Chavarah- Jewish Community Learning

A blog of Jewish study and traditions. Notes from classes: Torah Study with Rabbi Marder, Toledot and Shabbaton as well as other details found of interest.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Five Interpretations

Torah Study with R. Marder, 2/16/08
Deuteronomy 33:26-27

We reviewed 5 significantly different views of these verses from different times and different resources:

1. Rashi - The Sky is the dwelling place for God. Men are the 'powerful' people of the earth but God is above.

2. 19th Century
Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin - Subject goes back to v 26 - Jeshurun is the subject - therefore the people are in the dwelling place of God.

3. A modern view - The vowels of the Hebrew are amended to actually change the translation to imply in v 27 that God drove away the enemy. And thet intead of 'dwelling' it 'humbles' afflicted divine of old. This implies that God overtook the gods of old.

4. JPS version - God carries us. That man is cared for by God like a parent for their child but more.

5. Talmudic view - R. Avahu - The world endures through those who are humble. The humble people are the pillars of the world. 'the weakest are the strongest'.

36 Righteous people.
 There is an idea in the Talmud that at all times there are at least 36
 righteous people. It's because this minimum always exists that makes
 the world's existance worthwhile. The identity of these 36 is not
 necessarily known. The 36 most righteous people in the world are bound
 to include some people who never became famous. Perhaps most of them
 are total unknowns. In Chassidic thought, the 36 righteous people are
 in particular such hidden tzaddikim.
more on this at Wikipedia
Also referenced: R. Jonathan Sacks, Cheif Rabbi of England On Humility

A POEM by Jacob Gladstein,
YANKEV GLATSHTEYN, "A world without Jews", was most moving but I could not find that particular poem on line. However I did find a reference to a children's book he wrote which sounds like a must read: Emil and Karl

Also mentioned was the novel by George Eliot, MiddleMarch. Here is a link to a summary version if you just want to get a feel for it. The last words from this novel was read..

Difficult Family Dynamics...

Torah Study with Rabbi Marder 23 June 2012 

  • Aviva Zornberg, Genesis.  The Beginning of Desire (Pages 207-208).  Jacob is first lover in bible, an all-consuming love of Rachel, not just from marriage as was the relationship between Isaac and Rebecca (24:67).  But that love is complicated by presence of Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah.  The “love” has elements of taboo, a passion, a feeling that love is almost illicit in a polygamous household.
“[Jacob] will love [Rachel] but his love will generate jealousy and hatred in his household, now and in generations to come. And ultimately, they will be buried apart.
“The knowledge that full unity cannot be achieved is like a sword between.  It is in this sense that Jacob is the first lover in the Torah in the European, romantic sense, in which a central components of passion is unattainability.  From the tales of courtly love, knightly adventures engaged in for the sake of the beloved, a notion of self-validation through love has emerged. Prominent in such tales is the theme of the impossible, even, illicit, love, whose fire burns stronger for the taboo.  Both themes—work for the sake of love and frustration as a catalyst of passion – inform the story of Jacob and Rachel.”

