Sisterhood

Rachel and Leah's complex relationship, complicated by the silence of the text, allows us to imagine new possibilities for strengthening our own relationships.

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Provided by the Union for Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America.

Parashah Overview

  • Jacob dreams of angels going up and down a ladder. God blesses him. Jacob names the place Bethel. (28:10-22)

  • Jacob works seven years in order to marry Rachel, but Laban tricks Jacob into marrying Leah, Rachel's older sister. (29:16-25)

  • Jacob marries Rachel but only after having to commit himself to seven more years of working for Laban. (29:26-30)

  • Leah, Rachel, and their maidservants, Bilhah and Zilpah, give birth to eleven sons and one daughter. (29:31-30:24)

  • Jacob and his family leave Laban's household with great wealth. (31:1-32:3)

Focal Point

Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older one was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah had weak eyes; Rachel was shapely and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he answered, "I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter, Rachel." Laban said, "Better that I give her to you than that I should give her to an outsider. Stay with me." So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.

Then Jacob said to Laban, "Give me my wife, for my time is fulfilled, that I may consort with her." And Laban gathered all the people of the place and made a feast. When evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to him; and he cohabited with her. (Laban had given his maidservant Zilpah to his daughter Leah as her maid). When morning came, there was Leah! So he said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me? I was in your service for Rachel! Why did you deceive me?" Laban said, "It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the older" (Genesis 29:16-26).

Your Guide

What is meant by the word "weak" that describes Leah's eyes?

Why is Jacob's offer to serve Laban for seven years so specific?

What do you think transpired in the household during the first seven years that Jacob served Laban?

How could Jacob have spent the entire night with the other sister and not realized it?

By the Way…

Leah was destined to marry Esau and Rachel to marry Jacob. Leah sat at the crossroads asking about Esau, and they told her, "Oh, he's a wicked man." Hearing this, she cried bitterly, "My sister Rachel and I were born of the same womb, yet Rachel is to marry the righteous man, and I, the wicked Esau." She wept and fasted until her sight became weak (Tanchuma Vayeitzei 4).

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Rabbi Paula R. Goldberg is the rabbinic scholar at Congregation Shir Ami, Newtown, Penn.