Rachel and Leah were two sisters in the Hebrew Bible. Their relationship deteriorated into rivalry and jealousy over the love of Jacob, son of Isaac.
It is said that both Rachel and Leah were chosen by God to be the matriarchs of nations. They were the daughters of Laban, who was the brother of Rebecca, one of the matriarchs of the Jewish people.
Jacob’s mother, Rebecca, ordered him to return to her homeland, Haran, in order to find a wife. Upon his arrival there he met Rachel, with whom he instantly fell in love. Jacob was so in love with Rachel that he agreed to work for her father, Laban, for seven years, at the end of which time he would be allowed to marry Rachel.
When the seven years were up Jacob asked Laban for permission to marry Rachel. Laban, deceiving Jacob, dressed Leah as a bride (including that she wore a thick veil through which her face could not be discerned) and had her marry Jacob.
When Jacob realised what had happened, he was devastated. Determined to marry Rachel, he agreed to work for another seven years for her hand; two wives being a common occurrence in Biblical times. The situation in which Jacob found himself set the ground for the Jewish tradition in the wedding ceremony termed ‘bedeken’. This custom entails the groom formally identifying his bride prior to the wedding ceremony and his placing the veil down over her face, so as to prevent a re-occurrence of the Jacob and Leah story.
When the second set of seven years were over, Jacob was allowed to marry Rachel. Yet she remained barren; her inability to conceive was Jacob’s main concern. She resorted to employing her maidservant to give Jacob offspring, as was the custom of infertile women of the time.
Eventually, however, God blessed Rachel with two sons: Joseph and Benjamin. They became the forebears of two of the twelve tribes of Israel, along with Jacob’s ten other sons. Rachel died while giving birth to Benjamin, whom she originally named Ben-Oni, ‘Son of My Suffering’. Jacob subsequently changed his name to Ben-Yamin (‘Son of my right hand’).
Rachel’s gravesite on the road to Bethlehem has become a pilgrimage destination for men and women seeking solace from her compassion and courage. It is said to be a place where miracles occur. One legend tells of God’s promise to Rachel, who called to Him from her grave, that her people would eventually return from exile.
Rachel, despite her beauty and presence, lived a hard and unhappy life. Her story tells of the strength of true love, her determination to conceive, and the power of the Divine Feminine.