said I have no idea if it did happen, but I have no reason to say it could not happen

  10. DS - exactly. And the corrolary is true: since nobody has reported first hand on this story, it is fair to assume that the story is false.

  11. I agree with DS. Which is why I said I have no idea if it did happen, but I have no reason to say it could not happen.

    Rafi, this statement is a red herring. Nobody is arguing that there is no reason it could not happen. Like I said, we believe in an all-powerful God. But there are many reasons why it did not happen.

  12. Menachem that first line had me laugh out loud :D

  13. Did it happen? Did Rachel Imeinu really show up and save our troops?

    Before trying to determine whether the story is true, I would suggest trying to determine whether anyone involved ever told such a story in the first place.

    Who, exactly, are the soldiers to whom this woman allegedly spoke? What are their names? Did any of them provide a written account of it? Did any of them describe it in an interview on the radio, television, or in a newspaper? Can you provide links or references to any such accounts?

    I have not seen any such evidence that any soldier even claims that this story happened to him -- and I strongly suspect that there isn't any. Until somebody produces at least evidence of a claim by a soldier to have spoken to such a woman, this whole thing is a waste of time to even talk about.

  14. This just in:

    UN Human Rights Council votes 33-1 to condemn Rachel Imeinu for providing assistance and intelligence data to Zionist war criminals in Gaza
    Resolution dismisses Matriarch's denial of involvement as 'Zionist disinformation'

  15. There is plenty of reason to say that it did not happen.

    Given that according to the story it was witnessed by many soldiers, yet not a single one has come forward, we have to either ascribe it to outright fiction or, alternatively, as a Meretz conspiracy to silence those who would cause many to become ba'alei teshuva.

    Of course, the clamp down on all witnesses would have to be total, as not even one has come forward to bask in the media frenzy that awaits him.

  16. Interesting hos this story has evolved, by the way. Read the following, which is taken from Lazer Brody's Blog. I believe that the Rochel story started with him.

    His "sounds like Rochel" has become Rochel for sure, identifying herself, and becoming a beautiful young woman (alternatively an old one) speaking Arabic (alternatively Hebrew).

    The Land of Miracles

    Friday at noon is a time of hustle and bustle in Israel - people are coming home from work and/or from the marketplace, having made last-minute purchases of fresh challas, fruit, and fish for Shabbat. Despite the ongoing war, people here continue to live their lives. There were plenty of pedestrians and vehicles in the area when the Red-Alert alarm sounded; the pedestrians ran for cover. The motorists pulled over to the side of the road. Usually when a terrifying Grad rocket falls, it makes a tremendous boom (from the crash of the missile on the ground), followed by an afterblast from the explosion of its warhead. This missile landed, shaking the earth with an enormous thud, but the afterblast never came. The missile failed to explode. No one was scratched...

    Another missile landed near a gas pipeline. The pipeline was undergoing maintenance and had been emptied of gas a few days previously.

    Just now, right after midnight on Saturday night, an emotional father from Jerusalem called me and said that he had something important to tell me. His son is an NCO is a special forces unit operating in Gaza. He and his squad were about to storm a house with suspected Hamas terrorists inside. A woman in long black local attire came out and pleaded with them not to storm the house. During the fierce house-to-house fighting, the same woman appeared to the NCO and his unit in three other houses. It turned out that all four houses were booby-trapped.

    Who was that woman? Sounds to me like Rachel Imenu...

    Hashem is surely giving us wake-up calls, but He's also showing us just how much He loves us.

    We had a quiet Shabbat night, but two missiles were fired at us right before Mincha, a 4:10 and 4:15 PM on Shabbat. Both landed in non-populated areas.

    Every cloud has a silver lining with Hashem's signature on it. Have a wonderful week.

  17. Lurker:
    LOL :D
    I love the UNHCR condemnation - that got a belly laugh out of me... :)

  18. DS: yep, I think that's a positive ID on the source of this urban legend...
    Attaboy, Sherlock!

  19. the condemnation was good, but I liked the "switching with Leah " joke even more!

  20. Rafi-
    Yes, I wish I'd thought of either of them! :)

  21. "Blogger Shaul Behr said...
    DS: yep, I think that's a positive ID on the source of this urban legend...
    Attaboy, Sherlock!"

    Let's give credit where credit is due: It was Rochel Imeinu that told me.

  22. It looks like it's all been said but all the same:

    1. How do we know the story occurred?
    2. If it did, then where does this far out interpretation of it being Rahel Imenu come from?

    There are so many other plausible explanations for who this woman was, that the readiness of anybody to accept the Rahel Imenu explanation, just seems incredible.

    Rather than spinning supernatural stories, let's have some hakaras hatov for the good palestinians who helped our boys.

    And BTW, Shaul I agree with you that inspirational urban legends are anti-chinuch. I made sure my children know where I stand on this one, though unfortunately some of their teachers at school had taken the opposite stance.

  23. Just to make sure you noticed the last post was from Rafi and not RafiG :-).

  24. Ha! As I was reading, I was gettin more and more confused..only towards the end did it dawn on me that twas the "other" rafi...

  25. *** Rafi not Rafi G ***

    Looks like I'm confusing a lot of people...

    Bli neder I'll mark all my posts here prominently in future.


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