Rachel, Israel’s Mother

ethnic woman in traditional outfit praying on cemetery

Jacob’s wife Rachel struggled to have children of her own. When she finally was able, she had Joseph and then Benjamin. It was Benjamin’s birth that brought Rachel’s death. As she was dying she named him Ben-oni, which means son of my sorrow (or son of my strength). Jacob renamed him to Benjamin, which means son of my right hand.

Jacob buried her on the way to what would later be called Bethlehem: “So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar over her tomb. It is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day” (Genesis 35:19, 20 ESV). Rachel’s tomb, in fact, is still there to this day. According to the Midrash, Joseph was the only son of Jacob who prayed at Rachel’s tomb.

When the Israelites were in exile, they would pass by Rachel’s tomb, stop, and pray to God. 70 years later they returned from exile. Rachel epitomizes what a true mother looks like. She died a woman of honor through a very difficult labor. She was selfless and had deep concern for her sons. The Jewish people still honor her to this day, some 4,000 years after she died.