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Why aren't Bilhah and Zilpah considered matriarchs? If Yaakov married them, obviously they were great people, right?

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shlomo, Welcome to mi.yodeya, and thanks very much for the interesting question! I look forward to seeing you around on the site. –  Isaac Moses Apr 11 '10 at 20:21
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Based on your question - what about Hagar? –  Gershon Gold Sep 29 '10 at 1:00
    
I think the question should be: "if a portion of the Jewish people are also descended from them...". In its current form it includes Hagar, as GG pointed out. –  HodofHod Jan 22 '12 at 0:58
    
Because just like we have forefathers, we have four mothers! –  Double AA Jul 18 '12 at 23:23
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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Rachel intended for Bilhah to be something of a "surrogate mother" - the children that Bilhah would bear would of course be biologically hers, but they would also be considered Rachel's. [She thus asks Yaakov to marry Bilhah, so that "she will give birth upon my knees" - as Onkelos explains, "I will raise the children" - "and I will thereby be built up through her" (Gen. 30:3).] Leah did the same with Zilpah.

So generally speaking, Bilhah's and Zilpah's contributions to the Jewish People are subsumed under the names of their respective (former) mistresses, Rachel and Leah.

That said, Arizal (Shaar Hapesukim to Deut. 4:20, et al) states that in several places where the Torah mentions ברזל, iron, it hints at the four mothers בלהה, רחל, זלפה, לאה, whose initials (in this order) form this word. So we see that they do indeed rank as mothers of the Jewish People (and indeed, note that they precede Rachel and Leah in this enumeration).

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Alex, look in Haamek Davar. The Netziv shows us a major difference between the "I will thereby be built up through her" of Rachel versus that of Sarai. Sarai intended build up her merits through Avram taking Hagar, but like you said, Rachel and Leah intended be the adoptive mothers of Bilhah and Zilpah's children, respectively. –  Yahu Apr 12 '10 at 17:40
    
To add to your point, the Lubavitcher Rebbe points out (Likutei Sichos 5 page 234) that when Rochel (not Bilhah) named the child, she said "G-d has given _me_ a son". See there for context and more details (not available on hebrewbooks.org): otzar770.com/library/… –  Menachem Sep 1 '11 at 18:53
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A parent isn't only biological.That is why you can refer to the parent who raised you as your father on a Kesuva with the qualifier "HaMegadel".

The four mothers participated in the Holy Education of their children, including the other four children of Bilha and Zilpa. Hence, although Bilha and Zilpa were great women, their role in the education and Holy development of their own children was secondary to Rachel and Leah's influence. This is why we all consider Rachel as our Mother, even though most of us are children of Leah.

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I would also note that the surviving tribes, Yehuda, Binyamin and Levi are all decendents of Rachel and Leah. The tribes that came from Bilha and Zilpa are all gone.

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They're not gone, though... just beyond the river. –  yoel Sep 1 '11 at 18:15
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Nevertheless, it's those of us who are on this side of the river who are talking about our 4 mothers. –  follick Sep 2 '11 at 10:29
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@yoel, of course, R' Akiva disagrees.... –  HodofHod Jan 22 '12 at 1:03
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