Then they journeyed from Bethel; and when they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel was in childbirth, and she had a difficult labour. When she was in her difficult labour, the midwife said to her, ‘Do not be afraid; for now you will have another son.’ As her soul was departing (for she died), she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar at her grave; it is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day. Israel journeyed on, and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder. While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine; and Israel heard of it. Now the sons of Jacob were twelve. The sons of Leah: Reuben (Jacob’s firstborn), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid: Dan and Naphtali. The sons of Zilpah, Leah’s maid: Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram.
The loss of life during childbirth is a situation that families would prefer not to happen. This is reflected in Rachel’s choice for her son’s name before she dies. The name she chooses is ben-ori that means “son of my sorrow” reflecting her awareness of her own condition. But Jacob changes the baby’s name to Benjamin, that C T Fritsch describes in his commentary, published by the Student Christian Movement, as meaning either “son of the right hand” or “child of good luck”. Clearly the birth of a son was an important tradition in the Jewish society, hence Jacob’s more positive response to the birth.
One of two interesting TV programmes that reflects on the background to families is entitled “Who do you think you are?” The other being “Long lost families” In both programmes, the highs and lows of family histories are the main focus. Children being separated from their mothers soon after birth because their mother was unmarried. The programmes reflect particularly the mother’s anguish as she wonders sometimes for decades what kind of childhood their offspring were experiencing in adoptive homes.
Perhaps our own family histories also reflect times of either great sorrow, perhaps the sudden loss of a loved one, for example, we lost our eldest son to epilepsy the day the 2012 Olympics opened, thus we missed the whole of the sporting events of that year. Or alternatively the joy felt in a family at the news of a new birth, or the joy when those children that were separated from their birth mother are eventually reunited. Our 2012 loss turned to joy when through an offering taken at his funeral we could finance the rebuild of a war damaged school in East Africa.
Father God, too often we only come to you at times of crisis, forgive us. Help us to acknowledge that we rarely have all of the answers and are often wrong. Forgive us for relying too much on ourselves and not on You. Make us more sensitive to what is going on around us, at home, at work, in church and the local communities both near and afar, Amen.
The Rev’d Colin Hunt, retired NSM, Member of Hutton & Shenfield Union Church, Essex