"So she named him Joseph, saying, "May the Lord grant me yet another son."Genesis 30:24.

Rashi says the name alludes to a prophecy seen by Rachel that Jacob would only produce 12 tribes. So she prayed that the one after Joseph would come from her. However what is peculiar to me is that when Leah bore her children she named them names that had to do with them. Each name was directly correlated to the experience of having that child, ie very individualized. Reuben is a conjunction of the hebrew of "seeing" and the hebrew word for "son". Thus alluding to Hashem seeing her affliction and remedying it with a son. Judah has to do with giving thanks for Judah being the fourth child which connotes abundance. But Rachel has Joseph, her first child ever!, and then just asks for another. It makes it seem that Joseph was just a means to an end or a segue but nothing else. And apparently Joseph is pretty important in the Torah!

There must be something more here.

Why is this? Is there any literature on this peculiarity?

  • You want literature or original answers?
    – user6591
    Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 14:31
  • See Emes LiYaakov of R. Yaakov Kamenetsky, he explains that the name means "god will increase" Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 23:05
  • @user6591 both are accepted. But obviously written commentaries takes precedence.
    – TreeKing
    Commented Dec 9, 2014 at 2:02

4 Answers 4


The Rashbam on that verse says that he is actually named after the prior verse (30:23) - G-d has taken away my reproach., but she changes the Alef to a Yud to ask for another son. So the main name is about taking away the negativity of not having any children, but one letter is changed in order to add the request for a second son as an addition.

In Chabad Chassidus (see e.g. here) "another" is a reference to the Other - things which are not holiness and the meaning is that Joseph turns over someone who isn't connected to holiness to someone who is a "son" of G-d.

We see this in Yosef's life, where he was viceroy of Egypt but not only wasn't he affected by the negativity of Egypt, he ruled over it and brought it under the control of holiness (connected to the idea that he forced them to circumcise themselves).

This is related to another verse (Bereishis 42:8) about Yosef that is interpreted in a similar way.

וַיַּכֵּר יוֹסֵף אֶת אֶחָיו וְהֵם לֹא הִכִּרֻהוּ

Now Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.

The brothers were shepherds because this allowed them time in divine contemplation away from the world. They simply couldn't recognize someone being connected to G-d while engaged in the world, but Yosef could be engaged in the world to such a degree without it lessening his own connection to G-d.


See the previous pasuk (30:23):

וַתַּ֖הַר וַתֵּ֣לֶד בֵּ֑ן וַתֹּ֕אמֶר אָסַ֥ף אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶת־חֶרְפָּתִֽי׃

There's another word there with the same root, אסף. This phrase is more in line with what how others named their children, after some event that happened with their birth. Here, the event was "‘God hath taken away my reproach.’".

Source: I heard this in a Dvar Torah on Shabbat.

  • אספ is not the root of יוסף. There would be an א.
    – Double AA
    Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 15:47
  • @DoubleAA and... Rachel knew from spelling? Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 19:41
  • @Charles I suppose? She may also have been as proficient as a native speaker by then and known it intuitively
    – Double AA
    Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 19:50
  • 3
    @DoubleAA and native speakers tend to make more puns/double-entendres. Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 20:54
  • 1
    Right it could be a pun but why then does Rashi say it comes from the word to add specifically then?
    – TreeKing
    Commented Dec 9, 2014 at 1:19

The name Yosef as it relates to his being nothing more than an enabler to his brother's existence is actually quite personal and telling. His youth was spent caring for his brothers. We see he put himself in danger to go check on his brothers at his father's request. And most importantly we find him caring for and providing for his brothers in Mitzrayim.

All of this was hinted to in this prayer from his mother. Please allow this son to be an opening for another.

  • 1
    Interesting point. After I asked this question I then started to think of this question further. What is interesting is that Yosef's tribe is the only tribe that is split up and there are no tribes by the name Yosef only Ephraim and Menasheh. I know its that Yosef merited two tribes but it seems like we are marginalizing the existence of Yosef to an extent, which is ironic, since that is exactly what the brothers were trying to do to Yosef as well.
    – TreeKing
    Commented Dec 9, 2014 at 2:07
  • 1
    Interesting as well. I had another point along these lines that i forgot to put in. How the Moshiach ben Yosef, if we assume he dies, is basically another instance where the personage of yosef is lost for the sake of readying the people for Moshiach ben Dovid.
    – user6591
    Commented Dec 9, 2014 at 2:32

I think there is a theme in the naming of Leah's and Rachel's children which follows a broader motif. Rachel desires nothing more than to have children, and that is withheld from her. She names her child accordingly, that she should have another child. Her naming the children of Bilhah also follow this theme - the names have to do with having children. Leah's wish is to have a relationship with her husband, and that is (at least in her own eyes) withheld from her, and she names her children accordingly, each one (until Yehuda, who has his own reason) regarding her relationship with her husband or lack thereof. Both sisters name their children according to that which they wish for most.

Yosef is perhaps the most explicit example of this - upon having her own child, Rachel expresses her desire that she should have another.

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