  • Norman Cohen, Self, Struggle & Change, (page 137, referencing Alter, page 186). Rachel’s demands mirror those of Leah and others as a literary theme.  For Rachel’s barrenness, Jacob blames God and is callous to his wife.  The barrenness causes tension in the household.
“Until now, we know … nothing of Rachel’s feelings.  Perhaps she is totally devoid of them … Yet having experienced the birth of her sisters’ four sons, and realizing that she has not provided Jacob with any children, she became envious of Leah and demanded of her husband, ‘give me children or I shall die’ [30:1].  All Rachel can see is that her sister is fertile and presented her husband with four sons, and that as a result, her relationship with Jacob is in jeopardy. If we did not know better, we might have thought that it was Leah who mouthed these words.  Here Rachel sounds just like her sister prior toe birth f her children.  Rachel, too, seems insecure, jealous and self-deprecating.  Only through bearing children can she feel whole and fulfilled.”
  • 30:2. And Jacob became angry with Rachel, and he said, "Am I instead of God, Who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?"
    • Ramban cites Midrash Rabbah, where Jacob is rebuked.  An example of what should be in the Torah: Jacob should not have been so callous to Rachel.
Genesis Midrash Rabbah 71:6 [including footnotes in Kleinman edition]
Blinder, Yaakov.  The Torah: With Ramban’s Commentary Translated, Annotated, and ElucidatedBereishis/Genesis Volumes 1, II.  Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah Publications. 2004.
The midrash reprimands Jacob for his sharp response to Rachel.  He was oblivious to her true intent, to have Jacob pray for her.  Abraham also did not comprehend Sarah’s underlying motive in 16:2 to cohabit with Hagar; Sarah really wanted Abraham to pray for her.  Abraham complied with her request but Sarah was not rebuked.
What prompted Jacob’s response?  The Midrash imagines the following conversation [reading this with a Yiddish accent makes it fun but belies its seriousness].
Rachel: did you father Isaac not pray with great intensity for your mother Rebecca?
Jacob: I am not like my father.  He did not have sons and I do.
Rachel: But your grandfather had sons with Hagar and still Abraham prayed for Sarah to have children.  [Actually, there is no proof text for this, but the sages argue that this must have happened because Abraham was so righteous].
Jacob: Can you do what my grandmother did?
Rachel: What did she do?
Jacob: She brought her rival wife [Hagar] in the house, an unusual merit [to carry on Abraham’s line]
Rachel: Then I offer my handmaiden Bilhah with which you may consort.
Jacob’s rebuke was for Rachel’s manner of requesting the he pray for her [not the request itself].
It is inconceivable that Jacob would not pray for Rachel, who he loved dearly, but was barren.  He did pray but God did not accept the prayer.  After Rachel complained about his lack of success [a less intense prayer?], he responded sharply that acceptance or rejection of prayer was in God’s hands, not his.  Isaac’s prayer for Rebecca was successful because of Isaac’s righteousness, suggesting that Isaac was more righteous than Jacob.  Furthermore, God had already promised that Abraham’s legacy would be carried out by Isaac and Jacob; Jacob already had that legacy through Leah.

  • Akedat Yitzhak (Isaac ben Moses Arama, 15th century Spain) – two dimensions of womanhood [see below and Isaiah 56:5 above at 16 June 2012]
Rachel shouldn’t reduce herself to a childbearing machine.  People have other claims to identity than just being a mother or father. 
The first, which teaches that woman was taken from man, stresses that, like him, she may understand and advance in the intellectual and moral fields.  This was evidenced in the matriarchs, other prophetesses and in many righteous women, and it reflects the literal meaning of Proverbs 31 about the ‘woman of valor’ (eshet chayil). 
The second alludes to the power of child bearing and rearing, as is indicated by the name of Eve – the mother of all living. A woman deprived of the secondary power of childbearing will be deprived [only] of the secondary purpose but will be left with the ability to do evil or good, just like a man, who is barren” [italics added]. 
Yaakov expressed anger toward Rachel “in order to reprimand her and make her understand this all-important principle – that she was not dead as far as their joint purpose in life simply because she was childless, just as it would be true in his case if he had been childless” 
The Akeidat Yitzchak (Rav Yitchak Arama of the 15th century), speaks compellingly of the need for women to contribute to the world in roles beyond that of mothering. Indeed, he remarks that Yaakov’s angry response to Rachel’s “Give me children or else I die” (Genesis 30:1) can be explained in the following way: “The two names – ‘woman’ (isha = from man) and ‘Eve’ (chava = mother of life) – indicate two purposes. 

Akeidat Yitzchak, Breishit Sha’ar 9. English Translation by Nehama Leibowitz, New Studies in Bereshit, Jerusalem, Israel. p. 334); as cited in accessed 24 June 2012.
  • Aviva Zornberg [The Beginning of Desire, pages 209-210] – anger replaced fulfillment  (a love triangle).  Frustration and denial drive Jacob and Rachel’s passions.
    • Jacob loves Rachel; Rachel wants children; Leah loves Jacob. Jacob loves Leah less; [no indication of Rachel loving Jacob.]  In other words, each of the three characters compulsively desires something the other has.
    • Paraphrasing Rashi and midrash: emotionally, poverty and childlessness are two conditions akin to death.  The result is often a paradox of desire and frustration.

