Jacob leaves his home and travels to his uncle, Laban. On the way, he rests and dreams of a ladder to heaven with the angels going up and down on it, and he names that place Beit-El (House of God.) When he arrives at Paddan-Aram, he first sees Rachel and helps her water her sheep. He is invited back to Laban’s house and after a month Laban offers to pay him for his work.
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They make a deal that Jacob will work 7 years in exchange for Rachel, but when the time comes to marry her Laban places Leah, her older sister, in the tent with Jacob. In the dark and veiled, Jacob can’t see he was tricked (karma?) and when he brings this to Laban’s attention, Laban says it is customary to give the older away before the younger, but if Jacob works another 7 years he can also have Rachel. This time, though, after the marriage week with Leah Jacob marries Rachel then and there, so he is now married to both as he works the second 7 years.
Jacob and Laban agree again about wages, this time Jacob offers to take the less-desirable goats and sheep, the ones with speckles and stripes, which are born in Laban’s flock. Although Laban changes the agreement several times, Jacob manages to make sure that he has the healthiest and strongest animals in his flock, leaving the weaker ones in Laban’s flock. Laban’s sons conspire against Jacob, who hears of it, and he secretly leaves during the shearing celebration. Laban finds out about this (in the meantime, Rachel stole the household gods from her father’s tent) and chases after Jacob, but God tells Laban (in a dream) not to harm him.
After searching for the gods and not finding them because Rachel hid them under her saddle and said she couldn’t rise because she was in her time of Niddah, Laban and Jacob make a pact not to cross over a standing stone to do harm to each other, and they both go on their way. Laban goes back to his home and Jacob with his family and belongings back to the home of his father, Isaac.
During the time Jacob worked for Laban, between Leah, her handmaiden, Rachel, and her handmaiden Jacob fathered 11 sons. Benjamin was born on the way back to Canaan, but Rachel died during childbirth.
As I often say, there is just so much in here to work with. When I read the parashah before writing my message, I open my heart and mind to the Ruach hoping that something “hits” me, and today what hit me was that Leah suffered much and seemed to be more righteous than Rachel. And for that, she was rewarded (although she never saw it) with her sons being the ones that had the most influence on the children of Israel throughout the ages – Judah and Levi, the kings and priests of Israel.
Yes, Joseph (who was born from Rachel) saved the children of Jacob from starvation, as well as most of the known world, and his children were given the honor (by Jacob) of becoming the means of a blessing (“May they be like Ephraim and Manasseh…”), but that was it. They ended up being dispersed throughout the world and having no beneficial influence on the Israelites, having been centered outside of the land God promised (half of Manasseh) and the rest in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, which was never anything more than a cesspool of sinfulness.
Leah was not loved by Jacob, nor was she as pretty as her sister, yet she faithfully endured through this and was (in my opinion) humble and grateful before God. Leah named her sons Reuben (see! a son), Shimon (hearing, showing gratitude that God heard her), Levi (joining, thinking now that she has given Jacob three sons he will be joined to her), and Judah, which means “praise.” Every son she bore she named in a manner that gave thanks to God.
Rachel remained infertile for a long time but after God smiled on her and gave her a son, she named him Joseph, which means “may he add”, as in add another son. In other words, give me more, which isn’t quite as humble or grateful as Leah was.
When I read through this and realized that Leah, the less loved and more humble of the two, was honored with her sons being ones given the leadership of Israel, it reminded me of Psalm 149:4, which says:
For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory.
and Proverbs 3:34:
He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.
Leah showed faithful suffering, being unloved by her husband even after fulfilling her role as a wife better than her sister did. It was Rachel that stole the family gods, Rachel that lied to her father (to hide what she had stolen) and Rachel who sold her own husband’s conjugal duties for some mandrakes. Yet we don’t read anything about Leah, other than about her suffering as an unloved wife, not even living in the same tent as her husband.
We all suffer some ingratitude from those we have helped; we all sometimes suffer ungratefulness for the good things we have done, and we all feel unloved by someone we love, at least once in our lifetime. And our lesson today is that we need to be like Leah, suffering faithfully and never losing trust in God that the tsouris we are going through now will yield rewards in the future. And we may not see those rewards in our lifetime, as Leah didn’t, but we can learn from Leah that they will come. The humble will be honored and the prideful will be brought low.
One last point: Rachel was loved more, but buried alone in the desert, while Leah was buried with the Patriarchs of Judaism and their wives, and while separated from Jacob during her lifetime, she is now with him throughout eternity.
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I wish you all Shabbat Shalom, and until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!