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's attention is initially focused entirely on Rachel. How might his feelings about both sisters have been influenced by their relationship with each other?

Which of the aggadic or midrashic interpretations best support Carol Gilligan's statement about a woman's ethic of care?

How do you think that the often silent voices of women in the Torah can be heard?

What does the talmudic text Bava Batra 123a tell us about the bond between the sisters? Does it also teach us anything about the relationship between Laban and Jacob?

What is the nature of Leah's concern for Rachel's "honor" in B'rachot?

D'var Torah

The relationship between Leah and Rachel is one of the most complex sibling relationships in the Torah. Other siblings are either locked in rivalry (Cain and Abel) or work together cooperatively (Moses, Aaron, and Miriam). Leah and Rachel, one of the few sister pairs, present a more complex relationship. As Jacob's wives, they seem to be rivals, vying for his attention, affection, and ability to produce children.

However, their childhood relationship is veiled in the silence of the text. Since they did not have a mother (as suggested by tradition), there was probably an emotional vacuum that drew the girls together in a mutually supporting "self-mothering" bond. They may also have been competitors for the affection of their father as they were for Jacob's love. As our texts suggest, however, their underlying relationship of mutual concern was not disrupted entirely. On the surface, they seem to be rivals and competitors; however, the insights of our tradition and imaginations present a picture of silent partners, allies for a greater purpose.

Our own relationships with our siblings, parents, children, and friends are also combinations of caring, competition, jealousy, and concern. By getting "inside" the printed text to hear the voices of our biblical families, we can understand, elevate, and heal the important relationships in our own lives.

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