Works for Laban and becomes prosperous
Surrogate wife in Bilhah; successful prayer for fertility
For Jacob to love her
Jacob’s apparent indifference; he loves Rachel more.
Expresses gratitude to God (not Jacob) for fertility, 
  • 30:3. So she said, "here is my maidservant Bilhah; come to her, and she will bear [children] on my knees, so that I, too, will be built up from her." 
A child placed on mother’s knees is sign of his/her legitimacy, in this case, when Rachel’s child is placed on Jacob’s knee, paternity is established.  The practice was widespread in the ancient [Mediterranean] world, such as the Hittite culture, Greece, Rome [Nahum Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary.  Genesis, page 207].
    • Other places in bible where child is placed on or near the knees: Genesis 48:12, Genesis 50:23, Job 3:12.
    • Knees are regenerative members – perhaps a euphemism for sexual organs or procreative power.  Since Bilhah was a surrogate mother, this symbolic gesture was appropriate [Sarna].
    • Latin for “knee” is “genu” or “genuflect,” from which is derived “genuine.”
    • “…so that I, too, will be built up from her" means that Rachel will no longer be dead.  Some relate וְאִבָּנֶה, from בנה, the root for build or stone, to בנים children.
    • Women’s Torah Commentary, page 166 on “here is my maidservant Bilhah” 
      • “Rachel performs a kind of imitative magic:” get Bilhah pregnant so that Rachel will get pregnant, like symbolic act of pouring water on the ground to cause rainfall.  In effect, Bilhah would become an extension of Rachel’s body.  Surrogates, parents, and midwives work together as a collective female effort to procreate
      • Another way of seeing this phenomenon is that it’s a shameless method of exploiting the servants’ bodies.
    • In Margaret Atwood A Handmaiden’s Tale, this verse is in frontispiece.
      • Plot summary: "In the world of the near future, who will control women's bodies? Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are only valued if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the days before, when she lived and made love with her husband Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now.... " [from, accessed 24 June 2012]
      • Genesis 30:1-3 is one of several passages that make clear that in patriarchal Hebrew times it was perfectly legitimate for a man to have sex and even beget children by his servants (slaves), particularly if his wife was infertile. It is unknown how widespread was the custom described here, of having the infertile wife embrace the fertile maidservant as she gave birth to symbolize that the baby is legally hers. Atwood extrapolates outrageously from this point, as is typical of dystopian writers: it is highly unlikely that the puritanical religious right would ever adopt the sexual practices depicted in this novel; but she is trying to argue that patriarchal traditions which value women only as fertility objects can be as demeaning as modern customs which value them as sex objects [from accessed 24 June 2012]
  • 30:4. So she gave him her maidservant Bilhah for a wife, and Jacob came to her.
    • Is Bilhah a wife (אִשָּׁה) or a concubine (פִּילֶגֶשׁ)? The difference is that the latter has no bride price.
    • In this verse, she’s a “wife;” in 35:22, she’s a “concubine.”  
    • Nahum Sarna [JPS Torah Commentary. Genesis, page 208] - over time, the two statuses became effaced, because the terms appear to be interchangeable.
  • 30:5 And Bilhah conceived, and she bore Jacob a son. 
  • 30:6 And Rachel said, "God has judged me, and He has also hearkened to my voice and has given me a son"; so she named him Dan.
    • Rachel names the new son Dan.  This name is derived from dayan, judge.
    • Rashi on “God has acquitted and forgiven her:”  He judged me, declared me guilty, and then declared me innocent. — [From Genesis Rabbah 71:7].
    Commentary to the Midrash (71:7, citing Eitz Yosef) further states that although Rachel claims Dan to be her son, it was really Bilhah’s and Rachel remained barren.  However, because Rachel raised the child in effect, he’s Rachel’s.  Hence the wording, “[He] has given me a son.”
      • The word, “Jacob” is prominent in the sentence so as to emphasize Bilhah bore a son to Jacob and that there is no doubt of paternity, as might be the case with a handmaiden’s pregnancy. [Sarna, page 208]
    • 30:7 And Bilhah, Rachel's maidservant, conceived again and bore Jacob a second son.
    • 30:8 And Rachel said, "[With] divine bonds I have been joined to my sister; I have also prevailed"; so she named him Naftali.
      • The name Naftali, נַפְתָּלִי,is from the root פתל. There are various translations of 30:8, suggesting that there is no consensus on the meaning of this root.

