Israel Drazin

What we don’t know about the matriarch Rachel

We know, or think we know, that Jacob was attracted to Rachel as soon as he saw her the first time. Genesis 29:11 tells us that he kissed her and wept. In verse 18, we are told, “Jacob loved Rachel.” He even agreed since he had no money, to work for seven years for her father if he would give her to him as a wife. But how long did this love last? We do not know. 

  • Are there indications that Jacob’s love of Rachel ceased sometime after he married her? Scripture mentions nothing favorable about their relationship. In fact, he addressed Rachel’s great angst after their marriage of being barren with anger, with no words of consolation or advice in 30:1-2. He also did not bother to bury her in the family burial plot, but buried her where she died. What happened to their relationship? If it soured, when did this happen and why?
  • While the Torah tells us of Jacob’s love, at least initially, and tells us also about his father Isaac’s love of his wife Rebekah when he met her, it does not mention the feelings of the women. Why? Does the Torah not consider it important?
  • Why does Jacob agree to work for seven years to acquire Rachel as his wife? Why seven? Why turn himself into a slave – 25:27 describes Jacob as a quiet man dwelling in tents? What changed him? Was it love?
  • Why did Jacob agree to wait seven years before he married Rachel? Why didn’t he say, I’ll work seven years but I want her now? Is his behavior reasonable?
  • Did Rachael appreciate what Jacob agreed to do? Did she fail to do so by apparently helping her sister Leah deceive Jacob on their wedding night? If she helped Leah, what did the two sister do to fool the man who labored for a woman for seven years? Scripture as usual is silent.
  • After being tricked, Jacob still agreed to work for Rachel. Why did he agree to do so? After being fooled and mistreated couldn’t he argue that he need not work so long for Rachel? Isn’t it reasonable to suppose that Laban would feel guilty about the subterfuge and agree to a single year of labor?
  • We are told nothing of Rachel’s character, but her acts seem to indicate it was not good. When she finally had a son and named him Joseph, a name based on the Hebrew asaph, “more,” she seemed to be dissatisfied. She gave Joseph this name when she said, Lord, give me another son.
  • When Jacob at last decided to return home after an absence of some twenty years, Rachel “stole the teraphim that were her father’s” (31:19). Scripture is quiet why she committed this theft. Why did she do it? Was it proper? It is also still regarding what are teraphim, items mentioned elsewhere in the Bible as well, apparently some kind of idols, but never fully explained. They existed in David’s home when he was married to King Saul’s daughter.
  • Laban wanted his teraphim back. He accused Jacob and/or his family taking them. Jacob did not know that Rachel snatched them. He felt certain that no one in his family would take the teraphim. He said in 31:32, “With whomever you find your gods, he shall not live!” Based on Midrash Rabbah, Rashi maintains that Jacob cursed anyone who stole the teraphim. He explains that this curse led to Rachel’s early death for even an unintentional curse uttered by a righteous person is fulfilled. Is this notion and the following four rational?
  • Rachel’s second son Benjamin was born six years after Joseph. Jacob thought to leave Laban after 14 years of work for his two wives when his son by Rachel, Joseph, was born. But he decided to work another six years to accumulate wealth. After the six years, he left, entered Canaan, and Rachel gave birth to Benjamin and died in childbirth. Why had she no child during the six years? Were she and Jacob estranged? Does this explain why Jacob did not bother to go the few miles to Machpelah to bury her in the family plot? If they were estranged, what caused it?
  • A Midrash exonerates Jacob for not taking Rachel’s body to the family plot, the Cave of Machpelah, because Jacob saw with prophecy that in the future his descendants would go into exile in 586 BCE and pass by Rachel’s burial site, and as the prophet Jeremiah said in 31:14, Rachel wept for her children. The exiles could stop and pray there that she would intercede with God to help them. An interesting story but no indication of it in Genesis. Furthermore, there is no indication that Rachel interceded with God and God never make the exile easy for the Judeans.
  • Another Midrash maintained that placing Rachel in Machpelah would embarrass his parents and grandparents because he married Rachel after he had married her sister Leah, which the Torah forbid centuries after his death.
  • Nachmanides had another idea. God killed Rachel so that Jacob would not enter the holy land with a much later forbidden marriage mentioned for the first time in the Torah, not while Jacob and Rachel lived.. There are many other imaginative explanations for Rachel’s death and burial.
  • The Midrash Seder Olam contains the notion that Rachel was born on the day that Jacob stole Esau’s blessing from his father Isaac. The Midrash opines that Jacob was sixty-three at that time and was now ninety-nine, while Rachael died at age thirty-six.
About the Author
Dr. Israel Drazin served for 31 years in the US military and attained the rank of brigadier general. He is an attorney and a rabbi, with master’s degrees in both psychology and Hebrew literature and a PhD in Judaic studies. As a lawyer, he developed the legal strategy that saved the military chaplaincy when its constitutionality was attacked in court, and he received the Legion of Merit for his service. Dr. Drazin is the author of more than 50 books on the Bible, philosophy, and other subjects.
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