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 evil uncle?
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 brother Lavan?
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 Avraham.
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 of Eisav?
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.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.