By Rabbi Dr. Meir Tamari | Series: | Level:

‘And the eyes of Leah were tender [or weak or soft]’ (Bereishit, 29:17). Rashi comments that public wisdom was that Eisav, the oldest son of Rivkah would marry the oldest daughter of Lavan and that Yaakov would marry the youngest daughter. Leah’s constant weeping over her fate, caused her eyes to be soft and tender. It is very difficult to understand the nature of her fear and her tears. We know that when Yaakov came to Haran Leah was not a small child and therefore could not be forced to marry anyone against her will. Furthermore, even if we would like to argue that she was indeed very young nevertheless we know that Lavan was careful to project a public image of being a just and moral person and therefore there was no reason to fear that he would force an unwanted marriage on Leah.

We have already seen in last week’s sedrah that Eisav and Yaakov grew from a single common root, and this is apparent in the fact that they were twins, even identical ones. In this respect they parallel the Etz Hada’at and the Etz Hachayim that actually stemmed from a common root; Yaakov is Etz Hachayim and Eisav is Etz Hada’at. These two trees that represent Asei Tov and Sur Mi Rah respectively, were created so that through them Mankind could achieve spiritual and moral perfection. Etz Hachayim in essence enables the soul of a person to cleave to and integrate with the source of life, through the performance of mitzvoth and good deeds. The Etz Hada’at was not created in order to cause us to fail spiritually, but rather to enable us to separate ourselves from evil through our wisdom and our intelligence, and will give us thereby the power to desire to cleave to HaShem..’ The woman saw that the tree [Etz Hada’at] was good for food, tempting to the sight and a delight to contemplate’ (Bereishit, 3:6). The intention is that a person shall exert this greatness of his Etz Hada’at to flee from evil and this is Sur Mi Ra. The degree of energy and strength exerted in fleeing from evil determines the degree of closeness to kedusha achieved. The Avnei Nezer taught that it is relatively easier to achieve Asie Tov through mitzvoth and performing good deeds than it is to distance and separate oneself from evil. In view of this greater difficulty, it is possible for a person to achieve greater kedushah if they are successful in Sur Mi Rah than through Asei Tov. [In many places the Shem Mi Shmuel sees Bet Hillel as Asei Tov and Bet Shammai as Sur Mi Rah. Perhaps this teaching of the Avnei Nezer can help us to understand why in the end of days after Bet Hillel’s merit of Asei Tov has been achieved, the halakhah will be according to Bet Shammai.]. Had Eisav been able to completely turn away from evil, perhaps he would have been greater than Yaakov. Yitschak, seeing Eisav’s face identical to that of Yaakov, believed that he too would be able to complete his mission successfully. Therefore he wished to bless him as well. However, he was not aware of how greatly evil Eisav really was. Rifka either had Ruach Hakodesh or was a Neviah; even though Chazal tell us that she was not numbered amongst the prophets; this is because only those prophets who had eternal prophesies, were counted. In her wisdom she saw Eisav’s evil and laboured to make sure that Yaakov got the blessing of Sur Mi Rah as well. This additional task of Sur Mi Rah necessitated the trials and tribulations that now beset Yaakov ; the pursuit by Eisav, labouring for Lavan and the stories of Dinah and Yosef..

The Ari taught us that in conception all souls are male and female. When created they separate and later are reunited in marriage. So the root of Leah’s soul was conceptually unified with that of Eisav. From the very beginning, the angel foretold that the younger daughter was destined for the younger son and the older daughter for the oldest son. So Rachel and Leah who are Asei Tov and Sur mi Rah respectively, parallel Yaakov and Eisav. Leah knowing Eisav’s inability to achieve his goal struggled greatly in order not to fail in this way. Her tears were the outward expression of the power of her determination to turn away from evil completely. In this way she hoped that she would merit Yaakov, who now personified both Asei Tov and Sur Mi Rah. The Zohar tells us that while there is a ‘Bashert’, the actual realisation of the zivug is dependent of a person’s ability to fulfil the role and task granted to them. If, exercising free will one does not wish to or is unable to achieve this, then the zivug is annulled. This is the way we need to understand the midrash that Leah did the deeds of the ‘snuim’ ( Bereishit, 29:31). We know that Eisav was not a liar or false but he was evil and hated for it. ‘I have hated Eisav’ (Malachi, 1:3). Leah made herself ‘senuah’ by achieving the Sur Mi Rah that Eisav was originally empowered to reach but failed to achieve. Thereby, Leah was able to annul the destined marriage to him, earning Six Tribes of Israel, Kingship, Levites and Kehunah.

These differing roles of Rachel-Asei Tov, and Leah- Sur Mi Rah, help to understand the words of the Cabbalists that the judgements of Leah are more stringent than those of Rachel. This means that the Judgement of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, symbolized by Leah, is more severe than that of the second day [Rachel]. This is usually explained by the fact that the Rachamim of the second day can only come after Judgement is accorded on the first one. However, based on our discussion, we can now see that the necessary heights of kedushah are achieved only through the power of our rejection of evil, Sur Mi Rah, just as Leah did through her tears, her prayers and her fasts. Just as the struggle of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Leah is the more powerful, so too is its Judgement.

(Shem Mi Shmuel, 5679)

Copyright © 2003 by Rabbi Dr. Meir Tamari and

Rabbi Dr. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics ( in Jerusalem.