Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
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To dedicate this lesson

Long-suffering Leah


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Among the many personalities of the Torah, Leah is perhaps the saddest & least recognized. She is unloved by Yakov, so much so that Hashem removes her initial barrenness (all the Imahot were barren at first, to elicit their tefilot) so that Yakov would at least appreciate that Leah was bringing him children, unlike Rachel.

The names of those first children indicate Leah’s inner trauma: "Reuven: my husband will see I gave him a son." Then "Shimon: Hashem has heard my cries." Then "Levi: my husband will accompany me." (If Leah is holding Reuven in one arm & Shimon in the other, then Yakov would have to help with the third child!).

The pasuk says, "aynay Leah rakot," Leah’s eyes were "weary;" by tradition, it was because she was continually crying at the prospect of having to marry Esav, since she was the older sister & Esav the older brother.

And yet, Leah – more than anyone else – is the "mother of Israel!" She has as many of the 12 Tribes (6) as all the other mothers combined! These sons include Yehuda & Levi, the political & spiritual leaders of Israel for all eternity, who will survive even when their other brothers vanish.

Leah will be buried in Ma’arat HaMachpela, rather than Rachel, & she is a prime paradigm of Mesirat Nefesh. So while Rachel "gives up" Yakov (albeit temporarily) when she gives Leah the secret password ("ha-chen"), Leah will show her love & devotion to her sister by praying that her last daughter be a girl (Dina), so that Rachel would not have less tribes than their handmaidens.

Leah, says the Gemara, is the first person to truly give thanks, when she names her 4th son Yehuda; "ha-pa’am odeh et Hashem." Knowing prophetically that there will be 12 sons among 4 wives, Leah understands that having 4 tribes means that she is getting more than her share. This is the essence of thanks – understanding that all we receive from Hashem is abundantly more than we actually deserve to have.

Tragically, Leah is the only one of the Avot or Imahot whose date of death is not marked, not even hinted at (like that of Rivka). But Leah, as we said, had "aynayim rakot." Read that not as soft, or weary or teary eyes, but as "long-seeing" eyes or vision ("arakot," rather than rakot). She could see into the future, she sensed, or knew, that she must bear the lion’s share of Am Yisrael, & overcome the despair & depression that resulted from the many tough challenges that she had to face in her difficult life.

Leah, the maligned, may be the greatest mother of all.
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