«The two sisters build the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and bear a positive influence on each other. by Dina Coopersmith When we last left off, Rachel was ...»
The two sisters build the Twelve Tribes of Israel,
and bear a positive influence on each other.
by Dina Coopersmith
When we last left off, Rachel was learning a tough lesson in the realities of life as
Why were the matriarchs barren? Because God desires the prayers and
conversations of the righteous. He said: “They are beautiful, they are rich;
if I give them children, when will I ever hear from them?" (Midrash
Tanchuma - Toldot 9) It's not easy being a matriarch! Of the four, Leah seems to be the only one who "got away" with no fertility problems. But she was also the one best known for regularly involving God in her daily needs and difficulties. She knew best the power of prayer to change destiny. When it comes to "conversations and prayers" with the Almighty, Leah is the expert. This is what she has to teach Rachel, her sister, and us, her descendants, as well.
1 Bilhah's Children In any case, Rachel is beginning to learn that in order to receive anything in life,
God expects us to ask for it, and to persevere in our efforts to achieve it (as in:
"God helps those who help themselves).
Rachel allows Yaakov to marry her handmaid, and when Bilhah conceives and bears two children, Rachel considers them a direct answer to her prayers and efforts. Although in this gift there is a bittersweet sense that she has been
judged (not quite loved) by God:
And she said: “God has judged me, and listened to my voice, and has given me a child.” And she called him Dan (judged). (Genesis 30:5) Dan represents Rachel's struggle to be introspective, to change and grow from a purely "compassion" perspective to one where "judgment" plays a role as well.
And the next child she calls Naftali (tied ropes):
"Entanglements of God I am entangled with my sister, and I prevailed.” And she called his name Naftali." (Genesis 30:8) In other words, says Rachel, “God has arranged for these complicated relationships so that I can learn and grow from them, and from my sister in particular.” Here Rachel learns from Leah to involve God in her life through the medium of prayer, and to toil to achieve results.
Rachel’s Affect on Leah As soon as things are looking up for Leah, and she has everything she could have hoped for, God sends her another need -- to keep her requesting, praying and
And Leah saw that she stopped bearing children. So she also gave her maidservant, Zilpah, to Yaakov… (Genesis 30:9) 2 After Rachel's act of sacrifice, allowing Yaakov to marry her handmaid, Leah realized that a woman doesn't have to bear children biologically in order to raise them. And seeing that she was experiencing secondary infertility (even this matriarch didn't avoid infertility altogether), she set about investing more effort to build the community of Israel. And sure enough, Zilpah has two sons, Gad and
Asher, good names for the good tidings they represent:
Leah said, “Blessing (Gad) has arrived,” and she named him Gad… And Leah said, 'In my happiness (osher)”… she named him Asher. (Genesis 30:11,13) The Duda'im Episode Reuven went and found duda'im (mandrake flowers) in the field, and brought them to his mother, Leah. And Rachel said to Leah, “Give me your son's duda'im.” [Leah] said to her, “Isn't it enough that you took my husband; now you want my son's duda'im, too?!” Rachel answered, “[Yaakov] will lie with you tonight in return for your son's duda'im."
(Genesis 30:14-16) Duda'im seem to be a sort of plant which either had fertility properties or perhaps were known as an aphrodisiac. Either way it represented another attempt for Rachel to become pregnant. Leah's response -- “Isn't it enough that you took my husband” -- seems irrational and selfish: Wasn't it the other way around? Wasn't Leah the one who originally took away Rachel's husband? And Rachel's counteraction is odd as well: agreeing to forgo physical intimacy with her husband (which after all is a key ingredient for conception) in order to get these herbs? On what basis did Rachel decide to "sell" Yaakov in return for a plant?
Appreciation Comes From Effort
Leah, having worked so hard to earn Yaakov's love, investing all of her attention, care and spiritual energy in the direction of this relationship, feels that she has a right to own the marriage as well. When she says to Rachel, "Isn't it enough you took my husband, you want my son's duda'im as well?" she is still speaking from her personal pain over the fact that Rachel is the "main" wife, the more beloved, 3 the one who, after all, was Yaakov's chosen "first love." If you already have his love over me, thinks Leah, at least let me have the advantage of bearing him children.
Rachel's response of "Let him lie with you tonight, in return for the duda'im," points to her taking Yaakov's love for granted. In her attempt to put more "effort" into the project of conceiving, she neglected to cherish and invest in the loving relationship she shared with her husband and with the Almighty. Maybe as a result, Rachel still had to wait a few more years, all the while witnessing Leah's appreciation of Yaakov -- and the children born as a result.
Yaakov came from the field in the evening, and Leah went out to greet him and said, “You will come to me tonight because I have paid for you (hired you!) with my son's duda'im…" God listened to Leah and she conceived and had a fifth son… called Yissachar, for she said, “This was my sachar.” (sachar means "reward" and "to hire") (Genesis 30:16-18) Leah assertively greets Yaakov and then commemorates the event in the baby's name. This seems to contradict the natural modesty inherent in Jewish women.
But the Sages thought differently:
Whoever invites her husband for the sake of a mitzvah (marital intimacy) merits children who are more righteous than even those in the generation of Moses. (Talmud - Eruvin 100b) Leah places great value on developing love and closeness with her husband, Yaakov. She tries to pursue that intimacy with whatever means at her disposal -with pride and assertion, and with no shame.
Rachel, though she now feels there is a lacking in her partnership with Yaakov, it is as a result of her inability to bear his children and share directly and personally in the mission of creating the nation of Israel. What she takes for granted is his love and regard for her as the mainstay of his home.
But Leah hasn't forgotten Rachel's virtues that enabled her to receive everything she asked for. She has learned from her as well.
