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Why Jacob Loved Rachel

Why Jacob Loved Rachel

. . . but why he had to marry also Leah


The Torah describes Rachel as having beautiful features and a beautiful complexion, and Leah as having tender eyes.1

It’s unusual for the Torah to spill ink illustrating the people or places mentioned. It is also unusual that Leah is (seemingly) publicly disparaged. On principle, the Torah goes out of its way to avoid unnecessary critical descriptions, and yet it openly contrasts Rachel’s beauty to Leah’s tender eyes. In light of this principle, the biblical commentator Rashi deduces that Leah’s tender eyes allude to her incessant weeping: her eyes were red and soft from the many tears she shed. She wept in prayer, entreating G‑d to shift the course of her destiny. She had been destined to marry Esau, coarse and corrupt as he was, and she prayed earnestly that her fate be changed.

So potent were her prayers that she married Jacob instead of Esau. Leah’s prayers, like a perfectly poised arrow, reach straight to heaven, and her fate shiftsThe Talmud displays Leah as the paradigm of effective prayer, because her communication with G‑d actually rewrote her life’s script. She is identified by the Torah with her tears, an expression of the fresh enthusiasm and tender sincerity of her compelling prayers. Day in and day out she lifted her voice to heaven, and her words never became stale from repetition.

Later, when Leah was expecting her seventh child, she prayed to G‑d that it not be a baby boy, lest she appropriate so many of the twelve sons destined to Jacob that her sister Rachel would be left to contribute just one. Miraculously, the male fetus in her womb flipped genders and became a female baby—Dinah. Once again, Leah’s prayers, like a perfectly poised arrow, reach straight to heaven, and her fate shifts.

The great rebbe and Kabbalist Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains that Leah’s soul stemmed from the world of thought, while Rachel’s soul was from the world of speech. Leah was introspective, a master of meditation and internal communication, plumbing the depths of her soul and always emerging with a newfound appreciation of G‑d. She was a paradigm of humility and innocence, her eyes tender from an outpouring of fresh emotion.

Rachel was different. She was a communicator, charismatic and appealing to others. She commanded a sphere of influence. Her beautiful complexion alludes to the shining of her countenance. Her Hebrew name, Rochel, is numerically equivalence to the phrase vayehi ohr, “and there was light,” both equaling 238. With Rachel there was light; the environment was illuminated with her presence.

This explains Jacob’s unusually dramatic reaction to Rachel. Moments after meeting her, “Jacob kissed Rachel, and he raised his voice and wept.”2 Jacob realized that he was destined to breed a family that would become the chosen nation, the nation that would be a light unto the world. His twelve children would have to uphold the torch of morality and spirituality in a world that would often resist this message. And here was Rachel, a character perfectly suited for the job. She could mother and groom a family of effective communicators.

Why then did Jacob raise his voice and weep? Here too Rashi explains, based on the Midrash. Jacob saw in Rachel the perfect spouse and the perfect mother; but what troubled him was the knowledge that Rachel would not be buried with him. He understood that their lack of posthumous unity reflected a lack of perfection in their united mission. This perplexed and saddened Jacob, and he wept.

What Jacob did not realize was that the missing component in the construction of his family and of the Jewish nation was Leah. The missing component in the construction of his family and of the Jewish nation was LeahRachel may have been able to contribute to the Jewish PR department, but Leah was needed to add the element of introspection and genuine prayer. Rachel’s quality of communication and influence would be needed most when her children were in galut, exile, an unsupportive environment outside of Israel. Leah’s qualities would be needed when the Jews would be safe and supported, left only to further develop their relationship with their Creator.

Jacob thought of his time in galut, and saw Rachel as perfection. But no sooner did his family leave Charan—their personal galut—and travel towards the holy land of Israel did Rachel die, her mission complete. She left Joseph, a son who inherited her capacity to create a dynamic sphere of influence. He would lead an entire country towards prosperity. Leah’s sons, by contrast, spent their time as shepherds, meditating in the pastures as they walked beside their flock. Even in Egypt, they lived an insulated life in the city of Goshen.

