Parshas Vayetzei:
Rachel and Leah

By Dovid Rifkind

"And Hashem saw that Leah was hated and He opened her womb while Rachel was barren "(Gen. 29:31).
    Simply understood, the Torah is telling us that Yaakov Avinu hated Leah. While even in and of itself this would be hard to fathom, this verse becomes even more difficult to understand when taken in context with the immediately preceding verse, "And he came to Rachel and he loved Rachel even more than Leah" (Gen. 29:30). From this it is clear that, although his love for Rachel was deeper than that of for Leah, Yaakov did indeed love Leah as well.

The Gemara in Bava Basra (123a) illuminates the matter. The Gemara opens by explaining (Gen. 29:17) "And Leah's eyes were tender." Rav explains that Leah had heard it said that as Rivka had two sons, Yaakov and Esav, and Lavan had two daughters, Rachel and Leah, that it would be fitting for the elder (Leah) to marry the elder (Esav) and for the younger (Rachel) to marry the younger (Yaakov). When Leah learned, however, of the differences between the two brothers, she cried until her eyelids tore. This, the Gemara explains, is why Leah's eyes were, tender.

    Based on this, the Gemara explains the above verse as well. The verse which, simply reads, "And Hashem saw that Leah was hated" can also be translated as "And Hashem saw that Leah hated." This, the Gemara explains, is the correct interpretation, and what the Torah is telling us, is that when Hashem saw how abhorrent Esav's ways were to Leah, He granted her children.

We see this concept later in the Parsha as well.

And Rachel saw that she had not borne children to Yaakov, and Rachel became envious of her sister. She said to Yaakov, "Give me children; if not I am dead." (Gen. 30:1)

Rashi, quoting the Midrash, explains that Rachel's envy was really of Leah's good deeds, for, she said to herself, were Leah not more righteous than I, she would not have been worthy of bearing sons.

The Be'er Yoseph asks, if Rachel was concerned that Leah was more righteous than she, the proper and more effective thing to do would have been to emulate Leah's ways. Why then was Rachel so despondent? He answers, based on the above Gemara: Being that the special merit that Leah had was the despair she expressed over the thought of marriage to Esav, Rachel assumed that she, who had never been destined to marry Esav, could not emulate this facet of Leah's behavior. This, then, was the cause of her concern. Ironically, we find that Rachel did end up following Leah's example. In Gen. 30:22, we find "And The Lord remembered Rachel, and The Lord listened to her and opened her womb." Rashi, quoting the Midrash, says that when Rachel saw that she was unable to bear a child, she feared that Yaakov would divorce her and that she would fall to Esav, and that indeed this was Esav's intent. This caused Rachel severe anguish. It was this anguish which Hashem "remembered" and in the merit of which Rachel was granted children.

We see then that both Leah's and Rachel's ability to bear children, and to thereby attain their status as Matriarchs of the Jewish people, was dependent upon their abhorrence of the evil ways of Esav. It was not enough that they themselves acted righteously. It would seem that being that Rachel and Leah, along with the other Matriarchs and Patriarchs were responsible for instilling a set of morals into the newly forming Jewish nation, which would remain the bedrock of Judaism until this day, it wasn't sufficient that they merely follow a righteous path. In order to be successful at this monumental task, it was necessary that righteousness be the very fiber of their lives. It was for this reason that before determining that they were worthy of Matriarchal status, Hashem had to see that the mere thought of living any other way of life was enough to literally drive them to tears.

In a similar vein, we find that upon Yaakov relating to Rachel and Leah that an angel of G-d had told him to leave the house of Lavan and return to the land of his birth, that they give a very interesting response.

"Then Rachel and Leah replied and said to him 'Have we still a share and an inheritance in our father's house? Are we not considered by him as strangers, for he has sold us? And he has even totally consumed our money. Rather all the wealth that G-d has taken away from our father belongs to us, so now whatever G-d said to you, do.'" (Gen. 31:15-17)

On the surface, it is difficult to understand their response.. Were they predicating their acceptance of G-d's word on the fact that they had nothing to lose? Should not their response have been, "If that is the will of G-d, we will obey"? Rav Elya Lopian zt"l explains that what Rachel and Leah were really saying was "We are not going just out of a sense that we must obey the word of Hashem. Rather we go, happily, understanding that if this is the will of Hashem, it is then, by definition, for our good, and there is therefore no room for expression of regret for all that we are leaving behind." Once again, we see an expression of the unswerving faith of Rachel and Leah, this time at the very point that they are leaving behind their old surroundings, and in a sense, embarking on their career as Matriarchs of a new nation. Once again, it was this ability to sever all ties to their past, without any trace of sadness, that translated into their success at imbedding their values so deeply into their children, that they have survived over all the ensuing generations. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l used to comment that one of the reasons so many immigrant children of the '20's and '30's didn't follow in their parents' footsteps, even after seeing the tremendous sacrifice their parents made to keep Shabbos, was because, after being fired yet again for not showing up for work on Shabbos, they would hear their father sigh, "Ess is shver tzu zein a yid" "It's difficult to be Jewish."

It is important for us to keep in mind as we strive to impart our values to our children, that the ones which will ultimately endure are those which they sense are truly part of ourselves. And, therefore, perhaps the first step in being a successful parent or teacher is to look inward at where we ourselves are lacking, and to take steps to rectify those shortcomings.


November 17,1996



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