35 16 They journeyed on to Bethel, and when they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and labored hard. 17 When laboring hardest to give birth, the midwife said to her, “Fear not, for this one, too, is a son for you.” 18 As her life slipped away, for she was dying, she called his name Ben-Oni/Son-of-My-Sorrow, but his father named him Benjamin/Son-of-the-Right-Hand.
19 Rachel died and was buried on the road to Ephrath, which is now Bethlehem. 20 Jacob set up a pillar on her grave. It’s Rachel’s burial pillar of today.
El-Bethel or Bethel, we seem to constitutionally be unable to stay where we see G*D in the cool of our evening. Like Eden-of-Old, we move on. Here the threat of death after eating of the Tree and the pain of childbirth come together in the beauty of Rachel caught in the ugliness of competition, the extreme desire evidenced in her naming of Joseph.
Laboring the hardest, Rachel learns she is having a second son. As her life ran out, as her beauty faded, she named her son Ben-Oni. This name carries twin messages—“Son of my strength,” who will carry her life-force onward, and “Son of my sorrow,” as she will not prevail over Leah in the bearing of seed for Jacob.
In the Hebrew Bible, it is usually the mother who names the child. In this case, Jacob counter-names this new son as Benjamin, which also carries a double meaning. On the surface, Benjamin is Jacob’s “Son of the right hand”—militarily powerful. [Note: Directions are “handed” in Hebrew, so this might also be “Son of the south,” as Benjamin is the only son born in Canaan/Palestine, south of Mesopotamia.] Alternatively, his name may have more to do with time rather than location. In this case, Benjamin is Jacob’s “Son of old age”—his last son.
Rachel died in childbirth and was buried on the road. Her tomb no longer has the original pillar; it has grown into a pilgrimage site, now surrounded by concrete walls entered by buses with bullet-proof windows. Rachel’s Tomb does have an interesting history you can review on Wikipedia.
The pillar of stones Jacob set in place not only honored Rachel but reminds the Reader of the importance of following the motif of stones throughout the story of those in the line of the “Soil-born.”
Rachel’s death and burial apart from the patriarchs leads us to look again at birth order. It turns out that Leah, a first-born, is not set aside by beautiful Rachel and is buried with trickster Jacob, a second-born. Life cannot be scheduled or run on constructed rules.