Why did Rachel want Leah’s Mandrakes?
Today’s question arises from an incident recorded in the 30th chapter of the book of Genesis, the very first book of the Old Testament, the book of beginnings. From the creation of all things, the origin of sin, Noah, the flood, God’s covenant with Abraham, His dealings with Isaac, Jacob (whom God renamed ‘Israel’), his sons, and the beginnings of the 12 tribes of Israel.
Now Jacob, you may recall, loved Rachel and worked 7 years for her father, Laban, to win her hand in marriage. Laban, however, tricked Joseph into marrying Rachel’s elder sister Leah first and then working an additional 7 years in exchange for Rachel. You can well imagine the rivalry between these two sisters for the attention and favor of Jacob, and giving him sons was seen as one way to score points!
Leah turns out to be the most fertile and bears Jacob 4 sons (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah). At this, Rachel becomes desperate. She gives Jacob her servant Bilhah to produce sons for her, and Bilhah does, giving Jacob 2 more sons (Dan, Naphtali). Two can play at this game, thinks Leah, so she too gives her servant Zilpah to Jacob and 2 more sons are born (Gad, Asher).
The score is Leah 4, Bilhah 2, Zilpah 2, Rachel 0, and it is at this point the Mandrakes come in (Gen. 30:14-16).
Reuben, Leah’s firstborn, discovers some Mandrakes plants and brings them home to Leah.
Mandrakes belong to the nightshade family. They have white or purple flowers and produce large yellow berries. Many cultures used them as an aphrodisiac and fertility drug. Mandrakes appear two times in the Bible, here, and in the intimate love poem of Song of Solomon.
“The mandrakes send out their fragrance, and at our door is every delicacy, both new and old, that I have stored up for you, my beloved.” (Song of Solomon 7:13).
This then is evidently Rachel’s interest in obtaining them. So far she’s given her husband no children at all. The Mandrakes just might boost her odds.
As it turns out though, Leah is the next to bear and in time gives Jacob 2 more sons (Issachar, Zebulun) – Oh, and a daughter (Dinah)!
At long last Rachel does bear Jacob a son (Joseph) and some time later, with her dying breath, another (Benjamin) (Gen. 35:16-18).
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