Disclaimer: This is a purely literary review based on my opinion. Using no outside sources.
Barren Woman is a repeated theme throughout the Bible. Sara and Rachel were two matriarchs that had to wait many years till they were able to have children. They had started off as barren woman, then G-d opened their wombs and allowed them to have children.
Sara, Genesis 16:
Sara, Abraham’s wife was barren for many years. She suggested to Abraham to take Hagar her Egyptian maidservant as a wife, and perhaps through her she will be built up. Then once Hagar conceived her view of her mistress, Sara, had changed, and she now viewed her as lower. Sara dealt harshly with Hagar and Hagar fled. Hagar was in the desert and found a spring of water. An angel appeared to her then and told her to return to her mistress and to submit herself to Sara’s ruling. The angel promised Hager that her offspring will increase and she will give birth to a son and name him Ishmael since Hashem has heard her prayer. The angel told Hager that her son will be a wild man and will always fight against everyone, and everyone will fight with him. Hagar returned and gave birth and named her son Ishmael, and Abraham was 86 at that time.
Rachel, Genesis 30:
Rachel, one of Jacob’s wives saw that she was barren and gave Billhah, her maid, to Jacob to take as a wife so that she may be built up through her. Billhah had 2 sons, then Leah, Rachel’s sister, Jacob’s other wife, saw that she had stopped giving birth. So she gave Jacob Zilpah, her maidservant to be his wife. Zilpah then had 2 sons. Reuben, Leah’s son had given some of his dudaim to Rachel, and in exchange Leah got to sleep with Jacob. Leah then gave birth to a 5th and 6th son and a daughter. God then remembered Rachel and she gave birth to a son.
Both Sara and Rachel had to wait many years till they were able to have children. They both suggested that their husbands take their maid servant as a wife so that they can have a child through them. After both maid servants had children, then Sara and Rachel were able to have children. It seems interesting that they had to allow another woman to marry their husbands in order for them to have children.
Rachel’s story seems more complex than Sara’s since it has the added on factor of a sister as a second wife to her husband and the jealousy involved there. It seems like there was a competition going on, about who can have the most children. Even though Rachel only had 2 children she was the wife with whom Jacob had originally wanted to marry. So it would seem as though she should have been the main wife to have more children, and to have children first. But yet she had to wait, and had to go through the suffering of seeing her sister have more children before her. Perhaps, it was a way of saving the best for last, and therefore she had children after. Or perhaps after seeing her sister have children it made her truly want the children more and she was better able to appreciate them.
By Sara’s story, the child of her maidservant plays an important role in the future of Jewish history. A whole nation comes out of Ishmael and they never get along with the Jews. Whereas, by Rachel, her maidservant’s children mostly get along with her children, they are considered brothers and are all Jewish. Although the brothers to get jealous of Rachel’s son, and sell Joseph to the Egyptians.
We see here that there can be two children born from the same father and yet turn out very different. It shows how important the teachings of the mother are, since the mother is the one to mold the child. Hagar ended up raising Ishmael and therefore he turned out different from Isaac.
In conclusion, Sara and Rachel’s story were very similar in that they were both barren woman that had to wait many years to have children. But the stories are yet different. Abraham had no children from any other wives while he was married to Sara. He married Sara’s maid servant with the thought that it Sara will be able to raise the child like her own. However, Jacob had been married to both Rachel and Leah at the same time. Leah had been able to have children, while Rachel could not. Rachel had given her maid servant to Jacob to be able to have a child just like Sara did. But then Leah also gave over her maid servant to Jacob to marry, and here it was to add on to the amount of children she already had.