[Avodah] Duda'im

Toby Katz t613k at mail.aol.com
Sun Nov 14 21:45:04 PST 2021

In yesterday's parsha we read that Reuven gave his mother duda'im.  But
what are duda'im?  The word is often translated "mandrakes."  A mandrake
is a plant with roots that slightly resemble two human legs.  It was
thought to be a fertility enhancer and/or an aphrodisiac.  So Rachel might
want it because she wants to get pregnant or Leah might want it so her
husband will love her, but why would Reuven give it to his mother?  Maybe
because she hasn't had any babies recently or maybe the second reason, so
his father will love his mother. 

If it's an aphrodisiac why would Rachel want it? She already has her
husband's love.  I saw on Sefaria blog this by Aidel Davidson:  "She felt
Ya'acov's love drifting away from her and gradually gravitating more
towards Leah. Due to being barren, Rachel felt pushed aside to a certain
extent. She, therefore, desired to regain Ya'acov's love through the

In college I learned a famous poem by John Donne, "Catch a Falling
Star."  The poem is about doing impossible things -- mainly (according to
Donne) finding a faithful woman -- and starts:
"Go and catch a falling star,
    Get with child a mandrake root,"
i.e., get a mandrake root pregnant ("with child"). Impossible. 

But I wanted to know if dudaim really are mandrake roots, or something
else.  The word duda'im seems to be from a root having to do with love. 
I'm thinking of a bouquet of pretty flowers that someone might give as a
token of love -- not necessarily a particular plant -- and I'm thinking
that Reuven loved his mother and felt bad for her that his father didn't
love her.  Later in  his life, after Rochel had died, this same Reuven
moved Yakov's bed from Bilhah's tent to Leah's tent because as a loving
son, he keenly felt his mother's pain.

Btw why was Yakov's bed in Bilhah's tent?  I surmise that Bilhah --
Rochel's maid -- was raising Yosef and Binyamin, and that's why her tent
became Yakov's main dwelling.  There's an irony in this, as well as a
poignancy, because when Rochel gave Bilhah to Yakov, she thought she would
be the one raising Bilhah's children, but it turned out Bilhah raised
Rochel's children.

When Leah said "Is it not enough you took my husband, do you also want to
take my son's flowers?" she's saying something that to me seems more
emotional than rational.  "I don't have what I most long for -- my
husband's love -- but at least I have a little boy who loves me.  Do you
want to take that away from me?"

Of course that's poignant too because Rochel does long for precisely that
-- a little child of her own, who would love her in the innocent sweet way
little children love their mothers.  Each sister longs for what the other
sister has, and neither sister entirely gets what she longs for in this
world.  Leah gets Yakov but he always considers Rochel his real wife --
even years after Rochel's death, when he himself is on his deathbed.  And
Rochel gives birth to a second son but does not live to see him.

In noodling around now trying to find a good picture of a mandrake root --
without success -- I found out something I never knew:  

"The mandrake root is a powerful hallucinogenic. The active ingredients
cause a condition called anticholinergic toxicity, which causes severe
physical and psychological side effects, including delirium."

But I do not know if duda'im are really mandrakes.

--Toby Katz
t613k at aol.com

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