Parashat Va’Yishlach

In this portion of  Va’yishlach, we learn of the untimely and tragic death of Mother Rachel as she was giving birth to Benjamin, her second son.

In (Genesis 35:18) reports that Rachel’s last dying wish was to name the child, ‘ben oni’ meaning son of my mourning. Jacob, however, did not want the child to bear the burden of that grievous name, so he called him “Benyamin,” meaning the son of my right hand.

Rachel was only 36 years old. Tradition maintains that Leah died at age 44.

The commentators speculate why Rachel was taken at such a young age. The many reasons they suggest recall the speculation regarding the devastating Divine punishment of Moses, forbidding him entry into the Promised Land. Looking for a reason that would justify God’s harsh punishment of Moses, the commentators pile it on. One of the commentators even remarked sarcastically, that while Moses committed only one sin, the commentators attribute to him multiple sins and violations.

Similarly, in their efforts to determine the real cause of Rachel’s premature death, the commentators offer many theories and possibilities. None of the proffered reasons are conclusive, since the Bible never confirms the reason for Rachel’s death. Nevertheless, each of the speculative reasons can serve as a life lesson for all about proper conduct and values.

Given Rachel’s history of fertility issues, Rachel’s premature death might have been health related. Rachel had difficulty conceiving, and was barren for 7 years. It could very well be that these issues intensified, resulting in her premature demise.

The Mishnah in Shabbat 2:6 declares that there are three transgressions for which women die in childbirth. Although the Matriarch Rachel was apparently not guilty of any of those transgressions, childbirth is always treacherous.

Even if Rachel did not die because of her health issues, she may have, by her careless utterances, made herself spiritually vulnerable to premature death. After seeing that her sister Leah had given birth to four children, she cried out in desperation to Jacob, Genesis 30:1 give me children, otherwise I am dead’!

Our rabbis (Avot 1:11) state wise people be careful with your utterances’! In this case, Rachel may have unintentionally brought upon herself her tragic death.

A second instance of costly utterances appears in this saga when Rachel steals her father’s ‘fetishes’ (Genesis 31:19). So certain is Jacob that no one in his household had stolen anything from Laban, that he publicly declares in Genesis 31:32 “With whomever you find your gods, he shall not live; in the presence of our kinsmen ascertain for yourself what is [yours that is] with me and take it back!” Despite the fact that Jacob had no idea that Rachel had taken the fetishes, she was punished because of the utterance of the righteous Jacob. Apparently, her account in heaven was examined and Rachel’s tragic judgment was carried out during the vulnerable time of childbirth.

This great woman, the Matriarch Rachel, died at the young age of 36, but in her abbreviated lifetime made a profound impression upon all who knew her, and on the future destiny of the People of Israel. Shabbat Shalom