Both Rachel and Leah mothered the Jewish nation. Rachel instilled within us the strength to exude a powerful and far-reaching aura of influence. Leah gifted us with the strength to tug at our soul strings and talk to G‑d with integrity.3

Based on Torah Ohr, Parshat Vayeitzei, and a lecture by Rebbitzen Yehudis Heller, of blessed memory.
Mrs Rochel Holzkenner is a mother of four children and the co-director of Chabad of Las Olas, Fla., serving the community of young professionals. She is a high-school teacher and a freelance writer—and a frequent contributor to She lectures extensively on topics of Kabbalah and feminism, and their application to everyday life.
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Yael November 23, 2017

Re Leah, I heard some rabbis thought Leah was a bit too forward & outgoing - because of the mandrake debacle, 'Leah went out to meet Jacob.... Reply

P. Katz Brooklyn November 20, 2017

Wow! I am speechless, this part of Tanach always bothered me, but now I know it was just because I didn't understand it fully. I have never found an answer that resonated with me until I read this. I thank you for enlightening me and for giving me clarity! Reply

Yael November 19, 2017

Hi, (1) Sarah wasnt the only woman Gd spoke to, (Michelle 2010). He also spoke to Hagar.

I also would like to know the source for the theory Leah didnt want to marry Esau. Is it a poetic way of trying to exolain the cause of Leah's "delicate/weak" eyes ?

One source I read claims the term can also mean "light", meaning Leah had light eyes ?blue. This presumably would have been unusual then, maybe not considered attractive.

Also, what I most want to know is - why no local man came to marry Leah ?
She was older than Rachel, & had an unscrupulous father, all the seven years Jacob worked for Rachel, why no suitors for Leah ?

Any comments welcome ! Reply

ZSasson Brooklyn March 2, 2016

Excellent insights for my class Thank you!! Reply

Anonymous Efrat November 17, 2015

Rachel and Leah BS"D
Great Insights and wonderfully written. Reply

Anonymous November 15, 2015

Source? "The great rebbe and Kabbalist Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains that Leah’s soul stemmed from the world of thought, while Rachel’s soul was from the world of speech. Leah was introspective, a master of meditation and internal communication, plumbing the depths of her soul and always emerging with a newfound appreciation of G‑d. She was a paradigm of humility and innocence, her eyes tender from an outpouring of fresh emotion..."
Where is the exact source for this in Torah Or? Reply

Yehoshua LA November 15, 2015

amazing What an amazing way of bringing down the Alter Rebbe's mystical discourse Reply

Anonymous November 15, 2015

rochel Thank you Mrs Rochel Holzkenner for Another amazing article. Your way of translating chassidus while keeping it chassidus in its most basic form is such a blessing. Reply

Anonymous November 24, 2012

Why Jacob Loved Rachel She wept in prayer, entreating G‑d to shift the course of her destiny. I like how with prayer her destiny changes.
Her Hebrew name, Rochel, is numerically equivalent to the phrase vayehi ohr, "and there was light," both equaling 238. How significant each person is to Hashem. He hears our prayers and gives us light. Reply

Ivonne Duran arlington, texas November 24, 2012

It is important that we project that balance of understanding. Reply

Anonymous cleve October 23, 2012

Rochel as a PR person ? I thought Rochel's main character trait that she is known for and that makes her so special is not outwardness or speech, but rather her quiet dimeanor, her compassion and sensitivity to human pain, as illustrated in her not wanting to bring embarrassment to her sister, as illustrated again in the fact that only her prayers on behalf of her children were listened to by Hashem. I do know the kabbalistic association Rachel has with malchut, speech. I just didn't think her character was at all outward like that. Reply

Anonymous brooklyn, ny January 4, 2012

on the parsha Does that mean that the Torah favors a charismatic and appealing woman more than an emotional introspective person? Reply

Steven Dansky London, England December 2, 2011

unbelievable! I just wanted to tell you that I have been trawling through the Chumash, numerous commentaries, midrash and acharonim, trying to understand how Ya'akov loved Rachel the first time he saw her.

This is the best explanation that I heard by far, and explains so very much about Yosef, and his charisma - he is Rachel's son - I am indebted to you - this is amazing! Reply

Dr. Simcha Baker Modi''in, Israel December 2, 2011

re: Yehudis in America "Everyone said..." - a generalized statement, worthy of nothing. How did anybody KNOW anything? The Torah does not have in it anybody having mutual knowledge of the offspring of Lavan or Rivkah. As a matter of fact, Yaacov is sent to find a wife from his uncle's family - to find a nameless individual as a wife. Yaacov first learns of the name of one of Lavan's daughters at the well. Yaacov is not sent by Rivkah with absolute knowledge "that Yaacov choose between Leah and Rochel - two daughters that I know Lavan has!" IF you want to believe that Rivkah had 'ruach hakodesh', divine inspiration, in sending Yaacov to Lavan with such fore-knowledge, I would have expected Rivkah to have expressed such thoughts with names attached, rather than being apparently clueless about this 'obvious' filial relationship between Yaacov, Leah and Rochel (and Esau) and who was supposed to marry whom. Reply

Anonymous Mesa, Arizona, USA December 1, 2011

Why Jacob Loved Rachel I have two questions: 1st. How do we know that Leah's fetus male fetus flipped gender. Where in the Torah is this recorded.
2nd. What did Rachel do with her father's idols she took when Jacob left with his family? And why did she take them. Was it to worship them? There is no record in Torah of what she did with this idols.
Thank you in advance for you kind reply. Reply

yehudis america December 1, 2011

re: dr. simcha baker lavan had two daughters and rivka two sons, so everyone said, "the older daughter will marry the older son, the younger will marry the younger" (rashi) in those times it was common to marry as close to one's family as possible, as avraham sent eliezer to find a wife from his own family. the sages do not 'embellish' the torah, they use their their wisdom to understand what the torah itself says. it is like saying that to teach that 1+2=3 is wrong because you cannot take two things and make something new with them. it's not their own ideas, it's logic. Reply

Dr. Simcha Baker Modi''in, Israel November 12, 2010

Leah and Esau? Leah was destined to marry Esau? How did she know about Esau? Esau had no knowledge of Leah and made no effort to find out anything about his relatives in Charan. Isaac and Rebecca didn't know about the names or number of girls of Laban's family in Laban when they sent Jacob there. We frequently find that we and our sages 'embellish' the actions of our ancestors with 'knowledge' and ability to see the future way beyond believing. Isn't Judaism beautiful enough without this embellishment? Reply

Anonymous November 12, 2010

4. lots more Women are entrusted to run the home, and especially the nurturing and education of the children in their formative years. They are just better at it.
5. Woman are very courageous. Sarah stepped up against her nature to force Ishmael and Hagar out . Rebecca went against her own nature and even her son's nature to trick Isaac, again very courageous.
6. Who comforted the children/held their hands in the desert during the Exodus, the pogroms, the Holocaust? The women.
6. I am a male. When i first came into Judaism a few years back, i had the same questions as you about the status of women. If there is one common denominator amongst Chabad Rabbis ( over 90% ), it is their deep sincerity/respect/commitment to their wives.
7. Many rebbetzins in my experience are more intelligent than their husbands, intellectually and socially.
8. All these platitudes aside, women, just ike men, must work at their relationship with G-d. A wonderful equalizer, no?
Good Shabbos! Reply

Anonymous November 12, 2010

Michelle May I take a shot at answering your excellent questions. No man thinks Jacob a hero for having two wives and later their two handmaidens for breeding purposes. Leban was the devious culprit here. Jacob had promised/proposed for Rachel's hand in marriage. His piety forced him to keep his promise.
Some following ideas that may help you.
1. G-d spoke to Sarah, the only women he spoke to. Sarah worked as tirelessly as Abraham in teaching Monotheism.
2. The Matriarchs had greater powers of prophecy than the Patriarchs. Sarah chose Isaac over Ishmael. Rivkah chose Jacob over Esau. Thus, the Matriarchs had a greater influence on the destiny of the Children of Israel/Judaism than the Patriarchs.
3. Males have a bris (circumcision) covenant. Females have no such equivalent. Why? Because they don't need one. Women are born more intuitive/natural in their belief. Women were addressed first before the men about the receiving of the Torah. Women did not give their gold for the Golden Calf.
4. There is lots more. Reply

Rena van Halem Montreal November 11, 2010

Both Leah and Rachel mother the Jewish nation Bilha and Zilpa physically gave birth to some shevatim: Dan, Naftali, Gad, and Asher. Yet, Rachel and Leah named them. Perhaps, when parents adopt or foster a child, they are considered to mother and father or raise that child. Reply

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