Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Whatever happened to Bilhah and Zilpah?

Maybe I am missing something.

In this week's parsha, Parshas Vayeitzei the Torah tells us that 4 of the 12 children of Yaakov Avinu come from Bilhah and Zilpah. In the Midrash it is related that Bilhah and Zilpah were also daughters of Lavan, but daughters who were born from Lavan's concubine. Thus, Rachel, Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah are all step-sisters. Bilhah and Zilpah were given to Rachel and Leah by Lavan as maidservants. Later, both Bilhah and Zilpah become wives of Yaakov Avinu along with Rachel and Leah.

The Torah tells us that Bilhah gave birth to Dan and Naphtali and Zilpah gave birth to Gad and Asher. Four of the Twelve Tribes thus descend from Bilhah and Zilpah. Interestingly, later in Parshas Zos HaBeracha, when the 12 tribes receive their brochos, these 4 tribes who come from Bilhah and Zilpah, are mentioned last.

Given the fact that these two women were wives of Yaakov Avinu and gave birth to tzaddikim, why are they not mentioned later in the Torah?

Why doesn't the Torah relate were they were buried (obviously not in the Machpela in Hevron)?

Why don't you ever meet a Jewish girl with the name Bilhah or Zilpah?

Whatever happened to Bilhah and Zilpah?

Where can the missing details be found?

21 Comments:

At November 17, 2004 at 10:51:00 AM EST, Blogger Eliyahu ben Avraham vaSarah said...

I could be mistaken, but I don't think Bilhah and Zilpah were actually wives of Yaakov, but rather concubines, just as Hagar was not actually a wife of Abraham.

 
At November 17, 2004 at 1:53:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To respond the comment above, Yaakov Avinu did actually marry Bilhah and Zilpah, just as Avraham Avinu married Hagar (once she changed her name to Ketura [see Rashi]).

 
At November 17, 2004 at 4:42:00 PM EST, Blogger Jack's Shack said...

Good questions, I have to admit that I had never considered them before. Kind of interesting.

 
At November 18, 2004 at 9:14:00 AM EST, Blogger Eliyahu ben Avraham vaSarah said...

To respond the comment above, Yaakov Avinu did actually marry Bilhah and Zilpah, just as Avraham Avinu married Hagar (once she changed her name to Ketura [see Rashi]).Thank you, I was not aware of this interpretation by Rashi. But I stand by the fact that a plain reading of the text gives no real indication of them being married, no more than it gives any indication that Hagar and Ketura are the same person. Do you happen to know what he based his reading on? I hate to admit it, but I'm not as familiar with Rashi as I ought to be.

 
At November 18, 2004 at 9:25:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are correct Eliyahu, there are many things that cannot be understood from the plain meaning of the text. I do not know the basis of Rashi's comments....probably somewhere in the Talmud.

 
At November 18, 2004 at 2:14:00 PM EST, Blogger muse said...

First of all, Rachel and Leah's having Yaakov marry Bilhah and Zilpa were much better than Sara having Avraham marry Haggar. The four grew up together.

The name Bilhah is given. I knew one years ago, and our neighbor's daughter has the name. And I'm pretty sure that the real source of the Yiddish name Baila is Bilhah.

 
At November 21, 2004 at 6:17:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the reason is that they were the maidservants of rochel/leah, and the purpose was "iboneh mimeno" - the children were even named by rochel/leah.
The same is true of sarah and hagar, but yishmoel is not part of the lineage of Jews, and sarah rejected him.

 
At November 24, 2004 at 5:49:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to the Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 16b:

"Only three people are referred to as Patriarchs; and only four people are referred to as Matriarchs."

That seems to explain why Bilha and Zilpa are so neglected; being non-primary matriarchs, they don't get into the list with Sara, Rivqa, Lei'a and Rahheil.

Their missingness has bothered me for a while, and this seems to preclude their addition in the category of Matriarchs.

However, not all Ancestor-lists are the same - there are also the Mishebeirakh prayers that begin with reference to "...our Patriarchs: Avraham, Yitzhhaq, Ya‘aqov, Moshe, Aharon, David and Shelomo..."!
So if only the first three are real Patriarchs, what's with the rest of them? Maybe they're seen as some kind of pseudo-patriarchs, or quasi-patriarchs; or "Fathers of the Nation" in a George Washington sense.

So, for those who like adding Matriarchs to Patriarch references, adding Bilha and Zilpa to Sara, Rivqa, Rahheil and Lei'a in a similar Mishebeirakh context could be a workable idea; might as well throw in Miryam and Batsheva‘, too, while we're at it, to parallel Moshe and Aharon, and David and Shelomo, respectively.

