Rachel
William Dyce - The meeting of Jacob and Rachel.jpg
The Meeting of Jacob and Rachel by William Dyce
Holy Matriarch
BornPaddan Aram
DiedCanaan
Venerated in
Major shrineRachel's Tomb
Feast
  • Roman Catholicism: 1 November[1]
  • Orthodox Church: Sunday before Christmas
  • Judaism: 11 Cheshvan[2]

Rachel (Hebrew: רָחֵל, romanizedRāḥēl, lit.'ewe')[3] was a Biblical figure, the favorite of Jacob's two wives, and the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, two of the twelve progenitors of the tribes of Israel. Rachel's father was Laban. Her older sister was Leah, Jacob's first wife. Her aunt Rebecca was Jacob's mother.[4]

Marriage to Jacob

Rachel and Jacob at the Well by James Tissot (c. 1896–1902)
Rachel and Jacob at the Well by James Tissot (c. 1896–1902)

Rachel is first mentioned in the Hebrew Bible in Genesis 29 when Jacob happens upon her as she is about to water her father's flock. She was the second daughter of Laban, Rebekah's brother, making Jacob her first cousin.[4] Jacob had traveled a great distance to find Laban. Rebekah had sent him there to be safe from his angry twin brother, Esau.

During Jacob's stay, he fell in love with Rachel and agreed to work seven years for Laban in return for her hand in marriage. On the night of the wedding, the bride was veiled and Jacob did not notice that Leah, Rachel's older sister, had been substituted for Rachel. Whereas "Rachel was lovely in form and beautiful", "Leah had tender eyes".[5] Later Jacob confronted Laban, who excused his own deception by insisting that the older sister should marry first. He assured Jacob that after his wedding week was finished, he could take Rachel as a wife as well, and work another seven years as payment for her. When God "saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb" (Gen 29:31), and she gave birth to four sons.

Rachel, like Sarah and Rebekah, remained unable to conceive. According to biblical scholar Tikva Frymer-Kensky, "The infertility of the matriarchs has two effects: it heightens the drama of the birth of the eventual son, marking Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph as special; and it emphasizes that pregnancy is an act of God."[6]

Rachel became jealous of Leah and gave Jacob her maidservant, Bilhah, to be a surrogate mother for her. Bilhah gave birth to two sons that Rachel named and raised (Dan and Naphtali). Leah responded by offering her handmaid Zilpah to Jacob, and named and raised the two sons (Gad and Asher) that Zilpah bore. According to some commentaries, Bilhah and Zilpah were half-sisters of Leah and Rachel.[7] After Leah conceived again, Rachel was finally blessed with a son, Joseph,[4] who would become Jacob's favorite child.

Children

Rachel's son Joseph was destined to be the leader of Israel's tribes between exile and nationhood. This role is exemplified in the Biblical story of Joseph, who prepared the way in Egypt for his family's exile there.[8]

Fresco by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo of Rachel sitting on the idols (1726–1728)
Fresco by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo of Rachel sitting on the idols (1726–1728)

After Joseph's birth, Jacob decided to return to the land of Canaan with his family.[4] Fearing that Laban would deter him, he fled with his two wives, Leah and Rachel, and twelve children without informing his father-in-law. Laban pursued him and accused him of stealing his idols. Indeed, Rachel had taken her father's idols, hidden them inside her camel's seat cushion, and sat upon them. Laban had neglected to give his daughters their inheritance (Genesis 31:14–16).[6]

Not knowing that the idols were in his wife's possession, Jacob pronounced a curse on whoever had them: "With whoever you will find your gods, he will not live" (Genesis 31:32). Laban proceeded to search the tents of Jacob and his wives, but when he came to Rachel's tent, she told her father, "Let not my lord be angered that I cannot rise up before you, for the way of women is upon me" (Genesis 31:35). Laban left her alone, and the idols were not discovered.

Death

Rachel's Tomb, near Bethlehem, 1891
Rachel's Tomb, near Bethlehem, 1891

Near Ephrath, Rachel went into a difficult labor with her second son, Benjamin. The midwife told her in the middle of the birth that her child was a boy.[9] Before she died, Rachel named her son Ben Oni ("son of my mourning"), but Jacob called him Ben Yamin (Benjamin). Rashi explains that Ben Yamin either means "son of the right" (i.e., "south"), since Benjamin was the only one of Jacob's sons born in Canaan, which is to the south of Paddan Aram; or it could mean "son of my days", as Benjamin was born in Jacob's old age.

Burial

Main article: Rachel's Tomb

Biblical scholarship distinguishes between two narratives for the site of Rachel's burial, a northern one suggesting a site north of Jerusalem near Ramah (modern Al-Ram), and a southern one placing it close to Bethlehem.

Rachel was buried on the road to Ephrath, just outside Bethlehem,[10] and not in the ancestral tomb at Machpelah (where her husband Jacob and her sister Leah were buried). Rachel's Tomb, located between Bethlehem and the Israeli settlement of Gilo, is visited by tens of thousands of visitors each year.[11]

1 Samuel 10:2 places Rachel's tomb "at Zelzah on the border of Benjamin."

Additional references in the Bible

Rachel weeping for her children, 14th-century fresco from Marko's Monastery
Rachel weeping for her children, 14th-century fresco from Marko's Monastery

In Islam

Despite not being named in the Quran, Rachel (Arabic: رَاحِـيْـل, Rāḥīl) is honored in Islam as the wife of Jacob and mother of Joseph,[13] who are frequently mentioned by name in the Qur'an as Yaʿqūb (Arabic: يَـعْـقُـوْب) and Yūsuf (Arabic: يُـوْسُـف), respectively.[14][15]

References

  1. ^ "Rachel the Matriarch". Star Quest Production Network. 28 October 2008. Retrieved 28 April 2011.
  2. ^ "Jewish Mother's Day - Rachel & the 11th of Cheshvan". Chabad.org.
  3. ^ Bible Hub
  4. ^ a b c d "Rachel", Jewish Virtual Library
  5. ^ "Leah had tender eyes" (Hebrew: ועיני לאה רכות) (Genesis 29:17). It is debated as to whether the adjective "tender" (רכות) should be taken to mean "delicate and soft" or "weary". Some translations say that it may have meant blue or light colored eyes. Some say that Leah spent most of her time weeping and praying to God to change her destined mate. Thus the Torah describes her eyes as "soft" from weeping.
  6. ^ a b c Frymer-Kensky, Tikva. "Rachel: Bible." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 20 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on August 6, 2014)
  7. ^ Ginzberg, Louis (1909) The Legends of the Jews, Volume I, Chapter VI: Jacob, at sacred-texts.com
  8. ^ "Joseph" at jewishencyclopedia.com
  9. ^ Reisenberger, Azila, "Medical history: Biblical texts reveal compelling mysteries", University of Cape Town News, January 10, 2003
  10. ^ "Rachel" at http://jewishencyclopedia.com
  11. ^ "Kever Rachel Trip Breaks Barriers" by Israel National News Staff at israelnationalnews.com, Published: 11/14/05
  12. ^ Weisberg, Chana, "Rachel - Biblical Women" at chabad.org
  13. ^ "Tomb of Rahil (Rachel)". Islamic Landmarks. 24 July 2014. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  14. ^ Quran 12:4–102
  15. ^ al-Tabari, Muhammad ibn Jarir (Translated by William Brinner) (1987). The History of al-Tabari Vol. 2: Prophets and Patriarchs. SUNY. p. 150.