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We begin this Shabbat’s reading with Jacob on his way to his uncle Laban. He sleeps on the way and is visited by God, reconfirming God’s promise to take care of Jacob and return him to his country, which will belong to his descendants. Jacob names the place Beit-El (House of God) and when he arrives in Haran, he meets Rachael. Rachel gets her father, who comes out to meet Jacob and takes him into his home.
Jacob agrees to work 7 years for Rachel to be his wife, but after the 7 years Laban cheats Jacob and gives him Leah, the older sister as his wife, which Jacob doesn’t realize until the next morning. Upset, Jacob asks Laban why he cheated him and Laban replies this is how they do things where they live. He offers Rachel for another 7 years of work once Jacob completes the marriage week with Leah, and Jacob agrees.
Leah produces sons but Rachel is barren, so she has Jacob lie with her handmaid, which Leah then does with her handmaid, as well. Finally, Rachel produces a son (Joseph) and at that time Jacob wants to leave and return to his own home. However, after 14 years Jacob has nothing of his own so he agrees to continue watching over Laban’s flock and as his payment will be all the unwanted goats and sheep (mottled, streaked, etc.) Despite Laban’s attempts to cheat Jacob, Jacob manages to outwit Laban and ends up with the hardier flocks. Sensing the frustration in Laban and his sons, Jacob sneaks away (after Rachel steals the household gods from her father) but Laban catches up with him. However, God intervenes and tells Laban not to do anything against Jacob, so Laban and Jacob agree not to harm each other, and Laban goes back to his home.
I used to think that Jacob worked 7 years after his marriage to Leah before he was married to Rachel, but now I know better. Jacob spent his one week with Leah, then immediately married Rachel by taking her to bed (which apparently was the marriage ceremony- otherwise, how could Laban have fooled Jacob if there was a ceremony before the wedding night?) even though he hadn’t paid the full bride price.
That made me think- was this marriage to Rachel really valid? After all, in those days you paid the dowry, or bride price, before the wedding. Having relations with the intended prior to her being purchased was not “kosher”, yet this is what happened with Jacob and Rachel. Then I started to count how many sons were given to Jacob through Leah before Rachel had any, and guess what I found?
Rachel didn’t have any of her own children until after the 7th year of her marriage to Jacob, which was when the bride price was fully paid and their marriage was “legal.”
I came to this conclusion by accepting that gestation is 9 months long and (generally) a woman isn’t cycling regularly until 2-3 months after birth. As such, we can expect a woman to have one child per year. I also assumed that Leah and Rachel would have continued having sexual relations with Jacob while their handmaids were pregnant.
Leah gave birth to (1) Reuben, (2) Simeon, (3) Levi, (4) Judah, then stopped. Rachel, through her handmaid Bilhah, has Jacob produce Dan, then Naphtali. Now Leah does the same with her handmaid, and through Zilpah, Jacob gives birth to Gad and Asher. The Leah gives birth to (5) Issachar and (6) Zebulun. After these 6 sons from Leah, she bore a daughter, (7) Dinah, making it (at least) 7 years since their marriage night.
After these 7 years since Jacob first lay with Rachel, she is now “legally” his wife and only now does she conceive and give birth to Joseph (Genesis 30:24.)
The very next line in the Torah, Genesis 30:25, says that right after Joseph was born Jacob went to Laban and asked to be allowed to return to his home. This is further evidence that Jacob waited until the entire bride price for Rachel had been paid before going back to his own country.
I asked myself, “What significance does this have? Is it important to realize that Rachel did not have any children until after she was Jacobs “legal” wife?”
My answer to myself was it might be if we consider that God blesses those that do what is right in his eyes. Even though Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah, he agreed to work 7 years more for Rachel. But, he married her before the agreed bride price was paid so, in a way, he was living in sin with Rachel. And if we are in sin, we cannot expect the blessings that God will give to those who obey his commandments. Even though the Torah wasn’t written down, we can see from other references in this first book of the Torah that many of God’s instructions (the real meaning of Torah) were well known to people long before God gave them to Moses to write down for posterity.
So, while living as a married couple but not being legally married, Rachel was not blessed with children whereas Leah, legally Jacob’s wife, was being blessed.
Does this mean that those who are living in a non-marital relationship will be barren? Just a quick look at our society will answer that question with a resounding, NO! The Torah does state, in Leviticus 20:19-21, under certain conditions sexual relationships will result in childlessness. Jacob and Rachel did not fall into any of these forbidden relationships, but the point is that God will cause childlessness in a relationship that is not holy or right in his eyes.
I believe, given the future God had in store for Joseph, he wanted to make sure that Joseph wasn’t in any way a Mamzer (illegitimate) child so prevented his birth until after the marriage between Jacob and Rachel was “legitimate.”
As such, it can have some importance to us in our understanding of how God works, and that we may not know what his plans are until after they have reached fruition.
So, our lesson today is that seeing how God arranged for Rachel to be barren until her marriage was legitimately completed, we must remember that even in the midst of our Tsouris (troubles), which Jacob and Rachel suffered for 7 years, God has a plan for us. We need only trust in him and continue to be obedient and patient and eventually, we will see his plans for us come to completion.