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definitions - Rachel

Rachel (n.)

1.(Old Testament) the second wife of Jacob and mother of Joseph and Benjamin

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Rachel and Jacob by William Dyce

According to the Hebrew Bible, Rachel (Hebrew: רחל, Modern Raḥel Tiberian Rāḫēl, Rāḥēl ; meaning "ewe {idiomatically: one with purity}"[1]) is a prophet and the favorite wife of Jacob, one of the three Biblical Patriarchs, and mother of Joseph and Benjamin. She was the daughter of Laban and the younger sister of Leah, Jacob's first wife. Jacob was her first cousin, as Jacob's mother Rebecca was Laban's sister.


Marriage to Jacob

Rachel is first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 29 when Jacob happens upon her as she is watering her lamb. He had traveled a great distance to find his mother’s brother, Laban. Rebekah had sent him there to be safe from his furious twin brother.

During Jacob's stay he fell in love with Rachel, so much so that he bargained with Laban to work seven years in return for her hand in marriage. The Bible says that he was so in love that it seemed as though only a few days had passed. The day of the wedding finally arrived. The bride was veiled and the night was dark, but in the morning, Jacob woke up to the truth. Leah – Rachel’s older sister – had been substituted for Rachel. The Bible says that “Rachel was lovely in form and beautiful” but that “Leah had weak eyes.” When Jacob awoke after his first night of marriage, and discovered the trick, he was understandably angry. Laban excused the deception by saying that it was tradition that the older sister marry first. He assured Jacob that after his wedding week was finished, he could have Rachel for his wife too – and then work another seven years as payment for her.

After Leah had given birth to four sons, Rachel remained barren. She became jealous of Leah and gave Jacob her maidservant, Bilhah, to be a surrogate mother for her. Bilhah gave birth to two sons: Dan and Naphtali. After Leah conceived again, Rachel was finally blessed with a son, Joseph, who would become Jacob's favorite child.

Death and burial

After Joseph's birth, Jacob decided to return to the land of Canaan with his family. Fearing that Laban would deter him, he fled with his four wives and eleven children without informing his father-in-law. Laban chased 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. 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, but the curse Jacob had pronounced came true shortly thereafter.

At the outskirts of the land of Canaan, approaching Efrat, Rachel went into a difficult labor with her second son, Benjamin. The midwife tells her in the middle of the birth that her child is a boy.[2] 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.

Rachel died on the eleventh day of the Hebrew month of Heshvan,[3] and was buried by Jacob on the road to Efrat, just outside Bethlehem.[4] Today Rachel's Tomb, located between Bethlehem and the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, is visited by tens of thousands of visitors each year.[5]

Rachel's Children

Rachel's son, Joseph, is 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,[6] and in the future figure of Mashiach ben Yosef (Messiah, son of Joseph), who will fight the apocalyptic Wars of Gog and Magog, preparing the way for the kingship of Mashiach ben David (Messiah, son of David) and the messianic age.[7][8]

Additional references in the Bible

  • In Jeremiah 31:15, the prophet speaks of 'Rachel weeping for her children' (KJV). This is interpreted in Judaism as Rachel crying for an end to her descendants' sufferings and exiles following the destruction of the First Temple in ancient Jerusalem. According to the Midrash, Rachel spoke before God: "If I, a mere mortal, was prepared not to humiliate my sister and was willing to take a rival into my home, how could You, the eternal, compassionate God, be jealous of idols, which have no true existence, that were brought into Your home (the Temple in Jerusalem)? Will You cause my children to be exiled on this account?" God accepted her plea and promised that, eventually, the exile would end and the Jews would return to their land.[9]
  • Mordechai, the hero of the Book of Esther, and Queen Esther herself, were descendants of Rachel through her son Benjamin. The Book of Esther details Mordechai's lineage as "Mordechai the son of Yair, the son of Shimi, the son of Kish, a man of the right (ish yemini)" (Esther 2:5). The designation of ish yemini refers to his membership in the Tribe of Benjamin (ben yamin, son of the right). The rabbis comment that Esther's ability to remain silent in the palace of Ahasuerus, resisting the king's pressure to reveal her ancestry, was inherited from her ancestor Rachel, who remained silent even when Laban brought out Leah to marry Jacob


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