Rachel’s Disgrace

Moshe Ben-Chaim



My friend asked, “In Genesis 30:23, upon the birth of her first son after having been barren, Rachel our matriarch said, “God has gathered in (removed) my disgrace”. Rachel said this, as she was relieved, finally having a child. The simple explanation is that her disgrace was her being barren, and now it was finally removed. However, Rashi states a Midrashic interpretation, “All the time a woman has no son, there is no other person upon whom her guilt may be placed. Once she has a son, it is cast upon him; as in, ‘Who broke that vessel, your son’, ‘Who ate those dates, your son’.”


This Midrash sounds quite accusative. Who would ever think that a mother would feel relieved once she has a son, and cruelly view him as a vehicle through whom she may divert her blame? The question is certainly strengthened when the woman at hand is Rachel, the mother of two of the Twelve Tribes.


How does one approach interpreting such a Midrash? The first step is to review the facts and note inconsistencies. My first question is WHO is the one casting blame on the mother? Is it the neighbors, a friend, a relative? And what is meant that there is now “another who may be blamed”? I believe the answer to the first question opens up this area.


The one who would blame the mother would be the husband. If a neighbor’s property was damaged, they would take measures to be recompensed, blame is not the recourse for this objective. I suggest the one casting blame is the one person who has no recourse for compensation - as the damage took place by his own dependents. It is the husband.


Now we may view the mother’s sentiment. Having someone “to take the fall”, the mother is not happy to shift blame. This is not what is meant. The focus is not on the child, but rather, on her. I mean that she is relieved that she is no longer the focus of blame. She doesn’t willfully lie stating the child broke objects - if she in fact did. The person casting blame is the father. He says to his wife upon seeing a broken object, “Who broke it, your son?” It is the father’s assumption, that the son broke it. The mother is not malicious - certainly not one such as Rachel. This we see from a careful reading of the text: it does not say, “she has no one else to blame”, but it says, “there is none other.” The mother is passive. Nonetheless, the mother is relieved that she was not the target of her husband’s fury. Since there is another person in the house now, she no longer feels the brunt of his disappointments. She doesn’t choose that her husband accuses the child, but she does enjoy not being scolded.


This must now be examined. Why is there “relief”? To answer this question, we may first note that whenever we see a reaction in people, such as relief, it is indicative of the person’s overall personality. We can deduce something about the person by their very reactions. When, for example, we see children mocking a fellow student, we deduce that a prior event was committed by the one mocked, not to the approval of his peers. Again, if we see someone sad when it starts raining, we deduce he had plans for outdoors. In our case, we see Rachel relieved when she has a child. We can ask, “what need is being filled when blame is not cast upon a wife?” It would seem clear that she desires the husband’s praise and favor. Rashi is not teaching that the mother desires the son to be blamed, but rather, this response indicates she desires her husband’s approval. This is the lesson of Rashi.


When Rashi came upon this passage, he saw the plain meaning of “...God has gathered in my disgrace”. This is clear; a mother feels relief when after years she bears children, as childbearing gives a woman her sense of worth. Her self-image is greatly marred if she cannot fill her vital role in family life. But Rashi desired to teach us that this is not the only focus of a mother. She equally desires another thing - her husband’s approval. His love is also something, which she cannot bear to be without. These are the two great desires, which form a woman’s central focus, and give her happiness. They are both essential for a peaceful and productive home. In connection with a wife’s need for husbandry, the Torah teaches, “v’el ishaych tishukasayche”, “and unto your husband will your cleave”. The simple meaning teaches that a woman has a yearning for her husband. The same idea is taught in the Talmud where it teaches that an unmarried woman has it more difficult than an unmarried man.


We see that Rachel’s “removal of disgrace” can be understood to refer to one of two central desires in woman. We also see how if taken superficially, a Midrash can be inexplicable. We learn to appreciate the depth of knowledge possessed by our Rabbis, the Midrashic authors. Even more, we are awed that there is a Divine Source of this knowledge, which is so pleasant and reasonable to our minds.


As a Rabbi once taught, we must eventuate in a deeper love of God whenever we learn. We should reflect and appreciate God’s kindness in creating us with an intellect through which we can perceive His wisdom.