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How Is It Possible that Jacob Mistakes Leah for Rachel?

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Zev Farber

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How Is It Possible that Jacob Mistakes Leah for Rachel?

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How Is It Possible that Jacob Mistakes Leah for Rachel?

“When morning came, there was Leah!” (Genesis 29:25). Could Jacob not tell the difference between his beloved of seven years and her sister, for a whole night? Commentators have long tried to make sense of the story by adding extra details, but perhaps we need to rethink the nature of Jacob and Rachel’s relationship during those years.

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How Is It Possible that Jacob Mistakes Leah for Rachel?

Jacob complains to Laban about giving him Leah. By Adriaen van de Venne, c. 1635, Rijksmuseum

When Jacob arrives at the city of his uncle, Laban, he meets his cousin Rachel at the well and is struck by her beauty. Jacob stays with Laban for a month and starts working for him. Eventually, Laban asks him to name his salary:

בראשית כט:טו וַיֹּאמֶר לָבָן לְיַעֲקֹב הֲכִי אָחִי אַתָּה וַעֲבַדְתַּנִי חִנָּם הַגִּידָה לִּי מַה מַּשְׂכֻּרְתֶּךָ.
Gen 29:15 Laban said to Jacob, “Just because you are a kinsman, should you serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?”

At this point, the text tells us that Laban had two daughters: Leah was the older one but Rachel was the beautiful one. Jacob who loves Rachel responds that he will work for Laban for seven years in exchange for Rachel’s hand in marriage (29:28). Laban seems to agree to this deal:

בראשית כט:יט וַיֹּאמֶר לָבָן טוֹב תִּתִּי אֹתָהּ לָךְ מִתִּתִּי אֹתָהּ לְאִישׁ אַחֵר שְׁבָה עִמָּדִי.
Gen 29:19 Laban said, “Better that I give her to you than that I should give her to an outsider. Stay with me.”

As already noted by R. David Zvi Hoffmann (ad loc.), Laban’s answer is actually non-committal.

כמו כל האנשים הערומים, כך מבטיח גם לבן הבטחה מעורפלת ובלתי ברורה, כדי לא לכבול ידיו.
Just as all devious men do, Laban makes Jacob a vague promise with no clear agreement, in order not to tie his own hands.

Nevertheless, Jacob naively takes this as an acceptance and goes to work for seven years, after which he approaches to his uncle to demand that he move forward with the marriage:

בראשית כט:כא וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אֶל לָבָן הָבָה אֶת אִשְׁתִּי כִּי מָלְאוּ יָמָי וְאָבוֹאָה אֵלֶיהָ.
Gen 29:21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my time is fulfilled, that I may lie with her.”

Jacob’s phrasing seems indelicate and business-like, but Laban takes it in stride and throws a feast:

בראשית כט:כב וַיֶּאֱסֹף לָבָן אֶת כָּל אַנְשֵׁי הַמָּקוֹם וַיַּעַשׂ מִשְׁתֶּה.
Gen 29:22 And Laban gathered all the men of the place and made a feast.

The feast is not a wedding ceremony; no mention is made of the bride being at the feast, and it seems to be an all-male event. After the feast, when night falls, Laban unceremoniously brings Jacob his bride:

בראשית כט:כג וַיְהִי בָעֶרֶב וַיִּקַּח אֶת לֵאָה בִתּוֹ וַיָּבֵא אֹתָהּ אֵלָיו וַיָּבֹא אֵלֶיהָ.
Gen 29:23 When evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to him; and he laid with her.

Jacob does not seem to notice a thing that night, and the surprise only comes the next morning:

בראשית כט:כה וַיְהִי בַבֹּקֶר וְהִנֵּה הִוא לֵאָה…
Gen 29:25 When morning came, there was Leah!

