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Fore Are the Mothers

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Topic: Foremother's Names, Meaning

Name@Withheld wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

A co-worker asked me the following question and I didn't have an answer: What is the significance of the name Rivka (Rebecca)? I pointed out that in the Bible only names that are given or changed are explained. Such that the names Moshe (Moses) and Israel (Jacob) are explained, but Abram and others are not.

Rob Brickner from Brooklyn, NY <[email protected]> wrote:

Rob Brickner from Brooklyn, NY wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

What do the foremothers' names mean? Why are the forefathers' names explained right in the Chumash and the foremothers' names are not described in detail? Rivka - I have no idea what that name means. The others I have a one or two word translation. But is there a tradition as to what each of the mothers' names stood for?

Dear Name@Withheld and Rob Brickner,

True, the Torah usually explains a name only at the time of birth or when the name is being changed. But Sarai is changed to Sarah and Hoshea is changed to Yehoshua (Joshua), yet the Torah doesn't explicitly explain these names. Yitzchak's naming is narrated in the Torah but his name is not explained. The same is true of Judah's sons. Moses' son's name, Eliezer, is explained in the Torah not at the time of his naming.

True, the Written Torah doesn't explain every name, even the names of some of our greatest people. However, the Oral Torah explains these names.

Sarah comes from the word sar meaning "noble" and "ruler." Rivka means a young calf, which is a symbol of innocence. Rachel means a sheep, also associated with innocence. Leah mean tiredness; Leah cried to G-d so much that her eyes looked tired.


  • Genesis 17:15, 38:3-5
  • Exodus 18:4
  • Numbers 13:16,
  • Tractate Eiruvin 17b
  • Sefer Halikutim 17:4

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