The Mysterious Ways of Women
By Rabbi Aron Tendler
Yakov was supposed to marry Rachel and Eisav was supposed to marry Leah. In
the end, Yakov married both Rachel and Leah. The Verse states (29:17), "And
Leah's eyes were weak..." Rashi explains that Leah's eyes were weakened
from excessively crying over what "everyone" had been saying. "Rivkah gave
birth to two sons and Lavan has two daughters. The older one will marry the
older one and the younger one will marry the younger one."
After Yakov married Leah and then Rachel, Leah gave birth to six sons and
her daughter Dina. The two "maidservants" gave birth to two sons each.
Finally, G-d remembered Rachel and she gave birth to Yoseph.
Rashi comments on G-d "remembering" Rachel. "He remembered that Rachel had
given the "signs" to her sister and that Rachel worried that because she
hadn't born any children Yakov would divorce her and she would end up
marrying Eisav. In fact, Eisav also thought that because Rachel had not
born any children to Yakov he would end up marrying her."
According to these two Rashi's, both Leah and Rachel were concerned that
they might end up married to the evil Eisav. Why were they so worried?
According to the Seder Hadoros, Rachel and Leah were older when they
married Yakov. Why did they both think that they would possibly have to
marry Eisav? Granted that in those times the "father" wielded a greater
degree of power in matters of marriage; however, Leah and Rachel were very
strong people. They were not pushovers or inconsequential in their dealings
with their father Lavan. I believe that they were independent enough that
we should ask why Rachel and Leah went along with Lavan's original plan to
switch them to begin with? Why didn't they refuse to join in the
conspiracy? Why did they both agree to help their father "fool' Yakov?
In general the question extends to all the women of Nachor's family. Nachor
was the Rasha (evil) brother of Avraham who married his niece - Milkah -
the daughter of Haran and the sister of Sarah. Was Milkah also evil that
she would marry someone like Nachor? Why didn't she refuse to marry her
The archetype of the women in Nachor's family was Rivkah. Given the choice
of leaving her home at the tender age of three or fourteen, or staying
behind in Aram Naharayim Rivkah chose to go marry Yitzchak! No wishy-washy
vacillations for Rivkah! She knew what was right and she knew what was good
for her, and she went for it!
I believe that Rivkah's Midos (characteristics) were ingrained in the women
of Nachor's family. Certainly her strength was inherent in the women whom
G-d had designated to complement Avraham's family. Therefore, I want to
believe that Milkah, Rachel, and Leah also had the strength of character
and the courage to stand up for themselves and not marry anyone whom they
thought was inappropriate for them. Therefore, I believe that Milkah
deliberately married Nachor and that Leah and Eisav would have also
deliberately married Eisav!
At the end of Parshas Vayera, following the Akeidah (binding of Isaac), the
verses (22:20-24) state, "Avraham was informed, 'Milkah has born 8 sons
(named in the verses) to Nachor your brother. The youngest of them was
Besuel who gave birth to Rivkah." The Torah then repeats, "Milkah had born
the 8 for Nachor Avraham's brother."
These verses present a number of problems. 1) Why the repeated association
of the children with Milkah. 2) Why the repeated emphasis that Milkah bore
them for Nachor. 3) Why the repeated Yichus (lineage) of Nachor as the
brother of Avraham? 4) Why does the Verse mention only Rivkah and not her
Rashi answers the last question. "All of the stated Yichus - lineage was
written only for the sake of this verse (the birth of Rivkah)."
I believe that this Rashi is the key to explaining the personal destinies
of the women in Nachor's family and their relationship to the family of
It is clear that the elements that make up the Jewish people emanate from
Terach the father of Avraham, Haran, and Nachor. Haran had three children,
Sarah, Lot, and Milkah. Avraham married Sarah, Nachor married Milkah, and
Lot eventually fathered Moav. Nachor and Milkah are the grandparents of
Rivkah and the great-grandparents of Rachel, Leah, Bilha, and Zilpah.
Rivkah married Yitzchak; Rachel, Leah, Bilha, and Zilpah married Yakov.
Missing from the Yichus lineup is Rivkah's mother as well as the mothers or
mother of Rachel, Leah, Bilha, and Zilpah.
It is a steadfast rule in Chumash (Torah) that the only names ever
mentioned are those pertinent for understanding the mission of the Jewish
people. Therefore, we can assume that Milkah, Rivkah, Rachel, Leah, Bilha,
and Zilpah were essential to understand the Jew's mission.
Milkah had to marry Nachor even though he was evil and she was righteous.
Milkah knew that in her resided the genes of true greatness. She knew that
from the family of her grandfather Terach would emanate all the components
of the Jewish people and the eventual redemption of the world. Therefore,
Milkah knew that she had to contribute whatever was contained in her to the
eventual creation of the Chosen People. She was even willing to live her
life with the evil likes of Nachor and give birth to the likes of Bisuel,
in order to also have a grand-daughter like Rivkah.