      • Why are we told that Bilhah is Rachel’s maidservant again?  To demonstrate that Bilhah remained a respectful servant after giving birth as a surrogate parent, unlike Hagar.
      • This is real-life story about dysfunction, not a fairy tale of romanticism.  The relationships among the parties are not idyllic.  In literature, there are few stories (if any) about perfectly functioning families; if there were no problems or abnormalities in the family, there would be no plot (Tolstoy).
      • Naomi Rosenblatt, Wrestling With Angels, page 279.  Neither Rachel nor Leah feels “whole.”  People who look great on the outside are unknown on the inside; healthy skepticism is warranted.  Jacob thinks he has a good thing going; but his wives think otherwise, they do not want to be locked into a single role.
      People today “grapple with the same dichotomies of female identity [beauty-homely; barren-fertile; lover-mother] … Each is miserable because she covets what the other possesses.  Neither feels whole.”
      “One certain recipe for unhappiness, as we learn from Rachel and Leah, is to constantly measure ourselves unfavorably against other women who appear to have it all.  When imagining the happiness and contentment levels that other people enjoy, a bit of healthy skepticism is warranted.  The story of Rachel and Leah also teaches us that when we typecast ourselves within a relationship, we’re asking for trouble. No woman wants to be pigeonholed exclusively as mother or lover, careerist or housewife.  Every mistress craves a family of her own, and every matron dreams of a romantic weekend getaway awash in flowers and her mate’s undivided attention.  Likewise, no man wants to be identified merely as a good provider of simply as a sexual athlete.  We all want the flexibility to in inhabit a variety of personas,” something achievable sequentially, not simultaneously, with today’s long life spans.

      Today, the dichotomies are primarily motherhood vs career; naturally full-bodied vs unnaturally slim; needs of children vs needs of spouse or community.  Such choices are not supposed to be agonizing, but a way to count blessings of the current age.
      • What about Bilhah?   After Dan [and presumably Naftali] was born, Rachel held him, washed him, sang to him; all the while imagining that the boy knew who was his real (biological) mother.  She feared that some day, Dan would return to his slave mother and leave Rachel alone. 
      “Can you imagine Bilhah’s eyes as she watched Rachel wash her own infant?  A slave is a slave and cannot change the course of events, but she must know pain.  There is no way that a slave cannot long for her own flesh and blood, and bitter she must have been the moment she place him on Rachel’s lap.”  [Anne Roiphe, Water from the Well, pages 213-214]

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Leah Wants to be Loved by Jacob - Jealousy and Envy

Torah Study Notes 16 June 2012 (from Howard)

  • Overriding theme up to this point has been Leah’s despondency over lack of Jacob’s love.
  • 29:34. And she conceived again and bore a son, and she said, "Now this time my husband will be attached to me, for I have borne him three sons; therefore, He named him Levi.
    • The name “Levi:”
      • לוי is close to לוה, which means to lend or borrow, as in being generous to the poor by “lending to God.” Levi will later “lend” his services to God.
      • לוה also means to accompany be a companion. Leah does believe that this birth will make Jacob “attached” to her [Me’Am Lo’Ez].
    • Who named Levi? The verb for naming is in masculine, so it was not Leah. Midrash explanations for who did the naming:
      • It was Jacob, who reconciled with Leah.
      • [Rashi] There is an aggadic midrash in Deuteronomy Rabbah, [which relates] how the Holy One, blessed be He, sent [the angel] Gabriel and he brought him (Levi) before Him, and He gave him this name, and He gave him the twenty-four priestly gifts; and because he accompanied him (לִוָּהוּ) with gifts, he named him Levi. These 24 gifts are enumerated in Bava Kamma 110b.
      • It was Lavan, who saw the babies as a source of labor [filthy capitalist].
      • [Rashi] Since the Matriarchs were prophetesses, they knew that twelve tribes would emanate from Jacob, and that he would marry four wives, she said, “From now on, he will find no fault with me for I have contributed my share in (producing) sons.” - [from Bereishith Rabbathi, attributed to Rabbi Moshe Hadarshan, Midrash Aggadah] [I.e., three sons were thought to be each wife’s share of the twelve.] In other words, with her third child, Leah has given her share of the twelve sons: 12 sons ÷ 4 wives = 3 sons per wife. More on this math in 29:35.
    • From a 13th century midrash, France – Leah can hold one son in each arm at once. With a third son, Jacob must hold one of them. Thus, Leah and Jacob are joined in this manner.
    • Elie Munk (page 402) – Levi and Moses each three letters in their names; Levi and Moses were third sons and Jacob was the third of the Patriarchs; the midrash extolls third element of any grouping as the one that reaches the “highest perfection.” Thus, in Deuteronomy 10:8. “The Lord separated [chose] the tribe of Levi to bear the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to serve Him, and to bless in His Name, to this day.’
  • 29:35 - And she conceived again and bore a son, and she said, "This time, I will thank the Lord! Therefore, she named him Judah, and [then] she stopped bearing.

