The mothers named all of the tribes

After each tribe was born, Yaakov did not get involved in naming the children. His wives were given the space to choose each child’s name and speak from the heart as they explained its significance:

Leah’s first four sons:

Reuven: “God has seen my affliction; for now my husband will love me.”

Shimon: “Since God heard that I am the hated one, He also gave me this one.”

Levi: “This time my husband will be attached to me, for I have born him three sons.”

Yehuda: “This time I will praise God.”

Bilha’s sons were named by Rachel as they were considered to be her surrogate children:

Dan: “God has judged me. He has also heard my voice, and has given me a son.”

Naftali: “With God’s bonds, I have been joined to my sister. And I have also prevailed.”

Zilpa’s sons were named by Leah as they were considered to be her surrogate children:

Gad: “Unexpected success has come.”

Asher: “It is in my good fortune that women will consider me fortunate.”

Leah’s other sons:

Yissachar: “God has given me my reward because I gave my handmaid to my husband.”

Zevulun: “God has given a goodly portion. Now my husband will make his main home with me for I have borne him six sons.”

Rachel’s sons:

Yosef: “God has removed my shame. May God add to me another son.”

As Rachel’s soul was departing, she named her son BenOni (son of my sorrow).

With Leah, we see that the names of her children are connected with the fact that she is appreciative of God as well as hopeful that she will become closer to Yaakov.

Rachel is optimistic when naming the first three and honest when naming her last child at the point where she no longer had any hope.

Radak explains that Rachel was in a lot of pain when she named the baby BenOni as she had a difficult childbirth and her soul was leaving her body so the name could have negative connotations. Yaakov chose to change the name slightly to the more positive Binyamin,“son of my right” and “beloved to me” as he was happy to have this baby who was born during his old age, despite the circumstances.

Ramban’s opinion differs from the other commentators. He believes that Yaakov didn’t actually change the baby’s name. When Rachel used the word “Oni” she was referring to mourning. Yaakov on the other hand translated “Oni” as strength (the same way that he later used the word “Oni” in his blessing to Reuven). Yaakov called him Binyamin “the son of power or strength” for in the right hand (yamin) there is strength and success. Yaakov wanted to keep the name that Rachel had called him, for all his children were called by the names that their mothers had called them. Therefore he called him Binyamin, a positive spin on the name BenOni.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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