Drash on Parashat Vayetze
Rabbi Gersh Lazarow
The King David School
"We plan and God laughs"
Poor Leah! The fourth matriarch really does get a bad rap in our sacred text. Firstly, she is the older sister foisted on Jacob who thought he was marrying his true love Rachel. And then, if that was not hard enough, while the Torah goes to great lengths to let us know that Rachel is beautiful, all we know about Leah is that "she had weak eyes".
But what does that mean? Rashi explains that Leah's eyes were weak because she thought she was destined to marry Esau and therefore she was constantly crying. Everybody said, "Rebekah has two sons and Laban has two daughters. The older will marry the older and the younger the younger." (Rashi on Genesis 29:17)
This is probably not the real reason for Leah's weak eyes, but it does raise an interesting point. We know that Esau married Canaanite girls. We know that his mother and father would have preferred him to marry within the greater Abrahamic family. Leah would have been the logical choice for him. It seems natural that the firstborn would have married the firstborn and the second-born the second-born.
Jacob fell in love with the second-born Rachel. But legally, he had already taken Esau's position as firstborn over the family when he purchased the birthright. Leah was the one God had chosen to be the wife of the progenitor of Abrahamic blessing. When Jacob took that position from Esau, he unwittingly acquired Leah as well. Jacob worked seven years to pay the bride price for Rachel. On their wedding night, Laban surreptitiously switched his daughters. He disguised Leah as Rachel, just as Jacob had disguised himself as Esau to trick Isaac. The ruse worked. Jacob accidentally married Leah.
While it was certainly not Jacob’s plan to marry Leah, I believe the story is a wonderful example of how God works in our lives. We make plans, dream dreams and set out to accomplish certain things. Then our plans are frustrated, our dreams come to naught and we find ourselves far away from our original goals. But this does not mean that God has abandoned us. Our plans for your life may not necessarily be God’s plans. God may be attempting to work something great through our situation that we never expected.
Let me explain - while it is true that Rachel was Jacob’s favourite and bore his treasured sons, Joseph and Benjamin, through Leah, Jacob sired Judah and Levi, who in turn fathered the line of the Davidic monarchy, the Aaronic priesthood and people that would become known as Judeans or, as we say today, Jews.
So Leah, rather than being an odd footnote to the story of the patriarchs, may have the most important role of all. In a crucial way Leah, more than anyone else, deserves to be remembered as the mother of the Jewish people. We plan and God laughs - we can never tell how these things will turn out.