אוֹדֶה, praise or thank, a shortened form of אֲהוֹדֵה [?], the full form of which is in Psalm 28:7 and from which the name יהודה is derived.

Elie Munk writes (pages 402-403), “The name יהודה encompasses both meanings its root – הדה, gratitude and אדה, admission.” Leah “took charge of the scepter of gratitude and bequeathed it to her offspring.” See Lieber excerpt below.

  • Basis of name of the Jewish people and “thank you.”
  • Rashi - since I have taken more than my share. Consequently, I must offer up thanks. — [Genesis Rabbah 71:4]. Meaning 12 tribes ÷ 4 wives = 3 each wife. With four sons, Leah has borne more than her fair share. In other words, Leah was grateful to God for the “extra measure that she received over the share that was coming to her.” That fourth child was the reason that Leah gratefully praised God after Judah’s birth.
  • Midrash from Rabbi of Ger – Jews are יהודים, y’hudim, a grateful people but undeserved; יהודה contains name of God, יה and a ד, standing for poor people. This suggests that Jews are poor paupers, undeserved of such gifts from God.
    • דַּל means poor (with connotations of powerlessness, helplessness, insignificance; root is דלל).
    • [King] David has two ד’s, signifying a poor and humble person.
    • Zechariah 9:9. Be exceedingly happy, O daughter of Zion; Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem. Behold! Your king shall come to you. He is just and victorious; humble, and riding a donkey and a foal, the offspring of [one of] she-donkeys.

“Your king” is the messiah, who will humbly bring God’s word to people by riding a lowly animal. [Rashi]

[Talmud Brachot 7a] From the day that the Holy One, blessed be He, created His world there was no man that praised the Holy One, blessed be He, until Leah came and praised Him. In other words, from Creation to Leah, no one had offered gratitude to God. This seems puzzling, since the patriarchs must have thanked God for everything He accomplished for them and the people. Leah’s expression of gratitude, however, was different.

While Noah, Abraham, and Jacob erected altars as expressions of thanks to God, “Leah was the first to transform her feelings of gratitude into language, creating words of prayer.”

Leah teaches us “that when we feel more grateful than we could ever anticipate, we should stop to give words to our feelings.” She lets “her gratitude well up and silently [says] ‘thank you [multiple times]’ then [names] the reason she blesses. It’s worship as a way of being, worship as a way of engaging God and everyday life at the same time.” In her every action – playing with her children, baking, gardening, sleeping well, and making love -- Leah prays with her whole being.”

[Ochs, Sarah Laughed, page 181-182]

The word הוֹדָאָה connotes both gratitude and admission.

  • One can admit that he/she is wrong about something.
  • One can express gratitude for a kind act. However, a more profound act of gratitude occurs by admitting that what was initially detrimental turned out to be favorable.

Leah initially felt unloved and heartbroken because Jacob didn’t love her as much as Rachel. However, after bearing four children, she realized how grateful she should be, having more sons than any other wife or concubine. She knew that the whole episode was for her benefit and that God deserved her praise.

From Lieber, Moshe M. The Torah Treasury. An Anthology of Insights, Commentary and Anecdotes on the Weekly Torah Readings. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, Ltd., 2002. Page 77, citing Maayana Shel Torah. Wellsprings of Torah by Rabbi Alexander Zusia Friedman (Judaica Press, 1986?) BM724 .F71 1986;

Another view of Leah’s situation from Vanessa Ochs (Sarah Laughed, pages 180-181.

“Leah has a spiritual gift, the ability to name each and every thing for which she is grateful. She doesn’t feel happiness as a vague wish. She notices all the particulars, and she puts her gratitude into words: ‘I thank you, God, for the miracle of seeing my baby’s chest move up and down as he breathes. I thank you, God for the milk that is spurting so quickly from my breasts.’ Leah’s spiritual gift is a form of prayer, a streaming conversation that takes place sometimes silently, in her head, overheard by no one. But more often, she will give her voice to her delight. Praising God for her sons, for her sister, for Jacob, for the sheep on the grassy hills, for the almond flowers, she feels connected to every other human being, as if she were tied by strands of gratitude to everything and everyone in creation.

