“When Rachel saw she had borne Jacob no children, she became envious of her sister;
and Rachel said to Jacob,”Give me children or I shall die.” (Genesis 30:1)
Parashat Vayeitzei is a real soap opera! Jacob runs for his life and spends twenty years working for Lavan, his uncle (seven years for Leah, seven years for Rachel, and six years for financial stability). In the closing scenes of the parasha (portion) he outwits Lavan, who attempts to cheat Jacob out of his earnings one last time.
Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso (the first woman ordained as a rabbi in the Reconstructionist Movement in 1974) points out the sibling rivalry between Jacob and Esau is echoed in the rivalry between Rachel and Leah. Jacob and Esau struggle for their father’s love and the rights of the first-born. Rachel and Leach struggle for their husband’s love and for the status of the fertile wife. But the two narratives offer different lessons.
Jacob separates from his brother and learns who he really is in the twenty years they are apart. Distance is a prerequisite to reconciliation (spoiler alert!). Rachel, on the other hand, must live her life alongside her sister, and gets to know herself through her sister’s eyes. Engagement is the necessary ingredient to reconciliation. The brother’s reconciliation is short-lived; they hug, cry, and part ways forever. Their children become eternal enemies. The sister’s reconciliation is ongoing and ultimately it is Rachel who prays for Leah’s children to return from exile (Eicha Raba 7:49).
Jacob’s story highlights solitude, detachment, and individual moments; Rachel’s story highlights relationship, daily responsibility, and ongoing struggle. Next week, Jacob wrestles an angel in a life-altering spiritual encounter; Rachel’s spirituality emerges from her ongoing wrestling with herself.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom