The Torah is describing something even deeper. At that moment, each of them was thinking of the other
“And it was, when her soul departed, and she died, she named him Ben-Oni, but his father called him Binyamin.” (Bereishis 35:18)
t’s not unusual for a husband and wife to argue. But there’s a proper place and time for everything. Why did Yaakov argue with Rochel over the name of their newborn child now, on her deathbed?
What’s more, every one of Yaakov’s other sons were named by their mothers, yet we never saw Yaakov intervening. Why now of all times? (Rabbi YY Jacobson, TheYeshiva.net)
Shidduchim hadn’t been smooth sailing for Shani, but at 24, she was finally floating down the aisle, a vision in white lace, her eyes luminous as she gazed at her chassan, Moishe. Together, they faced the crowd that clapped and sang for them as they stepped out from under the chuppah into their new lives together. All was glorious.
I’d love to stop Shani’s story here. To freeze her life in that perfect moment when all was full of promise and a golden future lay ahead.
But after a year of marriage, with no pregnancy in sight, Shani and Moishe decided to see the doctor. Just to make sure everything was okay.
Let’s recall the episode of Yaakov’s hasty departure from Lavan. Prior to fleeing with Yaakov, Rochel had stolen her father’s idols. Lavan chased Yaakov and accused him of stealing his gods. In response, Yaakov swore that whoever stole the idols should die, not knowing of course, that Rochel had stolen them.
Rashi quotes the Midrash that this curse caused Rochel to die in childbirth.
Now, sometime later, Rochel is about to breathe her last. She and Yaakov loved each other deeply, and it’s time to bid farewell. But there’s no rush of emotions and deep thoughts at this moment. Instead, they argue about a name?
Everything was definitely not okay. Their niggling worries about fertility were shocked into speechless horror when the doctor informed them that fertility might never be an option. Shani was battling a vicious, fast-growing cancer, and time had become her worst enemy.
And so, the couple stepped into another future, one of treatments and illness, of dashed hopes and haunted eyes.
Imagine the tremendous guilt that Yaakov felt when he realized his wife was dying due to his own words. How would any husband feel? How did Rochel feel toward Yaakov?
Rochel, knowing what her husband was going through, named the baby Ben-Oni, which can be translated as “the son of my deception.” Rochel was saying: It was my fault. I was the one who acted inappropriately. I deceived my father — not you.
To which Yaakov responded: “Bin-Yamin,” which can be translated “the son of an oath.” Yaakov was taking responsibility, saying: It was my oath that led to this tragedy.
As they said goodbye to each other, Rochel was ensuring that Yaakov wouldn’t live with guilt; Yaakov was ensuring that Rochel wouldn’t blame herself for her death.
There’s no outburst of emotion displayed in this episode. Because the Torah is describing something even deeper. At that moment, each of them was thinking of the other.
Their families rallied, providing support and help wherever they could.
Shani and Moishe were determined to see this through together, too. He accompanied her to every appointment, sat next to her while the odious poisons poured into her frail body, and was there by her side as the effects of those chemicals left her drained, brittle, and yes, bald.
Things were not looking good.
One evening, as the sun set in a stunning burst of color reflected through the window of their small apartment, Shani turned her head and slowly raised her hand toward Moishe.
“I’m sorry,” she said, her voice barely audible.
“You’re sorry?” His voice cracked. “What could you possibly be sorry for?”
“You didn’t deserve this. This shouldn’t be your problem. You could’ve married someone healthy, someone who’d give you a houseful of kids. You didn’t need to be tied down, here… to this….” She trailed off in a whisper.
But Moishe wasn’t having any of it. “There are no faults, no rewards that affect us separately. We’re in this together. Two halves of one neshamah. And have you considered that maybe from Shamayim this is all because of me? I’m going to fight it as hard as you, together.”
No further words necessary.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 870)
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