Chavarah- Jewish Community Learning

A blog of Jewish study and traditions. Notes from classes: Torah Study with Rabbi Marder, Toledot and Shabbaton as well as other details found of interest.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Rachel dies in childbirth

      35:16-20 on Rachel’s birthing of Benjamin and her death.
·      35:16-17
-      הָאָרֶץ כִּבְרַת עוֹד – still some distance to go; between towns
-     Irony – Rachel is desperate for children, but dies giving birth to one.
-     Midwife says not to fear; it’s another son.  Talmud: birth pains are worse when it’s a daughter.  Also, she says, “have no fear; the son will live.”
-     Comparable passage in I Samuel 4, when Philistines capture Ark of the Covenant.  Daughter-in-law of Phineas also dies in childbirth …
·      35:18 – Rachel’s name for the boy is “Ben-oni”, son of pain, because of the birth situation (also like 1 Samuel 4); then Jacob renames to Benjamin, a radical idea.
-     But Jacob is actually translating Aramaic to Hebrew the name to son of strength, son of the right; the right hand is one of strength.
-     Ramban – Jacob translating is based on love, a good meaning.  Changing pain and future guilt to something more meaningful.
-     Rashi translates as son of the south; facing east means the right hand points south toward Canaan, a land that Israelites will soon take over.
-     Another translation; son of days, ימים בן, where the מ and נ were switched.
-     But Hebrew names are not usually made public until eighth day; not here, so the brit millah came from a later tradition.
-     Text reads that Rachel dies and then names the newborn; perhaps it was the midwife who did the naming?  Or, did the naming come as she was dying, so it is logical that Jacob should step in and rename.
-     Why does Rachel die?  A punishment of Jacob for delay in returning to Bet El?  Of Rachel for buying the mandrake and bargaining with Leah?  Of Rachel’s for here disrespect of older sister by speaking first?  Of Rachel stealing her father’s idols?
-     Ben Johnson’s poem on death of his son
Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy ;
    My sin was too much hope of thee, lov'd boy.
Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
    Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
Oh, could I lose all father now ! For why
    Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon 'scaped world's and flesh's rage,
    And if no other misery, yet age !
Rest in soft peace, and, asked, say, Here doth lie
    Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry.
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such
    As what he loves may never like too much.

-     Isaiah 57:1 – Rachel wasn’t punished; she suffered because she was righteous.  There is often no reason for death…
·      35:19
-     Why is Rachel not buried in Cave of Machpelah, as are other matriarchs and patriarchs?
*  Logistical problem of traveling to the Cave
*  Shame on entering the Land, where two wives are frowned upon
*  Jacob as a prophet – Jeremiah passage read in traditional synagogues on 2nd day Rosh Hashanah – “Rachel weeping …” Exiles will return to this place.
*  Why Rachel’s pleading so effective? Her yearning to be a mother; she gave her life to be a mother.  Her desperation, her sacrifice.
*  From 1 Samuel, the tomb is a landmark, a known site, even today.
*  בְּדֶרֶךְ –on the way; a no-man’s land; a possibly dangerous place, such as Benjamin getting harmed “on the way” to Egypt.
-     Tradition of Joseph praying at this grave (from some Midrash in Ginzberg’s Legends of the Bible).  A poignant prayer about comfort, consolation, pleading to be relieved of suffering.
-     Dying in childbirth – does this speak to her life?  It’s her ultimate sacrifice, considering her desperation to have children.  After all, most of a woman’s worth in those days was based on ability to bear children.
*  In developed world, dying in childbirth is rare, almost shocking and not considered “sacrifice.”
*  Adults walk closer to street with their children, so they’d be struck first by an out-of-control car.  That’s their “sacrifice.”  But child could say, “if you die, that would do me no good with you gone.”
*  Who lives in this situation? Mother or child.


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