“Give Me Sons or I Shall Die”

As a result of Jacob’s and Leah’s *regular transports of passion* Leah began bearing sons – Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah. Then…….nothing.

However, Leah’s bearing no more sons after these four wasn’t enough to stop Rachel being jealous that she, Rachel, hadn’t borne any.

“Give me sons or I shall die” said Rachel to Jacob.

“I’m doing my best” said Jacob, “How about you just being the best aunt you can be to Ruben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah? Life isn’t perfect, so motherhood isn’t always how you’d like it. I shouldn’t have to tell you that boys can turn out more a curse than a blessing.”

“I was made to be a radiant mother, not a frustrated aunt” said Rachel. “If you can’t give me sons directly, you can give me them indirectly through my slave-girl Bilhah. She’s sexy and voluptuous. If you lie with her, I feel sure she would bear sons by you in no time at all – sons I will claim as my own.”

Rachel summoned Bilhah, and explained what she must now do. Bilhah wasn’t at all happy about it, and said so to Rachel.

“You can of course not do as I ask” said Rachel. “But, since you are my slave, I have the power of life and death over you. You might not like it were I to arrange to have your head chopped off. Understand…….mmm?”

“Yes, mistress, I do. I’ll do as you say.”

Jacob began lying with Bilhah regularly. His transports of passion with Bilhah were at least the equal of what his transports had been with Leah. Hence Bilhah began bearing sons in no time at all, just as Rachel had predicted she would. In quick succession Bilhah bore two boys, who Rachel named Dan and Naphtali.

Leah, meanwhile, not having had sons for some time, and wishing more, became jealous of Bilhah.

“I do realise that your transports of passion with me are not now quite what they once were” said Leah to Jacob. “This may well be why I’m no longer bearing sons by you. So here’s what I’d like you to do: lie with my slave-girl Zilpah, who is at least as sexy and voluptuous as that Bilhah. The sons she bears by you, I’ll claim as my own.”

As Rachel had done with Bilhah, Leah summoned Zilpah and told her what she must now do. Zilpah, however, was no more enthusiastic than Bilhah had been.

“How would you like it” said Leah, “were I to have you taken into the desert, and tied down with stakes so you would die through being scorched by the sun and stung by scorpions and eaten by wild animals?”

“I shouldn’t like this at all, mistress” said Zilpah. “Lying with Jacob, as nauseating as it might be, would be infinitely preferable to being stung to death by scorpions and eaten by wild animals. I’ll therefore do as you ask, mistress.”

Jacob began lying with Zilpah regularly. Soon Zilpah bore a boy who Leah named Gad. Then she bore another boy who Leah named Asher.


Meanwhile the sons which Leah had had by Jacob were growing up. The eldest, Reuben, was one day walking in a wheat-field, and found some mandrakes (a sort of root plant). Excitedly – for mandrakes weren’t that common – Reuben brought these mandrakes to Leah.

Rachel, seeing this, and wanting mandrakes too, asked Leah for some. Leah objected, saying to Rachel, “You’ve taken away from me my husband. Now you want to take my mandrakes too. What next?”

“How about I raise no objections to you lying with Jacob tonight if you raise no objections to letting me have some of your mandrakes?” said Rachel.

“Very well” said Leah.

That night Jacob lay with Leah. Not having lain with her for some time, Jacob relished the novelty of lying with her again. This contributed greatly to the passion of that night. Leah’s bearing a fifth son was the result. She named him Issachar.

Over Rachel’s protests, Jacob continued lying with Leah somewhat regularly. Leah responded by bearing not only yet another boy – Zebulun – but a girl too, who Leah named Dinah.

Throughout these years Jacob’s lack of self-esteem had begun to ebb – that lack of self-esteem that had hindered him from consummating his marriage to Rachel because she was too beautiful. The newly confident Jacob was finally able – after goodness knows how many years of failure – to make love to Rachel as a real man should. The happy result was Rachel bearing a son whom she named Joseph.

“My baby boy…….Joseph…….goochie goo” cooed the radiant Rachel at the infant sleeping in her arms, “may you be the first of the many sons I hope still to have.”

Source: Genesis 29, 31-35; 30, 1-24

This entry was posted in Asher, Bilhah, Dan, Dinah, Gad, Issachar, Jacob, Joseph, Judah, Leah, Levi, Naphtali, Rachel, Reuben, Simeon, Zebulun, Zilpah and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to “Give Me Sons or I Shall Die”

  1. Richard says:

    … throughout these years Jacob’s lack of self-esteem had begun to ebb …

    Notwithstanding this double negative, did Jacob have any say in all of this? Was his consent sought, let alone obtained? Was he even consulted?

