Today Efrat and Bethlehem, though not far apart, are two different places. In recent years Rachel’s Tomb, Kever Rachel, has been refurbished and an educational and function centre is being developed beside it.
Jacob’s original intention was to bury her in the cave of Machpelah, but he said, as the commentator Sforno puts it, “I was so overcome by my grief that I could not collect myself to take her to the ancestral tomb”, so he buried her where she died.
Ibn Ezra says that when Jacob told this to Rachel’s son Joseph he seemed to be apologising for asking that he himself should be buried at Machpelah even though he had not been in a fit state to arrange for Rachel to be buried there.
Rashi, however, quotes an interpretation that gives the episode symbolic significance. Rashi’s comment is this: “I buried her there,” Jacob said, “in accordance with the Divine wish that she should be of assistance to her children in time to come.”
Rashi explains that when Mother Rachel’s descendants were being led off into exile they would pass by the tomb and Rachel would weep for them. God, however, would comfort her and promise that the exiles would “return to their border” (Jer. 31).
Now, all these centuries later, when we visit Kever Rachel we thank God that her tears helped us to see the prophecy fulfilled.