The patriarch Jacob had four wives (all at the same time): Leah and Rachel and their handmaidens Bilha and Zilpah. Rachel, however, was the wife that Jacob truly loved.

But while Rachel held Jacob’s heart, Leah had his children. Rachel watched her sister blossom time and again in pregnancy, while she remained barren. Desperate and jealous, she demanded of her husband “Give me children, for if not, I am as dead”(Genesis 30:1). When Jacob responded that this was God’s department, Rachel chose to give Jacob her handmaiden, Bilha, to be her surrogate. When Bilha bore Jacob two sons, Rachel named the older Dan (“God has judged me. He has also heard my voice and has given me a son”) and the younger Naphtali (“I have attempted every means to influence God to grant me children as He did my sister, and I have succeeded.”)

It would seem, from her statement in naming Naphtali, that Rachel had accepted her inability to bear children. Therefore, it must have come with great joy and surprise when Rachel discovered that she was finally pregnant. (Leah, at this point, was pregnant with her seventh child, Dinah.)

Upon the birth of her first son, Rachel declared “God has taken away my reproach.” She named her son Joseph, stating “May God add to me another son” (Genesis 30: 23-24). It wasn’t, however, until eight years later that Rachel had her second child. His birth occurred as Jacob and his family were about to return to the land of Canaan. Sadly, “she [Rachel] was in hard labor….and it came to pass, as her soul was departing–for she was dying–that she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin” (Genesis 35:17-18).

Rachel’s Yahrtzeit is today, 11 Cheshvan. She was buried in Bethlehem.

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