Dina and the Change in Destiny (Again!) And then she bore a daughter and called her Dina (judgment). (Genesis 30:21)
Leah judged for herself: If this is a male, then Rachel, my sister, won't even be equal to the handmaids. So she prayed regarding [the fetus], and it switched into a female.
Here, although Leah still operates from a perspective of "justice," not compassion, it is out of a sense of other-centerdness and empathy (which she learned from her sister) that she realizes that she must not have a seventh son.
Leah knew prophetically that Yaakov was destined to have only 12 male tribes, and since each of the handmaids had two and Leah already had six, that left two to be born from Rachel. Leah understood that it wouldn't be right for Rachel to have fewer tribes than the handmaids.
Leah, once again, uses prayer to change reality. As with her predestined fate to marry Esav -- which was uprooted by her prayers and tears -- here an already formed baby boy was changed into a female. This was achieved through Leah's determination to return to Rachel a bit of the kindness she had extended her, so many years before.
Children for Rachel -- Finally
Many factors combine to bring about this long-awaited event:
Since she put in effort by bringing another woman into her home, and with the duda'im, God heard her prayer after these two kinds of effort." (Sforno
- Genesis 30:22) Once Rachel invested some hard work in an attempt to conceive, as well as continued requests of God, she is remembered.
The Midrash adds another contributing factor:
Since the righteous Leah stood in judgment before God, God said, "As you have compassion on her, so will I.” Immediately -- "God remembered Rachel." (Tanchuma - Vayetzei 8) Once the circle of kindness is brought to a close between the two sisters, and Leah has learned to use her strengths of prayer and justice to help another person, Rachel can now be repaid for that wonderful kindness which she showed Leah by sharing the "signs" on her wedding day. God responds with kindness; He showers blessings when we behave with kindness and compassion toward each other. It seems like God was waiting for Leah and Rachel to each learn from each other’s strength before completing the family which would become the "house of Israel."
Leaving the House of Lavan
As Yosef grows up, Yaakov realizes that he is strong enough to go home and face his brother, Esav, again, with his wives and children. After 20 years of working for Lavan, who has tried to swindle Yaakov on every occasion, he senses that Lavan now begrudges his possessions and wealth (for which he worked so hard) and it's time to get out. He asks his wives to share their opinion.
Rachel and Leah answered: “Do we yet have a portion and inheritance in the house of our father? We are considered strangers to him, since he sold
The matriarchs are following in the footsteps of Sarah and Rebecca, encouraging Yaakov to take his family and leave all the evil forces behind, weeding out any bad external influences, in order to better build the foundation of Israel.
The Idols and Rachel's Death And Rachel stole the idols of her father. (Genesis 31:19) Yaakov and his wives stealthily leave the house of Lavan with all their possessions. Rachel takes Lavan’s idols and hides them under her seat on the camel. Perhaps she didn't want Lavan to use these to harm Yaakov and his family, as they seemed to have some future-telling or witchcraft abilities (maybe voodoo dolls of some sort). In any case, Lavan returns, discovers that Yaakov and family have all left, and that his idols are missing. He catches up with them
and in a rage demands the idols back:
“Why did you steal my gods?"… Yaakov answered: “With whomever you find your gods, he shall not live…” because Yaakov did not know that Rachel had stolen them. (Genesis 31:30, 32) When a righteous person claims someone will not live, that is a powerful statement which has repercussions, even if unintentional. (It seems that this unfortunate curse led, unknowingly, to Rachel's untimely death, not long thereafter).
They traveled from Beit El and there was some distance to Efrat, when Rachel gave birth and was struggling in her labor. As she was having difficulty, the midwife said, “Do not fear, this too is a son.” As she was dying, she called him “the son of my suffering” (ben Oni), and his father called him Binyamin ("the son of my right hand”).
Rachel died and was buried on the way to Efrat, which is Beit Lechem. And Yaakov placed a tombstone on her grave. This is the mark of the grave of Rachel until this day. (Genesis 35:16-20)
Why did the presence of God dwell in the portion of Binyamin (the Temple was built in his part of the land)? Because all the tribes were born outside of Israel, and he was born in Israel. (Midrash - Yalkut Shimoni 1:957) This sad ending to the life of Rachel, even as it reached completion with the birth of her second son, the 12th tribe, is sensed even at that very first meeting between Yaakov and Rachel at the well. A premonition of sorts causes him to cry
as he kisses her:
Yaakov kissed Rachel and wept aloud. (Genesis 29:11) Since he saw that she wouldn't be buried with him. (Midrash - Breishit Rabba 70:12) Rachel, the Unifying Force Only many years later, before Yaakov's own death in Egypt, we receive an inkling as to why Yaakov buried Rachel "along the way," and didn't bring her to burial at the Cave of Machpela in Hebron where the other matriarchs and patriarchs were buried. Rachel remained Yaakov's first love and mainstay of his family, and yet,
as he apologizes later to her son, Yosef, he was commanded to bury her there:
"And when I came from Padan Aram, Rachel died on me… when I was a short distance from Beit Lechem." (Genesis 48:7)
"I know you were upset at me for not taking her to the Cave of Machpela, but know that God told me to bury her on the way, since He knew that in the future the Temple would be destroyed. The Jewish people will be going into exile and will pass by Rachel’s grave, and she will stand before Him and beg for mercy that they be returned." (P’sikta Rabati 83) 8 Rachel remains, to the end, the quintessential mother of the Jewish people. Even though Leah had more children, lived longer, and was buried eternally beside Yaakov, Rachel alone is the one who has the power to awaken God's mercy for His children and "twists His arm" (like any good mom) into promising to
eventually gather them back from exile and return them to their rightful borders: