Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, as she had declared, “Because Hashem has discerned my humiliation, for now my husband will love me.”
And she conceived again and bore a son and declared, “Because Hashem has heard that I am hated, He has given me this one also,” and she called his name Shimon.
Again she conceived and bore a son and declared, “This time my husband will become attached to me for I have borne him three sons;” therefore he called his name Levi.
She conceived again, and bore a son and declared, “This time let me gratefully praise Hashem;” therefore she called his name Judah; then she stopped giving birth.
Our previous class explored the Torah’s statement, “Hashem saw that Leah was hated, so He opened her womb,” and gave her children. As mentioned, Leah is unaware of this hate. It is not a part of her relationship with Jacob, but is, rather, connected to her previous association with Esav. Our class concluded with the question, “If Leah does not experience being hated, why does Hashem find it necessary to compensate her with children?
In spite of not feeling hated, Leah is in anguish over whether or not she has done the right thing by marrying Jacob, in accordance with Laban’s plan. She seeks approval for her actions, turning to Jacob for reassurance. Jacob is a logical choice, because of his righteousness and his ability to clearly discern between good and evil. These attributes are especially valuable given Jacob’s place within the immoral milieu of Laban’s household.
Hashem’s response to Leah’s anguish does indeed come through Jacob, since Leah has children with him immediately after marriage. (By contrast, Rachel remains barren). The names of Leah’s children provide clues to the direction of Leah’s journey towards an understanding that she has in fact succeeded in aligning herself with God’s will.
Leah calls her first son Reuben, from the Hebrew word “re’e,” which means, “to see.” This is the basis for the verse “Hashem saw my humiliation.” God sees Leah’s dilemma and responds by immediately granting her a child. This in turn indicates to Leah that her husband will also see her righteousness, will recognize that this is a proper marriage, with God’s blessing – and will love her as a result.
Leah has a second son, Shimon. In the Torah verse announcing his birth she says, “Hashem heard that I am hated, so He gave me also this one.” (The name Shimon is related to the Hebrew word, “shema” – to hear). With Reuben, her first child, Leah feels that perhaps she has fulfilled God’s intentions. When Leah has a second child before her righteous sister Rachel has had one, Leah sees it another reassurance from God. Her statement, “…He gave me also this one,” reflects this fact.
Leah sees prophetically that Jacob and four wives will give birth to the twelve future tribes of Israel. When she has her third child, Levi, Leah assumes she has given Jacob her share of his sons – and that his three other wives will also have three children each. She states, “This time my husband will become attached to me for I have borne him three sons.” The child’s name – Levi – is related to the Hebrew word for “attach.” This time, Jacob names his son, whereas Leah had named the prior two. Rashi tells us that, with two children, the woman carries one in each hand. With three, the husband must carry one, which provides impetus for a growing attachment between husband and wife, and a deeper unity in their relationship.
When Leah has a fourth child, she knows God has blessed her above and beyond her destined share in creating the Jewish people. At this point the Torah turns to Rachel and tells us she is jealous of Leah. “Rachel saw that she had not borne children to Jacob, and Rachel became envious of her sister (Genesis 30:1).” Our sages tell us that, rather than contradicting her righteousness, Rachel’s jealousy is consistent with her stellar character. She feels God has denied her children because she has fallen short spiritually, while her sister has succeeded.
Rashi tells us that Rachel was certain Leah had earned the privilege of having so many children because of her superior righteousness, and that such envy is wholesome. In this type of jealousy we see the same Rachel who allowed her sister to take her place under the bridal canopy with Jacob, in order to spare Leah embarrassment. Rachel’s jealousy reflects her desire to be a part of building the Jewish Nation and, for this reason it is admirable.
To return to Leah’s fourth child, his name – Yehuda – contains “l’hodot,” the Hebrew word for “praise.” On a simple level, the name reflects Leah’s thanks to Hashem for a child she did not expect, given that if the children had been divided equally between four wives this would be one more than her anticipated share.
On a deeper level, the thankfulness embedded in the name Yehuda expresses Leah’s essence. From the start, Leah accepts her position, even in difficult times, with gratitude that is based in her trust in God. Each time she gives birth, Leah praises God stating, “Hashem listens to me,” “Hashem will make me more beloved,” “Hashem will give me the ability to unite fully with my husband.” Often, Leah’s words of praise and thankfulness are set forth in the future tense. This reveals a unique dimension of her gratitude. To thank God in good times, when we get what we want is always meritorious. To thank God before things go our way, or even when they actually do not go our way is a greater accomplishment – and Leah’s specialty.
Leah’s gratitude persists even in the midst of difficulty and in situations that may or may not go her way. This ability comes from her conviction that what is happening is right, given that it is coming from God.
Leah teaches us growth through acceptance. The power to accept leads to inner peace, no matter what the circumstances. This ability is not easy to cultivate and is no guarantee that life will be easy. Leah faced obstacles, which caused her great distress. At the same time, however, she was inwardly tranquil because of her belief that God was leading her in a necessary direction. As such, she remains a model for us of personal growth in the face of adversity and uncertainty. Leah’s process with its ups and downs was never a source for misery.
Women in Judaism, Copyright (c) 2002 by Mrs. Leah Kohn and Project Genesis, Inc.