Vayishlach – Shishi

The Death of Rachel

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

G-d reiterated His promise to give Yaakov the land of Israel, then “departed.” Yaakov offered a libation on the altar. On the journey out, Rachel had a hard labor. She delivered a son, but she wasn’t going to last much longer. She named the baby Ben-Oni (“son of my sorrow”), but Yaakov renamed him Binyamin (Benjamin – “son of the right,” referring to strength). Rachel was buried on the road to Bethlehem, in a location that was still known when the Torah was given a number of generations later.

After Rachel died, Yaakov moved his bed into the tent of her handmaiden, Bilhah. Reuven, Yaakov’s oldest son, found this unacceptable. After all, it was bad enough that his father favored his aunt Rachel over his mother Leah, but Rachel’s servant? That wouldn’t do. So, Reuven moved his father’s bed from Bilhah’s tent to Leah’s. This was extremely inappropriate and Yaakov could not abide it; this caused Reuven to forfeit the extra portion of the firstborn.

At this point, we are given an accounting of Yaakov’s sons, divided according to who their mothers were.

Yaakov was then reunited with his father Yitzchak in Hebron. Yitzchak lived to be 180 and he was buried by his sons Yaakov and Eisav. (He was alive well into the story of Joseph, but the Torah records people’s deaths at the point where they leave the narrative.)

Now, the Torah enumerates the descendants of Eisav. Eisav had many wives, children and flocks, so he moved away from Yaakov, much the same way that Avraham and Lot had to separate. Eisav settled in Seir and his descendants became the nation of Edom. (In the Talmud, Edom is the name used for Rome. The Romans may or may not be descended from the Biblical Edomites; think “Americans” vs. “Native Americans.”)

Eisav’s son Elifaz had a concubine named Timna, whose son was Amalek, progenitor of Israel’s arch-nemesis nation. The Talmud in Sanhedrin 99b says that Timna wanted to marry into Avraham’s family, but she was rebuffed by Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. She settled on being a concubine in Eisav’s branch of the family, but she harbored a resentment that she passed on to her son.

The aliyah ends with a list of Edomite tribal chieftains.

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