    This is the trouble in a world dominated by women. Men have rights too, you know.

    Talking of consent, I do not recall being consulted about this change in appearance of your residence. What am I supposed to make of those shadows? The place needs a good sweep up too. Those stalactites trickling down from the top and stalagmites mounting up from the bottom show how long it’s been since this cave had any proper attention.

  2. Philippe says:

    The sentence about the ebbing of lack of self-esteem was indeed not the most felicitous. But, once it was on the page, I left it unchanged.

    One can assume that, while Jacob’s consent may not have been sought, he didn’t appear to acquiesce under protest in all of this. It is reasonable to think he was happy to go along with what the women in his life wanted.

    I do like the new arrangement and colour scheme of my home. The stalagmites and stalactites are not quite consistent with a harsh desert environment I do realise. But then, is not consistency the hobgoblin of little minds?

  3. Richard says:

    Your reply causes my lack of self-esteem to flow. I now begin to appreciate this paradoxical – nay – inconsistent insight and why you left it untouched.

    Your attitude to the requirement for consent is cavalier. You will be saying next that Jacob actually encouraged this gang of predatory women.

    All right, all right, your new look does have a certain mystical darkness about it, yes, illuminated by touches of divine inspiration. Are you sure , though, that it is not a passing fad or of only temporary permanence, perhaps?

    I have checked in my vast library and note that Waldo spoke of foolish consistency, which, of course, is not the same as wise inconsistency. So there are no flies on him nor does he consort with hobgoblins.

  4. dafna says:

    🙂 🙂 🙂

    you guys!

    real men wear pink or lavender. that’s the color i’m seeing. also seeing the number 28, that’s for you richard 🙂 perception being what it is…

    i’ve been in a cave like the picture, it was pitch black. your image must have been lighted?

    do you take requests? is there any way you could jump ahead to Vayishlach, chapter 32 verse 13-25.

    my Jacob needs some inspiration.

  5. jenny says:

    These girls irritate me. Some matriarchs.

    By Jewish tradition, we bless our children on the Sabbath. There is a blessing for girls and one for boys. For girls, we (predictably) say: May you be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. I’m so sure I’m going to say this to my daughter.

    At our house, it became the custom to add as many luminous Jewish women to this list as we could name, the sublime and the ridiculous, the longer the list the better. May you be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Gilda Radner, Emma Goldman, Madeline Kahn…

    (Sorry, Dafna, if you feel that this is taking too many liberties. We do it to make these traditions our own. Our kids loved it.)

  6. Philippe says:

    @Richard – You said of Emerson “….nor does he consort with hobgoblins…..”

    While he didn’t consort with hobgoblins, he did consort with Prince Achille Murat, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathanial Hawthorne, among many others.

    @Dafna – “….. is there any way you could jump ahead to Vayishlach, chapter 32 verse 13-25……..”

    I could, but won’t, because I expect to be dealing with this chapter two or three posts from now. Doggedness and linearity are among my characteristics.

    @Jenny – You omitted Barba Streisand from your list.

  7. dafna says:

    Hi Jenny,

    offend me?! nonsense… I am one of the least dogmatic Jews you will ever meet.

    Richard and I bonded in a way because the closest that I come to a vision of the divine is the beautiful patterns we find in Math and Science.

    It gives me comfort to think my atoms will be recycled after my death. and Nietzsche’s notion of “the eternal recurrence” although scientifically weak, makes me weak at the knees. I love it.

  8. Richard says:

    your mathematical knowledge, understanding and competence is far greater then mine, dafna. i envy you.

    i glimpse enough, though, to go along wholeheartedly with what you say. i only wish those beauties were more generally accessible.

  9. dafna says:

    Hi Richard,

    how doubly lucky we are to understand Both Math and Poetry!

    the two great beauties. i also wish both these things were more accessible because their mysteries have the power to bring such joy!

    @Phillipe – you shirk a great compliment, bend kind sir, so that we might partake of your imagination for the d’vor Torah.

    now that I think of it… my Jacob could possibly just copy the whole post AND comment section…. what a lost resource. 😉

  10. jenny says:

    and Fanny Brice. And despite all her obvious shortcomings, there are things I loved about Amy Winehouse. And I’m very sorry she’s gone.

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