Vayetze – Rachel’s wish and the surrogate

1 Rachel realized that she hadn’t given birth from Jacob, she was jealous of her sister; she said to Jacob: Let me have sons, if not I am dead. 2 Jacob was infuriated by Rachel; he said: Am I in God’s place that I have prevented you from producing offspring?

Genesis 30

Why didn’t Jacob show sympathy for Rachel, whereas Isaac prayed for Rivka to give birth? Was Rachel asking for too much support from a man who had been indulged by his mother, a controlling mother?

21 Isaac called out to YHWH in the presence of his wife who was barren; YHWH answered his call, so Rivka, his wife, became pregnant.

Genesis 25

Was Isaac sympathetic to Rivka when she was barren because of his upbringing and connection to Sarah?

3 Rachel said: here is my maid Bilhah, go to her; she will give birth on my behalf so I too will have offspring through her.

Genesis 30

Why couldn’t Rachel have enough patience or faith to wait for her own son? Why bring in Bilhah? Why then did Leah bring in Zilpah?

Competitive sisters? Desperate sisters?

Rachel was loved by a very fertile but insensitive man. Jacob could have spoken to Rachel sweetly and eased her pain. She needed assurance and support, so his cruel attitude and harsh words pushed her to a desperate deed: allowing her husband to have a relationship with a third woman. Did she see it as an insurance policy for her own future?

Who were our foremothers – only Rachel and Leah? First there was Leah and then Rachel, a truly beloved one, then a third and the later four. What about these surrogate mothers Bilhah and Leah? Why don’t we know about them? Were they ever wives, always maids? Did Bilhah get up the next morning and continue to serve Rachel?

1 A song of ascent: I lift up my eyes to the hills, where will my help come from?

Psalms 121

An empty womb is a cosmic void. It yearns and tugs at the brain of a sane woman. Day after day, week after week, month after month and suddenly many years have passed. Where can sanity be found then? Rivers dry up more quickly in drought than the barren woman’s tears. Biology cannot be denied its place in her life – she is never whole while barren.

22 God remembered Rachel, heard her and opened her womb. 23 She became pregnant, gave birth to a son and said: God has alleviated my humiliation.

Genesis 30

Life is our only real creation. When the once stony womb is full of life, all joy flood the body and mind. The moment of conception isn’t clear, but the moment that life stirs within makes quiet hope arise. The first stirrings of a long-awaited unborn child make a resounding clamor in a mother’s heart – it is the promise of the future she holds fast to her. May all go well for mother and child…

Baby at play
9 The barren housewife is set as a happy mother of offspring, HALELLU-YAH! Psalm 113

Midrash Harabah and English translations by Rabbi Gail Shuster-Bouskila ©2021