It is not unusual for a husband and wife to have an argument. But everyone would agree that for everything, including a dispute, there is a proper place and time.

With this in mind, let me bring to your attention an argument recorded in the Torah that took place between a husband and wife. Mind you, this was not just an ordinary couple, but also our patriarch Yaakov and our matriarch Rachel.

Now, that they loved each other dearly is undisputable. Before they were married, Yaakov was very eager to marry her and worked laboriously seven years for her father, the infamous and unscrupulous Lavan. After being cheated and receiving Leah as his wife, he reluctantly agreed to give Lavan another seven years of labor as long as he would permit him to marry Rachel. The Torah attests that when he had them both for wives, Yaakov loved Rachel more than Leah (Bereishit 29:30). So it seems that Yaakov and Rachel must have been what we classify as a loving couple.

Rachel was childless for a number of years, and finally she gave birth to a son whom she named Yosef, proclaiming “May Hashem add another son to me” (Ibid. 30:24).

This wish was granted and she became pregnant. After she carried the baby in her womb, finally the happy moment arrived and she was about to give birth. Her husband was there, anticipating to hear the good news, “It’s a boy.” However, the joy was incomplete. Suddenly, she had difficulty in her labor. Her situation became critical, and she felt that she would expire during childbirth. At this moment, with her last strength, she managed to give a name to the child. She called him Ben oni” — “Son of my pain.” Yaakov objected to the name, and called him “Ben yamin” (Ibid. 35:18).

Why, when Rachel was in such a condition, did Yaakov argue with her over the name to be given to the newborn child? Was this the right time and place to argue over such a seemingly trivial matter? Wouldn’t Yaakov have been better occupied with saying words of comfort while she was experiencing such excruciating pain?

Rachel felt that her life on this world was ending, and she worried about what would happen to her child if he grew up without a mother’s care. As Yaakov was sitting at her bedside, she expressed her feelings: “I am very concerned about my child. Since he is growing up without a mother to take care of him, I am very worried about how he may turn out. I pray that when I am gone from this world and in my heavenly abode, his behavior should not cause me pain and grief.”

Yaakov, wanting to comfort his dying wife, told her not to worry. He promised her that he would take extra care of him and assured her that he would be a “ben yamin” — “a right son” — one who would conduct himself as is “right” for his family and be a source of nachas to his mother in Gan Eden.

A story is told of a childless couple who for many years yearned and prayed for a child of their own. After visiting many medical specialists the woman conceived. When she was about to give birth, the doctor informed her husband that only one of the two could be saved, either the mother or the unborn child. The husband favored saving the mother, but when the mother heard of her husband’s decision, she was furious. Life, she said, was worthless to her without a child. If the baby would not be saved, she would commit suicide.

So reluctantly and with deep misgivings, the doctor saved the baby and let the mother die. In time the baby grew up to be a strong and fine looking boy, but he was of a coarse and belligerent disposition. When he was of age, his father sent him to an out-of-town college in the hope that new contacts and a different atmosphere would better his character. But the reports that he received were very discouraging, for the young man spent his time in bad company and was wasting his life.

One day his father sent him a telegram to come home immediately as some urgent matter had arisen. The young man, fearing the worst, took the first plane and returned home. His father met him at the airport, but instead of explaining to him the reason for asking him to return home, he drove to a remote cemetery and stopped at a well-kept grave. There, he told his son for the first time the story of his birth and how his mother had died. After finishing the story, he said to him, “My son, now that you have heard that your mother died in order to give you life, turn around and face the tombstone of your mother, and tell her whether it was worth it!” Tears streamed down the cheeks of the young man. He broke down, buried his face on the shoulder of his father, and shook with sobs. “Father,” he cried, “I have failed you, that’s bad enough. But I have failed my poor mother, and that is much worse.”

On this Yizkor day let us face the souls of our dearly beloved parents and grandparents and tell them whether all their toil and sacrifice for us were worth their while. Were we “ben-oni” — children whose conduct brought pain and sorrow to them — or are we “ben yamin” — children on the right path who will be a source of pride and nachas.

(מיוסד על מה שמצאתי בכתבי אבי הרב שמואל פסח ז"ל באגאמילסקי)