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Why are Jacobs second two wives, Zilpah and Bilhah, not considered among the Matriarchs?

by Rabbi Baruch Emanuel Erdstein


Library » History » Patriarchs, 12 Tribes | Subscribe | What is RSS?


In numerous places in the Oral Torah and even our daily liturgy, the essential, archetypal, ancestors of the Jewish nation are enumerated—the Three Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and the Four Matriarchs: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.

Each of the three generations which these ancestors compose has a unique spiritual identity and role in the founding of the Israelite nation, whose purpose it is to embody – and thus reveal – G-dliness in the world.

But, while Abraham was married to Sarah, and Isaac to Rebecca, Jacob, the father of all the Twelve Tribes of Israel was married to two of our Matriarchs, Rachel and Leah; in addition, each of these two of Jacob’s wives had a maidservant, each also considered a wife of Jacob, who birthed many of those tribes.

Why did Jacob’s generation have two Matriarchs (instead of just one, like previous generations), and why were Rachel and Leah’s holy maidservants, Bilhah and Zilpah, also mothers of Jacob’s offspring to be heads of the Twelve Tribes, not included among the Matriarchs?

Jewish mysticism teaches that there are three main archetypal spiritual qualities utilized to express G-dliness in the world. They are “chesed” – loving-kindness, “gevurah” – strength, and “tiferet” – the beautiful harmony of the previous two enjoined.

These three mystical forces were manifest by the three above generations which founded the Israelite nation. Abraham is associated with the spiritual energy of “chesed”, Isaac with “gevurah”, and Jacob with “tiferet”.1 Kabbalists teach that in a perfect world there should/could have been just three Matriarchs, coupled with the Three Patriarchs.

While the spiritual roots of Abraham and Isaac's respective soul mates remained intact, Jacob's partner needed to be "divided up", in order to be repaired properly
The spiritual root of Rachel, Jacob’s true soul mate could have generated all Twelve Tribes. However, as a result of Adam and Eve’s sin, that of eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, everything changed. The simple model upon which perfection of the world was based crashed.

The need to rectify that transgression demanded that numerous additional dimensions be actualized in order for the damaged details to be repaired.  While the spiritual roots of Abraham and Isaac’s respective soul mates remained intact, Jacob’s partner needed to be “divided up”, in order to be repaired properly.


  • 1. See “What is the kabbalistic significance of the three Patriarchs?” . (,2070440/Why-are-Jacobs-second-two-wives-Zilpah-and-Bilhah-not-considered-among-the-Matriarchs.html)


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Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
First Jewess, first of the four Jewish Matriarchs, wife of Abraham--the first Jew. Lived in Mesopotamia, and then Canaan, in the 19th century BCE.
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Second of the three Jewish Patriarchs, son of Abraham and Sarah. Lived in Canaan (Israel); b. 1712 BCE, d. 1532 BCE.
Second of the Jewish Matriarchs. Wife of the Patriarch Isaac, and father of Jacob. b. 1675 BCE, d. 1553 BCE.
Third of the four Jewish matriarchs. Daughter of Laban, favorite wife of Patriarch Jacob, and mother of Joseph and Benjamin. Died while giving birth to Benjamin in 1557 BCE.
Fourth of the four Jewish matriarchs. Elder daughter of Laban, wife of Patriarch Jacob, and mother of six of the Tribes, including Levi and Judah.
The first man, created by G-d on the sixth day of creation. He was banished from the Garden of Eden after eating from the forbidden fruit of the forbidden knowledge. Died in 2830 BCE.