-Steg (dos iz nit der šteg)

 
At September 2, 2006 at 11:13:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find the above comments very interesting and thought provoking. I think that they should also be listed among the matriarchs. Since they are mothers of four sons of Jacob, they are also builders of the house of Jacob (i.e., Israel).

 
At November 30, 2006 at 5:11:00 PM EST, Blogger a jewish teenager said...

On a trip to Isreal me and my father were driving around in tveria and saw a sign saying the graves of the mothers.
bilha and zilpah are berid with yocheved tizoprah wife of moshe elisheva wife of aron and avigil the wife of doivid hmelech.

 
At February 23, 2007 at 5:45:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

bilha and zilpah were not exactly wives because they were both given by rochel and leah after they thought that they were either barren or could no longer have children. In fact Bilha and Zilpah did not even name their children, rochel and leah did. And although Dan, Naftali, Gad and Asher were shevatim,it is said that the other sons treated them as servants kids

 
At July 10, 2007 at 7:32:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Paul said...

(from a Christian perspective..I hope you don't mind) I also was under the impression that Bilhah and Zilpah were maidservants to Leah and Rachel. Where is does the step-sister information come from? Also, what or who is Rashi?

 
At June 17, 2009 at 1:17:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Leah Shaindel said...

Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller says, and im not sure where she got this from, but she says in a shiur that some peoples' roles are to be like the sun, giving light, and others' are to be like the moon, reflecting others' light. Bilhah and Zilpah, were to reflect Leah's and Rachel's light. So that the greater they were, the more selfless they were, merging their selves into Rachel and Leah until Bilhah and Rachel became "one" and Leah and Zilpah became "one." So their "disappearance" is in fact a sign of their true gadlus.

paul- Rashi is a rabbi who wrote a commentary to the Torah

 
At March 6, 2011 at 6:25:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

one would assume that a syrian family in those days would have maidservants given laban was a rich man.

 
At March 18, 2011 at 9:44:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

arkThese events took a long time on itcouls own.What hardened could have happened also was that ysrael was a hardened man after experiencing his father in laws trickery. What kept him in check was the fact that so too you decieved and conspired against thy brother mind you not of your doing, more mothers.What can ysrael do except accept what heavenly father has meted however all is not lost for in his sight is on forever his beloved rachel.A hope.

 
At March 29, 2011 at 7:30:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rabbi,
people are becoming all too cold and vicious.The need for money has taken over many.They have become like lions ready to tear me apart.I am sad and frightened what yahwah will do.My only comfort is when i read psalm 69.Please say something to comfort me

 
At February 10, 2012 at 11:15:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps Bilhah (or Hagar)represent our state of being at the time. When we are outside of faith we are in bondage. When we sin we come into bondage. The children conceived at that time reflect us.
So the handmaidens (slaves) reflect our state of being at that time.

 
At May 31, 2013 at 10:07:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have ancestors who were jewish named Bilhah and Zilpah.... sisters.

I thought they were odd names so i googled them and found your blog.

Thank you for the info..

And there were 2 jewish girls named Bilhah and Zilpah once :)

 
At October 12, 2013 at 7:06:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

They would be half sisters to Leah and Rachel if they were Lavan's biological daughters not step sisters.

 
At May 13, 2014 at 11:10:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I descend from Rachel Asher, daughter of Dillon Asher. I do not have confirmation on anything I have read during research. However, I have read that my Asher are descendants of The Tribe of Asher. My 2nd great grandmother, named "Zilpha" by her mother, Rachel Asher- my 3rd great grandmother. I mean no disrespect nor am I making assumptions. Simply, my genealogist mind has me wondering if my 2nd great grandmother's name was passed down from "Zilpah"? Any thoughts on this?

 
At March 31, 2015 at 12:30:00 AM EDT, Anonymous novice spy and character assassin said...

Ethiopian Jews are descendants of Dan, which makes them descendants of Bilhah. I assume Naftalim are also Black Jewish descendants of Bilhah, literally, rather than just Chechorim.

My novice theory regarding b'nei zilpah is that they embody the stereotypes of gad and asher, respectively: "fortunate", "warriors", "expert tent makers", "at times, immature"; "exude joy", "expert chefs", "caregivers with an emphasis on honoring elders aka the elderly < a quality particular to yefet and shem, respectively", "agro-technicians", "abundant with oil and gas < for the purposes of healing the afflicted, besides anointing king(s)"; "really, really aesthetically-pleasing"; "embody k'lal yisra'el with no exceptions"; "very, very picky v extremely guarded" ~ b'nei zilpah are noteworthy guardians of b'nei leah, specifically

i've bin wondering why gad and asher are situated far away from each other, regarding their allocated territories

 

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