After four years of marriage and desperate to have a child, Rachel gave her handmaid, Bilhah, to her husband Jacob to be an additional wife and to bear children in her name. Any children resulting from the union of Jacob and Bilhah would be raised as if they were Rachel’s children. Rachel was overjoyed when Bilhah bore her first son, Dan.
Shortly thereafter, Bilhah conceived again. Her second son, who, like the first, was to be reared by Rachel, was named Naphtali. When he was born, Rachel rejoiced and said: “I have attempted every means to influence God to grant me children as He did my sister, and I have succeeded”(Genesis 30:8).
Naphtali was the sixth of the 12 sons of Jacob. While one might suspect that the sons of a maidservant would be treated as second class children, Dan and Naphtali (and Zilpah’s sons Asher and Gad) received an equal inheritance with their brothers.
Little is written in the Bible about Naphtali as an individual. When Jacob, on his deathbed, blesses each of his sons, he says of Naphtali: “Naphtali is a deer let loose, he gives beautiful words” (Genesis 49:21). While Jacob’s description of his son is short, it is informative. Tradition notes that Naphtali was fast (a “deer let loose,” connotes swiftness) and therefore often acted the role of messenger. The Talmud (Sotah 13a) relates that Naphtali actually ran back to Egypt from Hebron when Esau demanded to see the legal deed proving Jacob’s right to be buried in the Cave of the Patriarchs.
Naphtali was the father of four sons: Yach’tzee’ayl, Gooni, Yay’tzer and Shillem.
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