12 Facts Every Jew Should Know About Rachel
By Menachem Posner
1. Rachel is one of the Four Matriarchs
Along with Sarah (wife of Abraham), Rebecca (wife of Isaac), and Leah (her sister and fellow wife of Jacob), Rachel is one of the four mothers of the Jewish people.
2. She is referred to as Mamma Rochel
Like the other matriarchs, she can be referred to as Rachel Immenu (Rachel Our Mother), even though she is technically only the mother of two out of the 12 tribes of Israel. In Yiddish she is affectionately called Mamma Rochel, reflective of her special place in the heart of the Jewish people (more on that later).
3. Her name means “sheep”
In Hebrew, the name Rachel means “sheep,” associated with her loveable, serene nature. And it is perhaps no accident that we read of how she would watch her father’s flocks.
4. The Bible describes her beauty
Scripture is sparing in its depiction of the physical appearance and features of the people whose stories are told. One of the few exceptions is Rachel, who we are told “had beautiful features and a beautiful complexion.”2
5. She was the beloved wife of Jacob
When Jacob came to her hometown of Padan Aram to search for a wife, he helped her water her father’s flock and the two felt an immediate deep connection. Jacob so wished to marry Rachel, that the seven years he had to work for her father, Laban, to earn her hand in marriage, “were like a few days in his eyes.”
6. She sacrificed for her sister
Recognizing that Jacob was a “catch,” Laban decided to secretly place Leah, his elder daughter, under the bridal canopy. Suspecting that Laban may pull a fast one, Jacob gave Rachel a prearranged password to identify herself. Knowing how mortified Leah would be when discovered, Rachel gave her sister the secret sign and watched as she married the man of her dreams.4
The following morning Jacob discovered the ruse and agreed to work for seven more years if Laban would allow him to marry Rachel a week later.5
7. She suffered from infertility
Soon after her marriage, Leah began to produce sons (she had six in total). Even Bilhah and Zilpah, their maids, had two sons each. But Rachel’s “closed womb” caused her so much grief, she told her husband that to live without children was akin to death.6
Her pain was eased (but not erased) when she was blessed with a son, whom she named Yosef (Joseph), meaning “he shall add,” expressing her wish for yet another son.
8. She “stole” her father’s idols
As Jacob prepared to move back to his native Canaan (eventually to become the Land of Israel) with his wives and children, Rachel stole her father’s teraphim (idols)7 in a final effort to wean him from idol-worship.8 When Laban confronted Jacob about the missing figurines, Jacob innocently declared that whoever had taken them should die.
9. She died in childbirth and was buried on the roadside
Jacob’s ill-spoken words came true, and Rachel died shortly thereafter, while giving birth to her second son, Benjamin. Jacob buried her on the road near Bethlehem, on the way to Efrat.10 She is the only one of the matriarchs not buried alongside Adam and Eve and their respective husbands in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
10. She cries for her long-lost children
Buried alone on the roadside, Rachel is a pathetic yet proud figure, the quintessential Jewish mother, looking out for her children who have been dispersed all over the world. In the words of Jeremiah: “A voice is heard on high, lamentation, bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, she refuses to be comforted for her children, for they are not.” And G‑d replies to her: “Refrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears … and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. And there is hope for your future … and the children shall return to their own border.”1
The sages paint a heartbreaking scene, in which Rachel evokes her sensitivity for her sister’s distress and pleads with G‑d to have mercy on His children. Indeed, even after disregarding the prayers of the patriarchs and even those of Moses, He agrees to return the exiles in response to Rachel’s arguments.1
11. Her Passing is celebrated on 11 Cheshvan
Tradition places the anniversary of her passing on 11 Cheshvan. Thousands flock to her tomb to pray, evoking her lonely sacrifice and suffering, and beseeching G‑d to have mercy in her merit.
12. She is associated with speech
Chassidic teachings explain that Leah’s soul stemmed from the world of thought, while Rachel’s soul was from the world of speech. Leah was introspective, a master of meditation and internal communication, while Rachel was charismatic and appealed to others. Together, they laid the foundation for our nation. Rachel instilled within us the strength to exude a powerful and far-reaching aura of influence. Leah gifted us with the strength to tug at our soul strings and talk to G‑d with integrity.
8.Genesis Rabbah 74:5.
12.Eichah Rabah, Petichta 24.
13.Torah Ohr, Parshat Vayeitzei,
By Menachem Posner