This story was told to me by a friend, Reb A.N. Brizel, a 5th generation Yerushalmi who heard it as a child. It took place about 90 – 100 years ago. A renowned personage of the old Jewish settlement in Jerusalem was the holy R’ Dovid Biederman, a scion of Rabbinic and Chassidic lineage. He was known as a Tzaddik among Tzaddikim. His only concern in life was whether or not he was living up to the expectations of his Creator.
Once, R’ Dovid decided to undertake the arduous, almost day-long trek on donkey from Jerusalem to the gravesite of Rachel Imainu. He set out early in the morning, right after the conclusion of the sunrise minyan. The entire way he contemplated and organized the prayers he would say there. He wanted to be sure not to forget anything, since it was only infrequently that he had the opportunity to make the journey.
When he finally arrived he saw that was not alone. A woman with a number of small children had arrived previously and was making herself at home in the monument’s domed chamber. She had already spread out a blanket and laid the youngest child down to sleep. When R’ Dovid arrived she was busy preparing the evening meal.
R’ Dovid was incredulous. Did she have no regard for the sanctity of the site? Didn’t she realize where she was? How could this woman busy herself with such mundane matters in such a Holy place?
R’ Dovid approached the woman and in a less than friendly tone demanded an explanation.
The weary woman looked up at R’ Dovid from her seat on the floor and replied softly, “I would think that our Mother Rachel would be pleased that we are eating and resting here.”
R’ Dovid felt suddenly faint and uneasy. He realized that he had been making the journey to Rachel’s Tomb for decades and had not even begun to understand what it represented. Here was a simple unlearned woman, yet she possessed a profound grasp of the true holiness of Rachel’s Tomb. What had been be doing here all those years!? He now understood that Rachel was the mother who wept and prayed for her children. Her desire is only that we should have some relief, some comfort in life, some peace of mind in order to better serve Hashem.
From that day on, whenever R’ Dovid travelled to the Tomb of Rachel, he made sure to bring with him a meal which he would share with all the others who came to entreat our mother Rachel to intercede for them and bring their prayers on high.