Measure for Measure

It is hard to miss the parallels between what Jacob does to Esau and Isaac in Gen 27 and what Laban does to Jacob in Gen 29. In the former case, Jacob takes advantage of the fact that his father is blind in order to trick him into believing that he, Isaac’s younger son, was really Isaac’s older son Esau. In this story, Laban takes advantage of the nighttime darkness, in which Jacob was “blind” to make him think that his older daughter, Leah was really his younger daughter, Rachel.[1]

These parallels are likely part of the author’s or editor’s design, to imply that Jacob receives his just desserts, measure for measure, for tricking his father. Even so, a narrative is generally designed with verisimilitude, meaning that the story is meant to sound believable to the audience. But how are we to envision this trick working?

Jacob Couldn’t See Leah

The text tells us that it was dark, and thus we can assume Jacob couldn’t see her properly.[2]Shadal (Samuel David Luzatto, 1800-1865) for instance, writes:

ואין ספק כי כששימש עמה בחושך היו ולא הכיר בה עד הבקר.
And there is no doubt that they had sex in the dark, and thus he did not recognize her until the morning.[3]

Genesis Rabbah (70:19) makes a special point of the darkness and expands on it:

ברמשא אתון מעלתא וטפון בוציניא, אמר להון מהו כדין, אמ’ ליה מה את צבי דאנן דבזיון דכוותכון,
In the evening, they came to bring her into the tent and they [Laban and Leah] put out the candles (in Jacob’s tent). [Jacob] said: “Why are you doing that?” [Laban] responded: “Do you think we are crass like you [by having sex by candle light]?!”

In fact, Radak (R. David Kimchi, ca. 1160-1235) suggests that the rabbinic axiom[4] not to have relations in the light is learned from this story:

ויהי בערב – הודיענו בספור הזה שאין ראוי לאדם לשמש מטתו לאור הנר כל שכן לאור היום
“And it was in the evening” – the story teaches us that it is not fit for a person to have sex by candle light, and all the more so during the light of day.[5]

Although the narrative uses darkness to explain how the trick works, this explanation seems insufficient and lacking in verisimilitude: Wouldn’t it be obvious to Jacob that the woman was not Rachel after some brief conversation?

Comparing Stories: Tricking Isaac vs. Tricking Jacob

A comparison to the story of Jacob tricking Isaac further underscores the problem. In order for Jacob to fool Isaac, the story offers several details to explain how the trick worked:

  • Rebekah cooks the meat the way Isaac likes it (Gen 27:9) as Isaac had requested Esau to do (Gen 27:4).
  • Jacob dons Esau’s garments so that he would smell of the field like his brother (Gen 27:15, 27).
  • Jacob wears goat skins on his arms and chest so that he would feel hairy like Esau (Gen 27:16, 23).

Despite these extra elements Isaac is immediately suspicious when Jacob says he is Esau:

בראשית כז:כא וַיֹּאמֶר יִצְחָק אֶל יַעֲקֹב גְּשָׁה נָּא וַאֲמֻשְׁךָ בְּנִי הַאַתָּה זֶה בְּנִי עֵשָׂו אִם לֹא.
כז:כב וַיִּגַּשׁ יַעֲקֹב אֶל יִצְחָק אָבִיו וַיְמֻשֵּׁהוּ וַיֹּאמֶר הַקֹּל קוֹל יַעֲקֹב וְהַיָּדַיִם יְדֵי עֵשָׂו.
Gen 27:21 Isaac said to Jacob, “Come closer that I may feel you, my son — whether you are really my son Esau or not.”
27:22 So Jacob drew close to his father Isaac, who felt him and said to himself. “The voice is the voice of Jacob, yet the hands are the hands of Esau.”

The narrator realizes that it would take more than just blindness to make a father confuse one son for the other, and for the sake of verisimilitude adds in supporting details as well as a reflection on the father’s confusion and ambivalence.

And yet, in the story of Laban’s trick, Jacob is presented as having no suspicion whatsoever that he is with the wrong woman. Why does the narrator assume that this trick—unlike the trick on the blind Isaac—should go so smoothly? Why does Jacob need to wait for daylight to realize his mistake? Why is he not presented as being even a little hesitant, as his father was?

