Rachel and Leah, two sisters, two wives, two paths. At first Leah appears to be negative, weak and pale. But the more we dig, the more we learn and come to appreciate Leah, her strength, her quiet inspiration and her unending devotion.

1. Leah Is One of the Four Matriarchs

Along with Sarah (wife of Abraham), Rebecca (wife of Isaac), and Rachel (her sister and fellow wife of Jacob), Leah is one of the four mothers of the Jewish people.1

Read: Why Just Four Mothers?

2. She Was the Elder Daughter of Laban

We are first introduced to Leah (and her younger sister Rachel) when Jacob comes to Haran in search of a bride. In the words of Scripture: “Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.”2 Although not clearly spelled out, some say the two were actually twins.3

Read: Twins In the Bible

3. Her Mother Was Adina

Scripture does not tell us the name of Laban’s wife, the mother of Rachel and Leah, but tradition tells us that her name was Adina, which can be translated as “refined.”4

Read: Who Was Adina?

4. She Had “Soft Eyes”

The verse tells us that “Leah's eyes were soft, but Rachel had beautiful features and a beautiful complexion.”5 What was going on with Leah’s eyes? Some say it means that her eyes were beautiful,6 but according to many, they were tender and sore from crying. Why did she weep? Everyone in her community knew that her aunt, Rebecca, had two sons: Esau and Jacob. They naturally assumed that the elder girl (Leah) would marry the elder boy (Esau). Since Esau was wicked, she cried and begged G‑d to change her fate.7

Read: Esau’s Biography

5. She Was Jacob’s First Wife, But Not His First Choice

As soon as Jacob lay eyes on Rachel, he wished to marry her. However, Laban, the girls’ father, was not keen on Leah being overlooked. After Jacob tended Laban’s sheep for seven (!) years for the right to marry Rachel, Laban sneaked Leah under the wedding canopy. The next morning Jacob found out, and undertook to work another seven years to marry Rachel, with a week’s interval between the two weddings. Leah thus found herself married to the same man as her sister.8

Read: How Could Jacob Marry Two Sisters?

6. She Had Six Sons and One Daughter

“G‑d saw that Leah was despised, and He opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.” Leah was blessed with four sons in a row (Reuben, Shimon, Levi, Judah),9 Rachel’s maid bore two sons (Dan and Naftali), Leah’s maid gave birth to two sons (Gad and Asher), and Leah then had two more sons (Issachar and Zebulun), and fell pregnant yet again. Knowing prophetically that only 12 sons were to be born to Jacob, Leah realized that if she would have a seventh son, there would be just one son left for her sister to bear, even fewer than the maids. She prayed to G‑d, and her fetus turned out to be a girl, whom she named Dinah. Rachel subsequently gave birth to Joseph and Benjamin, bringing the number of tribes up to 12.10

Read: Dinah: The Woman Who Made a Difference

7. Leah Is a Paragon of Gratitude

There is no doubt that Leah lived a hard life, and had every reason to become bitter. Yet the sages of the Talmud11 see her as a shining example of gratitude. In the words of Rabbi Yochanan:

From the day G‑d created the world, no one thanked Him, until Leah expressed her gratitude. We thus read, “[She became pregnant and gave birth to a son, and she said], ‘This time I will give thanks (odeh) to G‑d,’ and he was called Judah.”12

8. Zohar: Jacob’s Love For Her Was “Hidden”

Scripture says that Jacob “hated” Leah, but very few understand this literally. For example, Rabbi David Kimchi explains that it simply means that his love for her was less than his love for Rachel, and is therefore called “hate” by contrast.13

The Zohar couches the dynamics between Jacob, Rachel and Leah in Kabbalistic terms, explaining that Jacob did not actually hate Leah. Rather, her spiritual source was so lofty that he could not relate to it, and his love for her was “hidden” and not expressed in the same way that he loved Rachel.14

9. She Is the Mother of Royalty and the Priestly Clan

How does the Zohar know that Leah was not actually hated? It’s very simple. There is a rabbinic principle that children born out of hate tend to turn out less than stellar. Yet, “all the good sons came from Leah,”15 indicating that she could not have been hated as one may think. Indeed, her son Levi was the progenitor of the priestly clan, and from Judah came the royal Davidic dynasty.

Read: Who Are the Levites?

10. She Gave Her Handmaiden to Her Husband

When Rachel saw Leah having sons while she remained barren, she gave her maid to her husband, hoping that the deed would cause G‑d to bless her with sons of her own.16 Leah then did the same, and G‑d blessed her with two more sons. Why? Because she “desired and was seeking means to increase the number of tribes.”17

Read: 12 Tribes of Israel

11. She Is Buried Beside Her Husband

Unlike Rachel, whose death and subsequent roadside burial are described in Scripture, we are not told anything about Leah’s passing. All we know is that Jacob tells his sons that he had buried her in the Cave of Machpelah, and asks them to ensure that he will be buried there as well.18

There is an element of poetic justice here. In their single days, Rachel was comfortable at home, while Leah tearfully took to the crossroads, begging for word that Esau had repented. In death, Leah is comfortably ensconced next to their husband, while Rachel is forever weeping for her lost and scattered children.19

Read: Rachel Weeps for her Children

12. She Is Associated With Thought

Based on the Zohar, chassidic teachings20 explain that Leah’s soul stemmed from the world of thought, while Rachel’s soul came from the world of speech.

Read: Why Jacob Loved Rachel but Married Leah First

13. Her Name Means “Tired”

The meaning of Rachel is straightforward: it means “ewe.” But what does Leah mean?

It is associated with the Hebrew word for “fatigue” or being “worn out.” This makes sense when one considers that our thoughts are a continuous torrent, never pausing even for a moment.21

And perhaps this is something we can take from Leah. Even when we are tired, the underdog, and in an impossible situation, we can express our gratitude, hope, faith and prayerful wish for a better tomorrow.