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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Jacob said to Laban, "Knowing that the people of your town are deceivers, I make my demands absolutely clear." Thus he said, "I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter, Rachel" [Genesis 29:18]--not Leah. "Your daughter"--you mustn't bring some other woman from the marketplace named Rachel. "The younger"--you mustn't exchange their names (Genesis Rabbah 70:17).

As we have listened for centuries to the voices of men and the theories of development that their experience informs, so we have come more recently to notice not only the silence of women but the difficulty in hearing what they say when they speak. Yet in the different voice of women lies the truth of an ethic of care, the tie between relationship and responsibility, and the origins of aggression in the failure of connection (Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice, Harvard University Press, 1982, p.173).

Jacob said to Rachel, "Will you marry me?" She answered, "Yes, but Father is a trickster, and you will not prevail against him." He asked, "What is his trickery?" She said, "I have a sister who is older than I; he will not let me marry before she does." He said, "I am his brother in trickery." She said to him, "May the righteous indulge in trickery?" "Yes," he replied. "'With the pure, You act in purity, and with the crooked, You are wily'" (II Samuel 22:27). Thereupon he gave her certain identification marks. When Leah was led [into the bridal chamber], she [Rachel] thought, "My sister will now be disgraced;" so she gave the marks to Leah. That explains what is written: "When morning came, there was Leah!" which seems to imply that until then, she was not Leah! Rather, because of the signs that Jacob gave to Rachel, who gave them to Leah, he didn't know who she was until then (Talmud, Bava Batra 123a).

Jacob said to Leah: "You are a deceiver and the daughter of a deceiver!" "Is there a teacher without pupils?" she retorted. "Didn't your father call you Esau, and you answered him! So did you call me, and I answered you!" (Genesis Rabbah 70:19).

"Afterwards she bore him a daughter, and she called her name Dinah" (Genesis 30:21) What is meant by "afterwards"? Rab said: After Leah had passed judgment on herself, saying, "Twelve tribes are destined to issue from Jacob. Six have issued from me, and four from the handmaids, making ten. If this child will be a male, then my sister, Rachel, would not even be equal to one of the handmaids." Immediately the child was turned into a girl, as it says, "And she called her name Dinah" (Talmud, B'rachot 60a) .

Your Guide

The word for "weak" can also be translated as "delicate" or "soft." What differences do these translations convey about Leah? (See Tanchuma Vayeitzei)

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