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Our Original Yiddishe Mamme-Rachel Imenu

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26.11.2020

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We are introduced to Rachel, one of the four Matriarchs, in this week’s Torah reading Vayetzei[i]. Like the other Matriarchs, she was an outstanding individual with many wonderful qualities.

Rachel also possessed some unique characteristics that earned her the endearing title of Rachel Imenu (our Mother Rachel). This is particularly poignant given her travails in seeking to have a child with Jacob[ii]. She finally gave birth to Joseph after many years and then passed on, at the young age of thirty-six[iii], in the process of giving birth to Benjamin. It is also interesting that it was her twin sister[iv], Leah, who bore the most children to Jacob, including Judah. Indeed, the name Jews is derived from the presumptive status of being descendants of the Tribe of Judah, given that it was the most numerous surviving Tribe of Israel, after both the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, by the Assyrians and then the destruction of the First Temple, by the Babylonians. Yet it is Rachel, who is referred to as our mother; not Leah.

The Bible refers to Rachel as beautiful, employing two expressions ‘Yifat Toar’ and ‘Yifat Mareh’ to describe aspects of her charming qualities[v]. The Ohr HaChaim[vi] explains the former term refers to her objective beauty and the latter to the beautiful impression she made on those who encountered her. This may help explain why Jacob fell in love with her at first sight[vii].

The Talmud[viii] extols Rachel’s modesty and discretion. These are not just idle words of praise. The Talmud illustrates how Rachel strove to deal with her less than ideal circumstances, in a selfless and compassionate manner. When Jacob asked her to marry him, she cautioned him. She said that her father, Laban, was a swindler and would try to marry off her older sister Leah first to Jacob, in her place. Jacob responded he could deal with Laban and provided her with certain distinguishing signs to frustrate any attempted substitution. However, when the wedding night arrived and Laban planned to switch the sisters, Rachel could not abide her sister Leah being embarrassed. She provided Leah with the secret signs to avoid her outright rejection. It was only on the following morning, in the light of day, that Jacob realized it was Leah he had mistakenly married.

Rachel also had a stoical capacity to remain silent[ix]. This is no mean accomplishment. Imagine the scene depicted in the Bible[x] of Rachel asking Leah to please favor her with the dudaim Leah’s son Reuben had picked. Leah answers cynically that wasn’t it enough that Rachel stole her husband, Jacob, away from her and now Rachel was asking for her son’s dudaim too. Rachel could have vehemently responded, what Leah, are you kidding? It was Leah, who was the interloper and who masqueraded as Rachel on her intended wedding night with Jacob. Instead, Rachel was silent and remained stoic in the face of Leah’s baseless accusations. It appears she never confronted Leah on the subject to preserve her sister’s dignity and self-respect[xi].

Interestingly, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai notes[xii] that Rachel understood if she had interfered with her father Laban’s plan to marry Leah off to Jacob first, then he would not have allowed her betrothal to Jacob to proceed. She recognized that this was, in effect, the only way she would be married to Jacob. She was,........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)


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