Why did Rachel want Leah’s mandrakes?


by Shawn Brasseaux

By today’s standards, the account of Leah’s mandrakes in Genesis chapter 30 is definitely weird. If, however, we look at it through the eyes (first and foremost) of faith as well as the eyes of history and culture, it will become a plain and simple passage.

Start reading at verses 14-15: “[14] 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 thee, of thy son’s mandrakes. [15] And she said unto her, Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband? and wouldest thou take away my son’s mandrakes also? And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with thee to night for thy son’s mandrakes.” Wheat harvest in Palestine was late spring, roughly May to June, indicating the time of year here. Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn and Leah’s son, discovers mandrakes (herbaceous plants) and gives them to his mother. Ever since verses 9-13, Leah has been barren. In ancient times, mandrake root was considered an aphrodisiac (sexual stimulant). Mandrake was also thought to cure female infertility because its fork-shaped root resembles a woman’s thighs. Jacob’s other wife, Rachel, is also infertile (verses 1-8). Rachel hears of Leah’s mandrakes and desires some, but Leah refuses and Rachel ultimately concedes their husband will have intimate relations with her sister and Leah will conceive.

Keep reading: “[16] And Jacob came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, Thou must come in unto me; for surely I have hired thee with my son’s mandrakes. And he lay with her that night. [17] And God hearkened unto Leah, and she conceived, and bare Jacob the fifth son. [18] And Leah said, God hath given me my hire, because I have given my maiden to my husband: and she called his name Issachar. [19] And Leah conceived again, and bare Jacob the sixth son. [20] And Leah said, God hath endued me with a good dowry; now will my husband dwell with me, because I have born him six sons: and she called his name Zebulun. [21] And afterwards she bare a daughter, and called her name Dinah.” Wheat harvest still underway (verse 14), while Jacob returns from the field at even, Leah successfully uses the (aphrodisiac) mandrakes to entice him to have sexual intercourse with her. Ultimately, though, it is the LORD God who gives Leah conception of her fifth son with Jacob, the baby “Issachar” (Hebrew for “he will bring a reward”). Issachar is Jacob’s ninth boy. Leah bears one final son, “Zebulun” (Hebrew, “habitation”), so named because Jacob her husband will surely “dwell” with her instead of Rachel. Basically, Rachel and Leah were in a pregnancy competition!

Also see:
» What was wrong with Leah’s eyes?
» Why was the levirate marriage important in Bible times?
» Should a Christian be polygamous—having multiple spouses?