Extreme Modesty: No Talking at All

Radak suggests that Jacob was extremely modest, so much so that he did not speak with his new bride during sex or at any other time that night:

ולא לספר עם אשתו בשעת תשמיש אלא בחשאי ולהיות בצניעות עם אשתו, שהרי יעקב לא הכיר בה אלא עד הבקר, לא במראה ולא בקול:
And one should not speak with his wife during sex, but it should be done hiddenly and a person should behave modestly with his wife, for Jacob did not recognize [Leah] until the morning, neither by her appearance nor by her voice.

Radak’s idea that Jacob and Leah were entirely silent for considerations of modesty seems out of keeping with Jacob’s kissing Rachel upon their first meeting (Gen 29:11) and his very blunt reference to sex when reminding Laban it had been seven years (Gen 29:21). Moreover, how far is this modesty supposed to extend? Even if they were entirely silent during intercourse, did they not talk before or after either? How much conversation would it take to realize he is not with his beloved of seven years?[6] Remember, Isaac is suspicious after Jacob utters only a couple of sentences.

Jacob Was Drunk

Another approach, first suggested by Josephus, is that Jacob was drunk,[7] ostensibly based on the fact that Jacob was coming from Laban’s feast; the Hebrew word for “feast,” משתה (mishteh), literally means “drinking party” (Ant. 1:301, Feldman trans. adjusted):

But when night came, he put the other of his daughters, who was older than Rachel and who was not beautiful in appearance, to bed with Jacob, who perceived nothing beforehand. And he, cohabiting under the influence of intoxication and darkness, then recognized her when daylight came and accused Laban of knavery.

The same position, presented more starkly, was suggested by the Tosafot (12th century) in a gloss on Gen 29:22, and recorded in a number of collections, such as the Da’at Zekeinim and the Hadar Zekeinim (the quote below is from the latter):

ויאסוף לבן את כל אנשי המקום ויעש משתה. לבן היה אב לרמאים ועל כן נקרא לבן הארמי ונתכוון לשכר יעקב ולרמותו שלא יבין בין רחל ללאה ותדע שהרי לא עשה משתה ברחל.
Laban gathered all the men of the area and had a mishteh (feast, lit. drinking party) – Laban was the father of swindlers, and this is why he is called Laban the Aramean (i.e., understood as a metathesis for ramai, “trickster”), and he intended to get Jacob drunk in order to fool him such that he would be unable to distinguish between Rachel and Leah. Note [in support of this] that he made no “drinking party” for Rachel.

The same reading was offered by R. Isaac Karo (1458-1535) in his Toledot Yitzhak:

ויאסוף לבן את כל אנשי המקום ויעש משתה, לא כאברהם שנתן להם לאכול, ולא כלוט שנאמר ויעש להם משתה ומצות אפה ויאכלו, אלא ויעש משתה שקביעותו עשה על היין כדי לשכר אותו, בעבור שלא ידע אם היא רחל או לאה:
Laban gathered all the men of the area and had a mishteh(feast, lit. drinking party) – unlike Abraham, who gave his guests food to eat (Gen 18:5-8), or Lot, regarding whom it says (Gen 19:3) “he made them a drinking party and cooked unleavened bread and they ate.” Instead, [Laban] had only amishteh, whose main item is wine, in order to get [Jacob] drunk, so that he would not know if [the daughter he brought him] was Rachel or Leah.

The image of someone being tricked—or forced—into sex because of drink is a motif in the Bible found in the story of Lot and his daughters (Gen 19:30-38). James Diamond, a professor of Jewish Studies in the University of Waterloo, supports this connection by noting that the way Rachel and Leah are described in Genesis 29 has intertextual resonance with the description of Lot’s daughters in Genesis 19:

  • Lot’s daughters (Gen 19:31)
וַתֹּאמֶר הַבְּכִירָה אֶל הַצְּעִירָה…
And the older said to the younger…
  • Laban’s response to Jacob (Gen 29:26)
…לָתֵת הַצְּעִירָה לִפְנֵי הַבְּכִירָה.
…to give the younger before the older.[8]

The story of Jacob and Leah may also be connected to the story of Noah and his youngest son (Gen 9:20-27). Although the Bible is unclear on the exact sin there,[9] many commentators believe that the story suggests that Noah was raped by his youngest son while he was drunk. Both Jacob and Noah are described as only realizing or comprehending what happened to them in the morning,[10] perhaps implying that it was not only the morning light but the morning’s sobriety that allowed each to realize his mistake.

This interpretation is certainly possible, but is absent in the text. In the stories of Noah and Lot, the text is very clear that the protagonist is drunk; no such statement is made about Jacob.

In addition, although משתה certainly includes drinking, it is a broader term referring to a feast.[11] As it is perfectly normal to have a celebratory feast in honor of a daughter’s marriage, it feels like an over-reading to suggest that this was part of Laban’s plot.

What about Leah and Rachel?

Moreover, this interpretation only explains Jacob’s failure to notice the trick, but does not explain Leah and Rachel’s involvement. Did Rachel do nothing to stop her sister from taking her husband? Did Leah not think about the consequences of forcing herself on Jacob through trickery? These problems bothered the rabbis who offered homiletical explanations for the behavior of each woman.

Midrashic Answer for Rachel: Signs and Sisterly Love

In Rabbinic tradition, Rachel actually warns Jacob about the possibility of such a ruse during their first encounter by the well. The Rabbis take note of Jacob’s first words to Rachel, when they meet:

בראשית כט:יב וַיַּגֵּד יַעֲקֹב לְרָחֵל כִּי אֲחִי אָבִיהָ הוּא וְכִי בֶן רִבְקָה הוּא…
Gen 29:12 Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s brother, that he was Rebekah’s son…

Literally speaking, this statement is both false and contradictory. Jacob is not Laban’s brother but his nephew, and he admits as much when he says he is Rebekah’s son (b. Megillah 13b, Soncino trans., adjusted):

וכי אחי אביה הוא? והלא בן אחות אביה הוא?
Now was he her father’s brother? Was he not the son of her father’s sister?

The simple answer to this problem is that Jacob is using the word “brother” in its derivative sense, “kinsman,” but the rabbis offer a homiletical interpretation:

אלא אמר לה: מינסבא לי? אמרה ליה: אין. מיהו, אבא רמאה הוא, ולא יכלת ליה. – אמר לה: אחיו אנא ברמאות.
What it means is this: He said to her, “Will you marry me?” She replied, “Yes, but my father is a trickster, and he will outwit you.” He replied, “I am his brother in trickery.”[12]

Thus, when Jacob says “I am your father’s brother,” he is referring to a character trait: he is a fellow deceiver, which the reader already knows from the story of his stealing his brother’s blessing and tricking his blind father Isaac.

The midrash continues with its parsing of the story of Laban’s trick:

אמר לה: ומאי רמיותא? – אמרה ליה: אית לי אחתא דקשישא מינאי, ולא מנסיב לי מקמה. מסר לה סימנים.
He said to her, What is his trickery? She replied: I have a sister older than I am, and he will not let me marry before her. So he gave her certain signs (or “tokens”).

At this point, Rachel and Jacob seem ready for the trick and have a way around it. Jacob gave Rachel certain signs/tokens—whether these are verbal cues or physical objects—that she should reveal to him when she enters his tent, and thus he will know it is really her. The problem was that Rachel changed her mind:

כי מטא ליליא, אמרה: השתא מיכספא אחתאי, מסרתינהו ניהלה.
When night came, she said to herself, “Now my sister will be put to shame.” So she gave the [signs or tokens] to her.

According to this, Rachel was complicit in tricking Jacob because of sisterly love. The Rabbis end the midrash with a textual hook:

והיינו דכתיב ויהי בבקר והנה היא לאה, מכלל דעד השתא לאו לאה היא? אלא: מתוך סימנין שמסרה רחל ללאה לא הוה ידע עד השתא.
So it is written, “And it came to pass in the morning that, behold, it was Leah.” Are we to infer from this that up to now she was not Leah? What it means is that on account of the tokens which Rachel gave to Leah he did not know till then.

This creative reading has become part Jewish interpretation for more than a millenium, quoted by no less an authority than Rashi as the meaning of the verse. Nevertheless, nothing in the biblical text itself implies that Jacob ever considered he was being fooled or that he ever discussed it with Rachel – certainly nothing in the text implies that they set up a system of secret communication.[13]

Midrashic Answer for Leah: Who Is Jacob to Complain?

Picking up on the measure-for-measure punishment theme described above, the Rabbis suggest that Leah used this point to justify tricking Jacob (Genesis Rabbah 70):

כל ההוא ליליא הוה צוח לה רחל והיא מעניא ליה, בצפרא והנה היא לאה, אמר מה רמייתה בת רמאי, אמרה ליה ואית ספר דלית ליה תלמידין, לא כך הוה אבוך צוח לך עשו ואת עני ליה אף את קרית לי ואנא עניתי לך.
All that night, Jacob would cry out to her “Rachel!” and she answered him. In the morning, he saw it was Leah. He said to her: “What is the trickery you pulled on me?!” She said to him: “Is there ever a teacher with no students? Did not your father call out ‘Esau’ and you answered him! So too, you called out to me [the wrong name] and I answered you.”

In short, Jacob has no choice but to accept what happened to him based on the “what goes around comes around” principle.

The ethical and literary insight of this midrash is profound, but as a simple reading of the text it is hard to accept. We never hear any talk from Rachel or Leah about Esau and Jacob’s past; it is reading a lot into the text to assume that this is her intent, even if the narrator would like readers to think of this connection themselves.[14]

Thus, we are still left will all the original questions: why do Leah and Rachel participate in this ruse and how does Jacob not catch on much more quickly than he does?

Love at First Sight – But Not Much Conversation

We often read the story of Jacob’s love for Rachel through the lens of modern romance. We imagine Jacob and Rachel forming a close bond, and spending their seven years of “engagement” speaking to each other about their future together, their interests, etc. This is because, from a modern vantage point, love and friendship are intertwined, and marriage is a bond contracted between equals based on mutual consent and attraction.

But the Torah envisions a very different reality. Jacob is told by his parents that he must marry one of Laban’s daughters, but he can choose which one. Immediately after Laban asks Jacob what his wages should be, and right before Jacob answers that he will work seven years for Rachel, the text explains how Jacob made his choice:

בראשית כט:טז וּלְלָבָן שְׁתֵּי בָנוֹת שֵׁם הַגְּדֹלָה לֵאָה וְשֵׁם הַקְּטַנָּה רָחֵל.
כט:יזוְעֵינֵי לֵאָה רַכּוֹת וְרָחֵל הָיְתָה יְפַת תֹּאַר וִיפַת מַרְאֶה.
כט:יח
וַיֶּאֱהַב יַעֲקֹב אֶת רָחֵל…
Gen 29:16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older one was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.
29:17 Leah had weak eyes; Rachel was shapely and beautiful.
29:18 Jacob loved Rachel…

The word love (א-ה-ב) here has a large semantic field, extending from romantic love, to infatuation, to lust. In this case, it is probably best to translate “Jacob was smitten by Rachel” or “Jacob was attracted to Rachel.” The point being, that Jacob’s love or infatuation for Rachel is because of her beauty, and this is why he chose to marry her and not Leah.

