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While Rachel is a name of Biblical origin, it is not a name that reflects religious devotion (such as Elisheva...”God is my Vow”) or even appears to be prophetically based (such as Joseph...”He will add”). In fact, Rachel translates as ewe, a female sheep. This seems a strange choice of name, until researching a bit further and reveals that the name of her sister, Leah, is linked to the Akkadian word for cow.

Rachel (and Leah) were raised in the home of their father Laban. From his very first appearance in the biblical narrative, at the time of Eliezer’s proposal in Isaac’s name to Rebecca (Laban’s sister), Laban’s greed and focus on material wealth is readily apparent. In his eyes, Rachel and Leah were “valuable” in the same way prize herds are valuable--for what they can bring him. It is no wonder, then, that Laban does not hesitate to switch Leah for Rachel. His duplicity gained Laban 14 years of hard, honest (and Divinely blessed) labor from Jacob.

Given her name, it is interesting to note that in Rachel’s first appearance in the Torah, Genesis 29:9, she is the shepherdess for Laban’s flock. One might find it odd that Laban, who was a man of some import in his community, had his daughter minding the flocks. Perhaps this tells us that he did not wish to hire extra help and put his daughter to work because “until the patriarch Jacob went down there [to Aram, Laban] was not granted sons” (Genesis Rabbah 73:12).

A mini-bio: Rachel was beautiful, and is even so described by the Torah: “Rachel was of beautiful form and fair to look upon” (Genesis 29:17). While Jacob loved her and perceived her always as his beloved wife, most of Rachel’s life was marked by her barrenness. Although she eventually had children, there was an 8 year wait between her two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. Sadly, Rachel does not survive the birth of her second son.

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