Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
commentator. In Genesis chapter 30, God’s fulfilment of Jacob’s earlier dream continues to unfold.
Abravanel supplies Bible students with proper context, as well as the right stance with which to
approach divine blessing.
“And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes
in the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to
Leah, give me, I pray you, of your son’s mandrakes.”
“And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west, and to the
east, and to the north, and to the south…” Indeed, the divine communication to Jacob at Beth-El
foreshadowed a rosy future. His seed would grow exponentially. Still, divine blessing should be
construed as conditional; it depends upon the recipient’s worthiness. In our case here, blessing also
assumes it wouldn’t have come to Jacob and his wives had they sat passively.
“And you shall spread abroad” informed Jacob that, in time, he would father twelve tribes. According to
Jewish tradition, Jacob relayed God’s cheery promise to Rachel and Leah, as well as to their respective
handmaids Bilhah and Zilpah. A close examination of the boys’ names reveals as much, a topic
developed in Abravanel’s World. But for our purposes here, let us set matters straight. Abravanel
agrees with other classic Bible commentators who contend that Leah and Rachel were reproductively
impaired. Thus, action would have to be taken to remedy nature’s obstacle.
“And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them
unto his mother Leah.” The verse suggests that mandrakes boosted fertility. Hence, Rachel’s request to
Leah: “Give me, I pray you, of your son’s mandrakes.”
For Abravanel, there is a fundamental lesson to be noted. That is, even though Jacob’s family operated
under divine providence, and even though God had promised Jacob prodigious seed, it didn’t give the
patriarch and matriarchs license to sit on their heels, and do nothing. Instead, each one’s efforts were
brought to bear. Prayer and medical assistance, in the form of mandrakes, aided in those efforts. If this
were not the case, the Bible would not have bothered mentioning the story about Reuben and the
Initially, Leah balked and did not want to part with her son’s mandrakes, highlighting her interests to
conceive additional tribes to the rapidly growing nation. However, an arrangement between Rachel and
Leah was worked out. “And Rachel said, therefore he shall lie with you tonight for your son’s
mandrakes.” Tradition attests to Leah conceiving that night.
In brief, this episode in the Bible conveys how the patriarch and matriarchs nudged, in a manner of
speaking, the wonderful tidings communicated in the Jacob ladder vision. They partnered with the One
Above to help bring about divine providence and promise.