Radak already notes that the Torah presents Jacob as having chosen Rachel for her beauty:

…יעקב אבינו בחר ברחל לפי שהית׳ יפה מאד ועבד בה שבע שנים והתרעם בלבן אחר שנתן לו לאה תמורתה לפי שלא היתה יפה כמו רחל…
…Our father Jacob chose Rachel because she was very beautiful. He worked for her for seven years and exploded in rage at Laban when he found that the latter had given him Leah in her place, since she was not beautiful like Rachel was…[15]

This contrasts with the story of how Abraham’s servant chose Rebekah by creating a test that would demonstrate the girl’s kindness (Gen 24:13-14). Rebekah is also said to be beautiful (Gen 24:16), but that was a bonus.[16]

Dealing Only with Laban

Jacob’s further actions demonstrate that whereas he thought of Laban as a person with whom he needed to negotiate, he thought of Rachel only as the commodity he was acquiring. Jacob purchases the rights to marry the beautiful Rachel from her father with seven years’ work. No mention is made of Jacob speaking to Rachel about it or Rachel being asked.[17]

Jacob does the work, happy to have found such a beautiful future wife, and after the seven years are up,[18] Jacob comes to Laban ready to take Rachel to his tent:

בראשית כט:כא וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אֶל לָבָן הָבָה אֶת אִשְׁתִּי כִּי מָלְאוּ יָמָי וְאָבוֹאָה אֵלֶיהָ.
Gen 29:21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my time is fulfilled, that I may lie with her.”

He doesn’t speak to Rachel about it, or come to tell her that it is time to marry; in fact, as noted earlier, when Laban throws a feast in honor of the upcoming marriage, the bride isn’t even there; it is a celebration between the two parties of the deal, Jacob and Laban.

As Jacob views his marriage as a business transaction between him and Laban, when he sees Leah in his tent instead of Rachel the next morning, he does not—as the midrash imagines—confront Leah with the trick, or Rachel for that matter, but goes straight to Laban.

בראשית כט:כה וַיְהִי בַבֹּקֶר וְהִנֵּה הִוא לֵאָה וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל לָבָן מַה זֹּאת עָשִׂיתָ לִּי הֲלֹא בְרָחֵל עָבַדְתִּי עִמָּךְ וְלָמָּה רִמִּיתָנִי.
Gen 29:25 When morning came, there was Leah! So he said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I was in your service for Rachel! Why did you deceive me?”

In Jacob and Laban’s business arrangement, Rachel and Leah are chattel; it was never up to them.[19] That Rachel and Leah see it this way as well is clear from a later anecdote, in which Jacob complains to them that he is afraid of their father and wishes to leave Aram. Both sisters respond:

בראשית לא:יד וַתַּעַן רָחֵל וְלֵאָה וַתֹּאמַרְנָה לוֹ הַעוֹד לָנוּ חֵלֶק וְנַחֲלָה בְּבֵית אָבִינוּ.
לא:טו הֲלוֹא נָכְרִיּוֹת נֶחְשַׁבְנוּ לוֹ כִּי מְכָרָנוּ וַיֹּאכַל גַּם אָכוֹל אֶת כַּסְפֵּנוּ….
Gen 31:14 Then Rachel and Leah answered him, saying, “Have we still a share in the inheritance of our father’s house?
31:15 Surely, he regards us as outsiders, for he has sold us and has used up our purchase price….”

Jacob Did not Get to Know Rachel before Marriage

It thus seems that the likely explanation for how the narrator imagines Jacob confusing Leah for Rachel so easily, even in the dark, is that, unlike Isaac’s familiarity with his two sons, Jacob didn’t really know Rachel or Leah all that well. He was smitten with Rachel’s beauty and wanted to marry her, but this does not mean that the two of them took long walks and chatted or anything akin to the behavior of a modern couple during courtship.[20]

It is likely, therefore, that the biblical author does not imagine Jacob having spoken to Rachel often or extensively during the seven years, and thus was not very familiar with her voice or her manner of speaking. This was already suggested by the 12th century peshat commentator, R. Joseph Bechor Shor:

שמא לא הרבה לדבר עם רחל מתחילה קודם שנשאה עד שיכיר קולה.
Perhaps he did not speak to Rachel much before he married her such that he would have recognized her voice.

