Benoni or Benjamin?

God felt that Jacob had lately been taking Him for granted. But He saw that Jacob might now need His help in protecting himself from the surrounding Canaanites who had been angered by Jacob’s sons’ *slaughter of King Hamor and his subjects*.

God called down to Jacob from On High, “This is God.”


“Yes, God. I last appeared to you when *you were running away* from your brother Esau. You remember?”

“I do, O God” said Jacob, and he laid himself flat on the ground.

“I want you to move to Bethel, where you are to build an altar to Me.”

“Would You mind awfully, O God, if I just stayed here and built it? What with all my family and animals and suchlike, it’ll be terribly inconvenient for me to get them to move with me to Bethel just so I can build an altar there. I’m sure, from where You are up there On High, You could see an altar as easily here as you could see one at Bethel.”

“Do as I tell you. It’s for your own good. By the way, I see that your family and servants have little statues of other gods, and have rings in their ears and jewellery. Have them get rid of it all, will you? And get them to change their clothes – you too, Jacob – for you are a dirty and scruffy bunch. If you’re all to be my Chosen People, at least look as though you are.”

Jacob accordingly had everyone hand in their statues and ornaments and jewellery. He buried them under a terebinth tree near the town of Shechem – the town the recently deceased King Hamor had named his son (recently deceased too) after. And he got everyone to change their clothes.


Jacob, with family and animals and whatnot, set out for Bethel. He moved with eyes peeled and ears attuned for strange noises, for he expected attacks from the Canaanite tribes whose lands he was moving through. However, nothing untoward happened. It may have been that news of the ruthlessness of Jacob’s sons had got about. Or God may simply have put the fear of…..well….God…….into the hearts of the surrounding Canaanites.

On arriving at Bethel, Jacob built the altar as God had told him to. Then God called down again from On High. He began by saying how great He, God, was. Then God told Jacob how much he and his descendents would be fruitful,  and how much they would multiply.  Then God said the land He had given to Abraham and Isaac, was now for Jacob and his descendents too. Then God confirmed to Jacob that his name was now “Israel” – the name God had given Jacob after their *wrestling match*.


Having built the altar at Bethel, Jacob felt there was nothing, and no-one, holding him there. So he felt free to move elsewhere. Anyone who had actually held him in Bethel, and who he had in turn also held – like Rachel and Leah and Bilhah – would always move with him wherever he wanted to move to.

Rachel, during a night in Bethel when being held by Jacob, had conceived. So that when Jacob decided to leave Bethel and to move – with family and animals and whatnot, of course – to the town of Ephrathah, he was aware that Rachel was with child.

Little went well for Rachel during the time she was with child. Her labour pains were as severe as labour pains can get. They were such that it was inevitable that she would die while the child – happily a boy, it turned out – was being born. As she lay dying, Rachel named him Benoni. Jacob – aside from being furious with Rachel for not letting him name the boy – didn’t like “Benoni”, preferring “Benjamin”. Hence, as soon as it was determined that Rachel was safely dead, Jacob re-named the boy, Benjamin.

What to do with Rachel’s body? Rachel’s sister, Leah – who Jacob had also taken to wife – felt that the body should simply be left at the side of the road for the eagles to peck away at. Jacob – his initial fury at Rachel having abated somewhat – felt it should be buried in a hole in the ground, so that not only no eagles would be able to peck away at it, but no other animals either.

Jacob’s will prevailed over Leah’s. Rachel was buried, and a large stone placed on her grave.

Jacob and his entourage, their hearts – except, arguably, Leah’s – heavy with sorrow, journeyed on and pitched their tents near Migdaleder. There they stayed awhile. While there, Reuben, the eldest son of Jacob and Leah, sought out  Bilhah – the slave-girl who Jacob regularly lay with, and who was the mother of two of his sons, Dan and Naphtali. Reuben had always had a thing for Bilhah. One day, Reuben talked Bilhah into lying with him, and she did.

Word of this got around, in the way that word of this sort of thing inevitably gets around. So Jacob eventually heard about it. Instead of confronting Reuben, Jacob, being of the sort that hated confrontations, said nothing. However, he always behaved coldly to Reuben thereafter.


This is a good opportunity to list Jacob’s twelve sons. With Rachel he had Joseph and Benjamin. With Rachel’s sister Leah he had Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. With Rachel’s slave-girl Bilhah he had Dan and Naphtali. With Leah’s slave-girl Zilpah he had Gad and Asher.

With Leah he also had Dinah. Because, though, she was a girl it didn’t count………

Source: Genesis 35

This entry was posted in Benjamin, Bilhah, Dinah, Esau, Jacob, Leah, Rachel, Reuben and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Benoni or Benjamin?

  1. jenny says:

    Getting up and moving (lech lecha!) is always part of the story of the patriarchs. There’s no momentum unless you pick up your things and relocate. I like it. I know a woman who gave each of her children (when they left home) a ring with “Lech lecha” inscribed.

    Don’t feel too sorry for Rachel, Leah and Bilhah for being schlepped around the ancient world. Moving: It’s poor man’s travel. That’s what we used to say.

  2. Christopher says:

    “…….for being schlepped around the ancient world……..”

    Not being a New Yorker, I couldn’t quite grasp the meaning of “schlepped”. Then I thought of the German word “schleppen” whose meanings include “drag” “tow” “haul” and “lug”.

    Rachel, Leah and Bilhah being “hauled” or “lugged” around the ancient world would say a lot, but not as nearly as much as their being “schlepped”!!!

  3. dafna says:

    Hi Christopher!

    shlepped is yiddish, a mash-up of german and hebrew. i believe it was andreas who said the wonderful thing about yiddish is that every word has a multitude of meanings.

    i’m so happy to see your birth name… especially because i’ve always retained a little jewish guilt for “outing” your nom de plum(s) on one of your other blogs. the one with many contributors, all of them you 😉

    hope you treat yourself kindly for the new year!

  4. Christopher says:

    And, Dafna, I hope you treat yourself kindly in the New Year too.

  5. Man of Roma says:

    Happy New Year Christopher!

  6. Christopher says:

    And a Happy New Year to you, Giovanni.

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