The biblical matriarch Rachel was the wife of Jacob and the mother of Joseph and Benjamin. Information about Rachel is
found in Genesis chapters 29-35.
Rachel was the second daughter of Laban, Rebekahs brother. Rachel lived in Haran and worked as a shepherdess. She is
described as "shapely and beautiful" (Genesis
Jacob ran to Haran to escape from his brother
Esau. He reached a well and asked some shepherds there if they knew
Laban. They answered that Labans daughter Rachel was approaching
at that moment. Jacob kissed Rachel and told her that he was Rebekahs
son, and Rachels relative. She invited him to her house, and he
began to work for Laban. After a month, Laban asked Jacob what his
wages were to be. By then, Jacob loved Rachel and answered that he
would work seven years to marry Rachel. After Jacob fulfilled his
commitment, Laban made a feast at which he was to give his daughter
to Jacob, but instead of giving him Rachel, Laban gave Jacob his
oldest daughter, Leah. Jacob confronted Laban, who agreed to give him
Rachel one week later, provided Jacob would work for him an
additional seven years. Jacob agreed, and married Rachel whom he
loved more than Leah.
Leah quickly gave birth to four sons, while Rachel
was barren. Rachel became jealous of her sister. She then gave Jacob
her maid Bilhah as a concubine. When Bilhah gave birth to two sons,
Dan and Naphtali, Rachel saw them as her own children. After Leah had
seven children, Rachel finally conceived. She named her son Joseph,
noting that God "has taken away (in Hebrew asaph) my
disgrace" and praying that God would "add (yoseph)
another son for me" (Genesis
After Joseph was born, Jacob told Rachel and Leah
that God had commanded him to return to his homeland of Canaan. They
responded that he should do what God told him and they would follow.
Jacob prepared to leave and, while Laban was out shearing sheep,
Rachel stole Labans idols without Jacobs knowledge. It is not
written explicitly why she stole them. Some commentators say it was
to prevent Laban from worshipping idols, while others say that the
idols actually had some magical power and Rachel did not want them
revealing to Laban the way that Jacob traveled. Jacob did not tell
Laban that he was leaving. When, three days later, Laban discovered
that Jacob was gone and chased after him, he blamed Jacob for
stealing his idols. Laban searched the tents of Jacob and his wives,
but Rachel hid the idols in a camel cushion and Laban could not find
them. Laban left the next morning and Rachel continued to travel with
The next time Rachel is mentioned is when Jacob
met with his estranged brother Esau. Jacob formed a receiving line of
his wives and children, putting Rachel and Joseph last, so they could
escape if necessary.
They traveled to Beth-El and from there began a
journey to Ephrath. Rachel was pregnant again and, on the way,
suffered a hard labor and died in childbirth. In her last breath, she
named her son Ben-oni ("son of my suffering") but Jacob
called the child Benjamin ("son of the right hand" or
"son of the south"). Jacob buried Rachel on the road where
she died and set up a monument. Early descriptions of the tomb claim
that it consisted of 11 stones placed by Jacobs sons and one
bigger stone placed by Jacob himself.
According to Midrash,
Jacob buried Rachel on the road so that the Jews would pass her grave
as they traveled into exile and she would be able to pray for them.
This is supported by the words of the prophet Jeremiah who wrote, at
the start of the Babylonian exile,
"A cry is heard in Ramah…Rachel weeping for her children"
There is some controversy over where exactly the
tomb of Rachel is located. According to Genesis, she was buried
"on the road to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem" (Genesis
35:19). Samuel I writes that she was buried in the inheritance of
the tribe of Benjamin (Samuel I 10:2),
a statement that is contradictory to the description in Genesis. The
tomb is now generally assumed to be in a spot near Bethlehem,
and is covered by a structure built by Sir
Moses Montefiore in 1841. During the Jordanian occupation, the
area around the tomb was a Muslim cemetery. After the Six-Day
War, the structure around the tomb was renovated and it has
become a place of mass pilgrimage for Jews. Jews visit it year-round,
but specifically on Rosh Chodesh (the new moon and the first
of the Hebrew month), the month of Elul and the anniversary of Rachels
death on the 14th of Heshvan.
Sources: Chasidah, Yishai. Encyclopedia of Biblical Personalities.
"Rachel". Shaar press: Brooklyn, 1994.
Colliers Encyclopedia. "Rachel". Vol. 19. 1997.
Judaica. "Rachel." 1978 Edition.
Scriptures: Genesis, Samuel
I, Jeremiah. The Jewish
Publication Societys translation, New York: 1985.
Torat Chaim Bible. Mossad Harav Kook, Jerusalem 1986.