Rivkah's mother is not mentioned in the lineup because she was not a
descendent of Terach. As such, her part was helping to convey the "genes"
of Terach to the next generational stage. More so, Rivkah was very young
when she left her home to marry Yitzchak. How much influence did her mother
have on her?
Milkah occupies central stage as the mother of her sons and the grandmother
of Rivkah because Nachor was at best a reluctant contributor to the
creation of the Jewish people. Had it been up to him he would have done
exactly as Bisuel, Lavan, and Bilam (the son of Lavan) all attempted to do
- destroy the Jewish people.
Nachor is referred to as the brother of Avraham for the very same reason.
It was Avraham and his family who would willingly sacrifice and participate
in the creation of the Jewish nation. As such, Nachor only deserved to be
in the lineup because of Milkah and because of Avraham.
Lavan is not mentioned because he was not directly responsible for Rivkah.
If anything, he attempted to stop Rivkah. Therefore, his part is first
mentioned in relation to his own daughters, Rachel, Leah, Bilha, and
Zilpah. Their mothers (or mother) are not mentioned in the Torah for the
same reason that Rivkah's mother wasn't mentioned - they too were secondary
to the continued development of the Jewish nation.
This brings us back to this week's Parsha and the question of why Leah and
Rachel were so concerned about marrying Eisav. Why wouldn't they have
simply refused to do so rather than spend their lives with the evil likes
I believe that the same strength exhibited by Milkah in marrying Nachor,
and the extraordinary strength exhibited by Rivkah in leaving her home at
such a young age, was the same strength and determination alive in the
souls of Leah and Rachel. They had been raised believing that they were
destined to marry Yakov and Eisav. They knew in their hearts that like
Milkah and Rivkah, they too had essential components to contribute to the
formation of the Jewish people. Leah was supposed to be a complement to
Eisav and Rachel was intended for Yakov; however, Eisav messed it all up by
being evil and therefore Leah's eyes were weak from crying.
Leah knew that she would marry Eisav if she had to. Not because her father
would force her to, but because her destiny was to connect to the family of
Avraham. If she could not do so with a righteous Eisav she would have to do
so, like her great grandmother Milkah, with the evil Eisav. Neither Leah or
Rachel knew that years before they were born Yakov had manipulated all
their destinies by buying out Eisav's options in the future of the Jewish
people for a bowl of beans. They had no way of knowing that Yakov's
purchase meant that the two of them would end up marrying Yakov!
The evil Lavan, hoping to throw the proverbial monkey wrench into genetic
works of the Jewish nation, switched Leah for Rachel. Rachel, concerned for
her sister's embarrassment, provided Leah with the secret "signs" she and
Yakov had designed to avoid that very duplicity. Leah married Yakov and a
week later Rachel married Yakov.
As time passed and Leah gave birth to son after son, and Bilha and Zilpah
gave birth to their sons. Rachel began to despair. Her purpose and destiny
was to contribute to the genetic makeup of the Jewish people; however, it
was clear that she was barren. Therefore, she approached Yakov and
demanded, (30:2) "Give me sons for if not I am as good as dead!" Yakov's
response made it very clear that Rachel's contribution would be dependent
upon her relationship with G-d, not her relationship with Yakov; therefore,
she started by doing what her great-grandmother Sarah had done - she
offered her maidservant / sister Bilha to Yakov - "I too may be built up
through her." However, Rachel's hope was that like Sarah she too would
merit to have children after allowing her maidservant to marry her husband.
As time passed and that didn't happen Rachel feared that having allowed
Leah to first marry Yakov she was now consigned to making her contribution
in a much more round-about fashion. Maybe it was inevitable that Eisav
marry one of them. Maybe there were elements in Eisav that yet had to be
included in the formation of the Jewish people regardless of the fact that
Yakov had bought the birthright. Maybe she was not going to have children
with Yakov because his contribution had been realized in his "first"
marrying Leah. Therefore, the only way Rachel could contribute herself to
the Jewish nation was to marry Eisav and trust that one of her children or
grandchildren would end up marrying into the family of Avraham just like
her great grandmother Milkah had done! Therefore, the Torah states, "And
G-d remembered Rachel." G-d remembered Rachel's extraordinary selflessness
in giving Leah the "signs." G-d focused on Rachel's fear and determination
to make her contribution to the Jewish people even if meant marrying Eisav.
G-d remembered the astonishing level of Emunah (trust in G-d)) that Rachel
had displayed when she decided to do the right thing by giving Leah the
signs so she would not be embarrassed and trust that G-d would somehow,
someway, do the rest.
G-d remembered Rachel and gave her Yoseph. Yoseph would prove to be the
greatest of all the brothers. Yoseph would prove to be the one who would
save the Jewish people. Yoseph would prove to be the only of the sons who
would rise to the level of the Forefathers by giving birth to two sons who
would also become Tribes. G-d remembered Rachel and gave her Binyamin.
Binyamin would prove to be the only one of the sons born in Eretz Yisroel.
Binyamin would prove to be the son in whose portion the Holy of Holies
would one day stand.
Copyright © 2003 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.