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.