BILHAH (Heb. בִּלְהָה), servant girl presented to *Rachel by her father (Gen. 29:29). Bilhah was given by Rachel to her husband Jacob as a concubine (see *Nuzi). Bilhah bore two children by him, *Dan and *Naphtali (30:1–8). Reuben cohabited with her while his father was still alive, apparently by way of asserting his right of primogeniture (35:22). This offense is given as the reason for the loss of birthright by Reuben (Gen. 49:3–4; I Chron. 5:1). The meaning of the name is uncertain. It may be derived from the Arabic root balaha which means "to be confused" or "lacking in understanding" (cf. Heb. bhl), perhaps having some symbolic connotation relative to the status of the tribes descended from this concubine (see also: *Matriarchs, *Patriarchs, The Twelve *Tribes).
In the Aggadah
The aggadah indicates Bilhah's righteousness by the statement that, after the death of Rachel and Leah, the Shekhinah (which had been continuously present in their households) passed to Bilhah (Zohar 1:175b). After the death of Rachel, Jacob moved Bilhah's bed into his chamber. Bilhah is identified as the "messenger" (Gen. 50:16) sent by the brothers to Joseph, to inform him of his father's will (Tanḥ. B. 3:18).
C.H. Gordon, in: RB, 44 (1935), 35–36; Noth, Personennamen, 10; S. Yeivin, Meḥkarim be-Toledot Yisrael ve-Arẓo (1960), 149–50.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.