Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha

Vayetzei

Nov. 13, 2010/6 Kislev 5771
Modern Author: Ehud Havazelet, “Leah”

KOSHI…WHAT does Leah teach us about marriage—about love—and the family of Israel?

REMEZ…Dialogue of the Centuries—Reclaiming Culture/Connection

 V.17-18     Leah had weak eyes; Rachel was shapely and beautiful. And Jacob loved Rachel

RASHI“weak eyes”  Through constant weeping on the prospect of having to marry Esau.For everyone said, ‘Rebecca has two sons, and Laban has two daughters. The elder for the elder; the younger for the younger.’   

R.ALTER“eynei Leah Ra’ckot—Leah’s eyes were tender” The precise meaning in this context of the adjective is un-certain.  Generally, the word rakh is an antonym of “hard,” and means soft or tender, or in a few instances, “weak.” The claim that here it refers to dullness, a lusterless quality, is pure translation by immediate context.  Still, there is no way of deciding whether the word indicates some sort of impairment, or rather suggests that Leah had sweet eyes—her one asset of appearance, in contrast to her totally beautiful sister.

V.23/25   When evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to him; and he cohabited with her…When morning came, it was Leah!

EICHAH RABBAH… Rachel had discovered the planned deception and got word of it to Jacob.  In order to frustrate Laban’s plan, she gave a sign by which he’d be able to distinguish between her and her sister. But Rachel took pity on her sister, and disclosed the secret signals, so Jacob would think Leah was Rachel.  Furthermore, she even hid under the bridal bed, answering whenever Jacob spoke, so he would not recognize Leah by voice and discover who she was…

V.31                The Lord saw that Leah was unloved and opened her womb; but Rachel was barren. Leah conceived and bore a son, Reuben—declaring “The Lord has seen my affliction,” and it also means, “Now my husband will love me.”

ETZ HAYIM…The word translated here as “unloved” actually means “hated.”  Did Jacob really hate Leah, or only love her less than he loved Rachel?  One commentator suggests that Leah hated herself for having tricked Jacob into marrying her.  Knowing what we know of human psychology, we can also suspect that Jacob did indeed hate Leah because, by reminding him of the fraudulent circumstances of their wedding, she reminded him of his most shameful memories…We often ‘hate’ people for confronting us with what we like least about ourselves.

 ZORNBERG…Leah is patently unloved by Jacob—and, therefore, given children: “The Lord saw that Leah was unloved and opened her womb.” [29:31]  The balance of frustration and desire is translated into an unromantic fertility.  Leah names her children for her wistful, ever-hopeful pain: “The Lord has seen my affliction…Now my husband will love me.”  Her relationship with Jacob is, essentially, an act of will; for in some enigmatic sense, it was never meant to be…In effect, Leah defies her fate; she refuses to accept the “fit” marriage….A formidable energy builds up in her, and in her depravation, she takes Rachel’s place under the marriage canopy.  In that darkness, in which transformations, fantastic combinations become possible,  Leah becomes Rachel. “When morning came, v’hinei Leah—behold, it was Leah!

RASHI comments: ‘But at night, it was not Leah.’  The effect of v’hinei conveys a jolt of perception.

Jacob had experienced her during the night as Rachel…Leah had found in herself the potential to be Rachel…She re-evokes in Jacob the power of his own old desire to be other, to reappropriate the qualities projected on the rival brother.  Essentially, Leah’s presence tells Jacob that there are other possibilities of relationship than that of idyllic, total love…Leah invites Jacob to recognize her as a fellow spirit in the world of the night.  The marriage of Leah and Jacob, therefore, represents one possible type of marriage, characterized by children, by the multiple consequences of a complex self-knowledge…the fruit of two people struggling to understand who they may yet be, singly, and together.

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