Vayetzei 5782 – Leah: The Unloved Wife and the Underrated Matriarch

By: Larry Tobin

Parshat Vayetze is dedicated to the early years of Jacob. It encompasses his decision to leave home and pursue a life away from his family and the trials and tribulations of so doing. We read about his dream of a ladder connecting Heaven and earth. We meet the deceptive Laban and follow Jacob’s twenty years of working for him. We enjoy the great love affair between Jacob and Rachel and his struggles to obtain her  hand in marriage. We monitor the birth of Jacob’s twelve sons and one daughter through four different women. And we get a brief glimpse into our matriarch Leah. Today Leah will get her just due as this D’var is dedicated to her.

Sarah, ah Sarah. Such beauty and grace. The first Jewish woman. Rebecca at the well. Such kindness. Rachel. Such a powerful woman. The mother of Joseph. And then there is Leah. Leah, the least known of our four matriarchs, was the first wife of Jacob. The name Leah means delicate and weary which fits her well. The marriage between Jacob and Leah took place only as a result of the deception of Laban. It is not something that Jacob desired. By now, I suspect, that you are quite familiar with Laban’s deception as he switched brides and forced Jacob to work an additional seven years to achieve his goal of marrying Rachel. If not, I encourage you to review this saga in today’s parsha.

Leah, often referred to as the unloved wife, bore Jacob six sons and his daughter, Dinah. All of this occurred while her sister, Rachel, remained barren. While Rachel despised Leah for her ability to conceive, Leah prayed for Rachel to become pregnant. While Jacob looked upon Leah only as a baby-making machine, Leah steadfastly remained loyal to him and accepted her role without complaint.

Rachel ultimately gave birth to Joseph and later to Benjamin. You are undoubtedly aware of the significant contributions of Joseph to the history of the Jewish people. But did you know that the first King of Israel, Saul, was also a descendant of Rachel? Far be it from me to downplay the significance of our beloved mother Rachel. In comparison to the descendants of Leah, however, one might conclude that our underrated matriarch Leah played an even greater role in our history. Leah, you see, was the mother of Levi. From Levi came Moses and Joshua. They were our most influential historical figures in the formation of the Jewish nation and the settling of Israel. Additionally, although the first King of Israel came from Rachel, it was the second King of Israel who would surpass Saul in all respects. King David was a descendant of Leah.  Hence, through Leah the Mashiach will eventually arise.

One last point. If you are a Cohen or Levi, you descended from Levy. If you are a Yisroel, the odds are overwhelming that you descended from Judah. And who was the mother of Levy and Judah?  None other than Leah. Yes, we are the descendants of this greatly overlooked matriarch.

So good people, when you read and think about the wonderful accomplishments of Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel please don’t overlook the most underrated and underappreciated of our matriarchs. Our delicate mother Leah deserves her special place in Jewish history.

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