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Rachel and Leah: Two Destinies, Two Worlds

Rachel and Leah: Two Destinies, Two Worlds

Parshat Vayeitzei

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Rachel and Leah—two sisters, the two wives of Jacob, and two of the matriarchs of our people. Rachel and Leah—two powerful but contrasting personalities, each representing a world of her own.

Rachel was Jacob’s first love and primary wife. But Leah was the first wife that he actually married, the first to bear his children and the one to mother the majority of his children.

In Leah’s hour of need, Rachel performed the greatest act of self-sacrifice by relinquishing her own destined husband in order to spare Leah degradation. As her swindling father veils Leah, replacing Rachel as Jacob’s bride, Rachel not only remains silent, but aids her sister with the deception. She does this simply so that her sister not feel acutely embarrassed.Rachel is associated with the revealed, beautiful world of the present

Leah, too, despite experiencing the pain of being Jacob’s “unloved” wife, whose only consolation was bearing his children, demonstrates keen feelings of sisterhood and sensitivity to Rachel by praying for her to have a child. Pregnant with her seventh child, Leah prays that the fetus be female, so that Rachel too has her allotted share in the tribes of Israel.

Yet, despite their enormous compassion towards one another, Rachel and Leah were very different personalities representing two entirely different planes of reality, which in later times developed into actual rivalry.

An Enduring Schism

The vast gulf dividing their respective worlds not only affected their own lives, but continued as a rift in the lives of their descendants.

Beginning with the rivalry between Joseph (Rachel’s child) and his brothers (primarily Leah’s children), who sought to kill him but instead were placated by selling him as a slave to a passing caravan—the schism keeps resurfacing.

It was Moses, Leah’s descendant, who redeemed our people from their slavery in Egypt, but only Joshua—Moses’ disciple and Rachel’s descendant—who was able to lead the nation into the Holy Land.

The rulership of our first national king, King Saul (descendant of Rachel) was cut short by King David (Leah’s descendant), through whom a dynasty would be established. But the schism again resurfaced with the constant strife and divisiveness between malchut Yisrael (the kingship of Israel) and malchut David (the Davidic dynasty).

And this schism is set to remain until the end of time. Moshiach ben Yosef (from Rachel) has the task of preparing the world for redemption, but it is Moshiach ben David (from Leah) who actually accomplishes the final redemption for eternity.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.
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Discussion (10)
November 24, 2012
what an amazing article i was left totally astounded and kept saying WAW! I LOVED IT! THANK YOU EVER SO MUCH. Nada M SYDNEY AUSTRALIA
Nada Marie
SYDNEY AUSTRALIA
November 22, 2012
What a well written article. I truly appreciate it.
Moyshe
November 20, 2012
to Judith and Sheri
we are taught that Yaakov, knowing that Lavan was a trickster de luxe, gave Rachel special secret signs between them so that he could be sure that it was Rachel he would be marrying. Rachel gave those secret signs over to Leah so that Yaakov would think Leah was Rachel, and Leah would not be embarrassed. Because we know the story we know that Rachel also eventually married Ya'akov, but when Rachel shared those secret signs with Leah she herself did not know the outcome. From her perspective she was giving up on the love and the dream of her life!
Tamar
August 13, 2010
Leah's marriage to Yaakov
For over 10 years looking for evidence of self sacrifice of Rachel, found none. Leah brings Rachel to teshuva, and now G-d grants Rochel 2 sons.
sheri
inwood, NY/USA
November 10, 2009
Questions
What evidence do you find in the text of Leah's marriage to Jacob of a deliberate self-sacrifice on Rachel's part? I've always seen her as being equally deceived.

Also, what evidence is there in the text of Leah praying sensitively for her sister?

I am presenting a talk on Leah, and would love this insight to add. Thank you.
Judith
Minneapolis, MN
November 12, 2007
Thank you
Thank you Chana for following in the footsteps of our matriachs by being such a wonderful teacher and example to us
rochelle kaplan
usa
November 11, 2007
Rachel and Leah
I always wondered how Rachel and Leah with their sister rivalry were able to share one husband, and this article gave me some insight into this. I also wonder how Yaakov with all his responsiblities was able to handle four wives, and that he still had patience with Lavan's tricks. But the only time we see Yaakov losing his temper was when Rachel asked him to intercede to give her a child. And for his insenstive manner G-d did punish him. I find this Parsha to be a real insight on human emotions, and to get to know our Patriarchs and Matriarchs on a human level as well as for the mitzvah of Torah learning
Gisele
Brooklyn, NY
December 1, 2006
Parshah Pick: Leah and Rachel
This was an absolutely wonderful essay on this week's parshah--I really got a lot out of reading it. Thank you, Ms. Weisberg, for your insights, particularly into the prophetic implications of the two sisters' lines.
Anonymous
Greenville, SC
November 29, 2006
fabulous article both for layman and scholar
danny
November 29, 2006
amazing amazing article!
well written!
will forward it around.
thank you!!
Anonymous
melbourne, australia
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