"He loved Rachel more than Leah" Genesis 29.30


No question: our biblical patriarchs and matriarchs had very dysfunctional family lives, despite their importance as our physical and spiritual ancestors.

Jacob's family is a case in point. His wives, who are also sisters, are in constant competition for his affections. They engage in a contest to give birth to sons for him, even enlisting their handmaidens, Bilhah and Zilpah, on to their teams. Yet, the Torah makes it clear that Jacob prefers Rachel over Leah - "he loved Rachel more than Leah" - despite Leah's overwhelming victory in producing male children.

Normally, our tradition follows Jacob in preferring Rachel, placing her before her sister when we list the matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah), but the great kabbalist Hayyim Vital (1542-1620) seems to reverse the order of these two.

For Vital, Rachel represents the revealed world, the world that we see around us every day, a world filled with other people and things, good, bad, indifferent. On the other hand, Leah represents the hidden world, the world of thought, of spirituality, inhabited by spiritual beings.

Accepting this symbolism, it is clear that Jacob, who is not yet Israel, and thus, not yet reached his spiritual potential, loves the material world more than the spiritual world. But this will change. Jacob matures. Jacob the trickster, the shrewd manipulator, does become Israel, the patriarch. Spiritual values will predominate in his life. Perhaps he comes to appreciate Leah more.

Each of us is Jacob. Wedded to the material world, we love the objects with which we surround ourselves, and can't bear to be parted from them. But deep within ourselves, we understand that one day we will have to leave all this behind. When we fully recognise this truth, and it informs our behaviour and attitudes, that is when we become Israel.

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