Leah and Rachel

Friday, 20 November, 2015 - 7:50 am

Leah and Rachel

The story of the complex relationship between Jacob and his wives Leah and Rachel can be understood on many levels, both emotionally and spiritually.

One way to read the story is to realize, that every character in the Torah is also an aspect of every human soul. The stories of the patriarchs and the matriarchs, their trials and triumphs, their struggles and their successes, is indeed the story of every Jew.

Jacob loved Rachel. He wanted to marry her and he was willing to pay any price to be able to do so. And yet, the story gets complicated. He is tricked into marrying Leah, and only then is he able to marry Rachel. The story of Jacob and his children is the story of the tension between his two primary wives and their children.

The Kabbalists explain that Leah represents the “concealed world” of thought, while Rachel represents the “revealed world” of speech.

Leah’s children were all highly spiritual. The names Reuben, Shimon, Levi and Judah are names which represent seeing, hearing, commenting and submitting to the Divine [1]. That is why, say the Kabbalists, Leah had no problem giving birth in the spiritually challenging environment of Charan. Because no matter how dark the surrounding society is, a person always has the option to retreat into their own “concealed world”, to retreat to their own thoughts and consciousness, where one can always see, hear, connect and submit to the Divine.  

Rachel, however, represents the “revealed world” of speech. Her mission was to articulate her spiritual reality in language that the people around her could understand and appreciate. No wonder that it was challenging for her to conceive. Her children represent the ability to reveal the Divine in the most physical reality. Rachel’s son Joseph is unique among all the sons of Jacob in his ability to remain loyal to the teachings of Judaism while being fully engaged in the material world. Joseph, alone amongst the sons of Jacob, was able to articulate his spiritual truth while simultaneously serving as the Vicar to the king of Egypt, the superpower of the ancient world.    

Jacob loves Rachel.

Jacob understood that Judaism is about affecting the real world. Jacob understood that the purpose of creation is to imbue this physical world with holiness. He therefore had no interest in Leah’s ability to introspect and connect thought and consciousness to G-d. He was attracted to Rachel’s more difficult and challenging path. He was fascinated by her insistence that everything that she understood and felt must be experienced and articulated in the real world.

Opposites attract. Jacob - the man who “dwells in the tent” - was attracted to Rachel, to the woman who had the capacity to reveal and express the hidden truths.

Jacob’s intense desire to marry Rachel was complicated by the Divine plan. Jacob had to first marry Leah and experience her spiritual world, before he could marry Rachel and hope to articulate those ideas to the rest of the world.

This story, like all the stories in the Torah, is a lesson to each Jew. We must love the Rachel within us, we must not be satisfied with living a spiritually introverted life. We must understand that, like Rachel, we have to live in the “revealed world” of speech. We must, however, also cultivate our Leah, our inner spiritual core. [2]  



[1]The Torah explains the choice of the names of the sons of Leah: “Because the Lord has seen”, “Since the Lord has heard“, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me”, This time, I will thank the Lord!”. The Kabbalists explain that these verses and names express connecting to G-d through the spiritual attributes of seeing, hearing, connecting and submitting to G-d.  

[2] Based on Torah Or, Vayetze.  

Comments on: Leah and Rachel

Philip wrote...

Interesting! To add to this interpretation, Rachel died first, and was not buried with Jacob. He loved her longer and more than Leah, but he married Leah first, stayed married to her longer, and was entombed with her forever.

Menachem Feldman wrote...

Philip, great point!
While during the times of the holy temple there was great revelation in the land of Israel, as evidant from the abundance of prophecy, nevertheless, for most of history we have been in Exile, sepertaed from revelation and our dear mother Rachel. The prophet describes Exile as "Rachel - not Leah - weeping for her children for they are not". G-d then tells Rachel: "So says the Lord: Refrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for there is reward for your work, says the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy."
The era of redemption and revelation isbdescribed as Rachel's children coming home.

Alexander Troy wrote...

Rachel represents the "revealed world of speech." How appropriate that her first born son, Joseph, interprets dreams. He explains his own dreams to his brothers, and then Pharaoh's dreams to Pharaoh, putting into words fleeting images that would otherwise have no existence beyond the mind of the dreamer. Joseph is the link between his mother (revealed speech) and his father's other wife, Leah (the concealed world of thought, which includes dreams.)
Yacher Koach, Rabbi