This week’s Parsha, Vayishlach, recounts Rachel’s last days, as she gave birth to her second son and subsequently passed away. Her dying wish was to name her son “Ben Oni” (35:18), which means “son of my pain”, but Yakov instead called him Binyamin. There is obviously great significance to names given in the Torah, and this is the first we find of a wish for a name being ignored, and the fact that it’s a dying wish being ignored possibly makes this even more significant and worthy of analysis.
While other explanations are given, one possible reason is that while Rachel focused on a negative when naming her son (the pain she endured), Yakov thought it best to instead focus on more positive things, like the fact that Binyamin was born despite Yakov’s old age (Rashi), or the fact that one of Rachel’s descendants, Mordechai, would one day save the Jews (called “ish yemini”). It could also be even more poignant: Rachel’s pain would one day turn into a positive, as the Jews were able to pray at her grave many years later. The name change is not about suppressing pain, it’s about using it as a strength, a lesson Yakov hopefully imparts to us every time we contemplate this Parsha.