According to this approach, once Jacob spoke with Laban and arranged the marriage, there would be no need for him to speak with Rachel until the wedding.[21]

Laban’s Plan

Bechor Shor’s suggestion that Jacob did not speak much with Rachel before they married may also be the key to understanding Leah and Rachel’s behavior. Why do Rachel and Leah go along with the bride-switch? Perhaps they know nothing about it!

I suggest the following reading: After Jacob makes the deal with Laban and goes off to watch Laban’s sheep for seven years, Laban either tells his older daughter Leah that she is to marry Jacob, or says nothing at all. Either way, when Leah is brought to Jacob that night, she believes that he wanted to marry her.

Rachel likely believed the same thing, and would not have been hurt by Jacob asking for Leah’s hand instead of hers, as she was the younger daughter. Laban, of course, could not marry off Rachel without endangering his plan to bilk Jacob for seven—and hopefully fourteen—years of work. So Rachel remains single for these (first) seven years until Laban has pulled his trick, making it too late for Jacob to back out of the arrangement.

Leah Is Not Complicit but Crushed

That night, Jacob lies with his new wife, but they do not speak much; they barely know each other anyway. The next morning, he sees that she isn’t the beautiful Rachel he remembers, but her less attractive older sister Leah, and he is angry. We do not hear how Leah feels upon seeing her new husband’s dismay and learning that he does not really want her, but her younger sister. Nevertheless, from Leah’s comments later in the narrative, we can imagine her reaction.

Leah is the despised (שְׂנוּאָה) wife (Gen 29:31). She knows this and names four out of her six sons based on the hope that her providing Jacob with sons will make him love her.[22] Leah is deeply pained by Jacob’s rejection of her and his preference for her sister. This makes more sense when we realize that Leah believed that Jacob had wanted to marry her originally. This also explains Leah’s outburst to Rachel, when she asks Leah for the mandrakes that her son picked for her:

בראשית ל:טו וַתֹּאמֶר לָהּ הַמְעַט קַחְתֵּךְ אֶת אִישִׁי וְלָקַחַת גַּם אֶת דּוּדָאֵי בְּנִי…
Gen 30:15 [Leah] said to her, “Was it not enough for you to take away my husband, that you would also take my son’s mandrakes?”

If Leah knew all along that she was tricking Jacob into marrying her, would not the husband-theft have been the other way around? After all, Jacob wanted to marry Rachel and that was the deal he struck with their father.

Once we understand that Leah and Rachel were also fooled, however, we realize that from Leah’s vantage point, Jacob was supposed to be her husband. When Laban brought her to Jacob’s tent, in her mind, it was her wedding night and Jacob had just worked seven years just to marry her. As Leah experiences it, only in the morning, when Jacob takes a good look at her, does he decide that he has married the wrong sister and goes to Laban to correct this.

Thus, when Leah accuses Rachel of stealing her husband, she means it. And she continues to hope that he will change his mind and love her too. According to this reading of the story, Leah was just as shocked as Jacob that fateful morning.

Published

November 21, 2017

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Last Updated

November 17, 2019

Footnotes

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Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber is a fellow at Project TABS and editor of TheTorah.com. He holds a Ph.D. from Emory University in Jewish Religious Cultures (Hebrew Bible focus) and an M.A. from Hebrew University in Jewish History (biblical period focus). In addition to academic training, Zev holds ordination (yoreh yoreh) and advanced ordination (yadin yadin) from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) Rabbinical School. He is the author of Images of Joshua in the Bible and their Reception (De Gruyter, BZAW 457) and the editor of Halakhic Realities: Collected Essays on Brain Death (Maggid).