Complicated Relationships

The emotional struggles of our ancestors can help guide us today.

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For Radak, Jacob's angry answer is a cry of frustration. He can't do anything about the situation. It's beyond his control. He's doing what he can, but he is a limited human being and can't produce the miracles that God does.

Radak's portrayal of Jacob makes his response somewhat more palatable. Though it doesn't make Jacob's words kind, it at least gives us a better idea of what he may have been thinking and feeling about Rachel's cry to him.

They Want What They Can't Have

Dr. Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, modern commentator and author of The Beginning of Desire: Reflections on Genesis adds another layer to the mix of emotions felt in this story. She writes: "Jacob is now married to two women: a storm of emotion—hatred, jealousy—replaces the calm harbor of fulfillment. And a profound frustration underlies the relationships between Jacob and his two wives: Leah loves Jacob and names her children as a record ofher changing relation to her husband; Jacob loves Rachel and Rachel's main passion is for children. Essentially, all the protagonists most want what they cannot have. Therefore, perhaps Jacob speaks out of the anger of a man whose love meets with poor response. On one level, he is simply saying that his life would be amply fed by his relationship with her. Her deprivations are different from his and must inform her own personal relationship with God" (pp.209-210).

Learning from the Relationships of The Bible

Life—and especially love—among human beings is never easy.Though our story is complicated by the fact that two sisters share one husband (something that the Torah later forbids), the truth is that even in monogamous relationships, life is often not simple. We want, sometimes demand, our partners' devoted sympathy to our pains, and when they can't help us, it can be deeply painful. The Torah is insightful because it lets us know that familieshave been struggling with these issues for thousands of years. Perhaps, in some small way, we can better our family lives by seeing the struggles of our ancestors and trying to learn from them.

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Rabbi Melissa Crespy

Melissa Crespy is the rabbi at the Lakeland Hills Jewish Center in Ringwood, New Jersey.