“For Leah, naming is a rigorous spiritual discipline. She tells herself at each moment, ‘Name the beauty you are witnessing, name the aroma you smell. Don’t let a detail escape you.’ For Leah, naming a child is best of all, because each name is a prayer, one she can repeat each time she calls her child … Saying each name, Leah witnesses: God is not so far away, but is attached to her and to her children; God will love her and God will see her, even if Jacob cannot.”

Leah blesses God in her unique way. She writes no poetry; builds no altars; prepares no sacrifice. Her encounters with God occur not in buildings, tents, or under anyone’s supervision. She approaches God “autonomously, engaging in rituals that dramatize social ties with God, ancestors, family, and community. Leah’s style of blessing is immediate, personal, and informal. She blesses by naming.”

  • 30:1 - And Rachel saw that she had not borne [any children] to Jacob, and Rachel envied her sister, and she said to Jacob, "Give me children, and if not, I am dead." Vey iz mir! Rachel notices that Leah has all the children and becomes envious of her older sister.
    • וַתְּקַנֵּא, and she envied [Leah] dark red color related to the verb for envy …?????
    • Rashi - She envied her good deeds. She said, “If she had not been more righteous than I, she would not have merited children” (Genesis Rabbah 71:5). Rachel knows that Leah is more pious, so Rachel wishes that she was that way.
    • Alter translates וַתְּקַנֵּא as she was jealous, not envious
      • Pirke Avot on jealousy
        • 4:28 (4:21 in some editions) - Rabbi Elazar HaKapor would say: Envy, lust/desisre, and honor/ambition/pursuit of glory drive a man from the world.

2:16 (2:11 in some versions). Rabbi Joshua would say: An evil eye, the evil inclination, and the hatred of one's fellows, drive a person from the world.

These passages are a paean on selflessness, a lesson in selfishness. An evil eye looks with envy on others.

  • Envy or jealousy is one of the three basal instincts that drives a person out of this world and the world to come; people become fixated on what they want; they despise the world because of what they don’t have.

Any one of these personal issues could result in forgetting the Torah and weaken his moral and intellectual fiber [Kravitz, Leonard and Kerry M. Olitsky. PIrke Avot. A Modern Commentary on Jewish Ethics. NY: UAHC Press, 1993, referencing Maimonides. Also, Goldin, Hyman. Ethics of the Fathers. NY: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1962]

    • Two levels of jealousy?
  • Proverbs on envy, jealousy leading to decay

23:7 - Let your heart not envy the sinners, but fear of the Lord all day.

No one should envy or emulate sinners, no matter how happy they appear. Instead, one should transfer his/her envy to scrupulous people to gather strength to grow closer to God. One can emulate the standards of righteous people without outdoing or competing with those people, especially when the result would be setbacks for others.

[Ginsberg, Eliezer and Yosef Weinberger. Mishlei. Proverbs. A New Translation with Commentary Anthologized from Talmudic, Midrashic, and Rabbinic Sources. Volume II. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, Ltd. 2007.]

14:30 - A healing heart is the life of the flesh, but anger [envy] is the rot of the bones.

12:4 - A virtuous woman is the crown of her husband, but an embarrassing one is like rot in his bones

A healing heart and envy are opposites. A person with the former will have life in his bones, i.e., a pleasant life free of jealousy, hatred, and strife. He will be cheerful and healthy

Someone with the latter will have bones that rot from anxiety, even after death, and never regenerate.

[Ginsberg, Eliezer. Mishlei. Proverbs. A New Translation with Commentary Anthologized from Talmudic, Midrashic, and Rabbinic Sources. Volume I. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, Ltd. 1998, citing many sources.]

  • Chassidic parable – a horse kicks his reflection before drinking from a river so as to drive away the competition for a scarce resource. Why? Isn’t there is enough water for all? There is enough seed in Jacob to make twelve children, plenty to go around.
  • Another Chassidic parable on self-destructive behavior during jealousy…
  • Talmud Bava Batra 21a. An exception to the injunctions on envy is scholars competing for bring wisdom and knowledge to the world. Jealousy can be constructive, a competitive dive that brings progress. Rachel can use her jealousy to make her more pious.

Raba also said: If we have a teacher who gets on [reads prayers or scripture] with the children and there is another who can get on better, we do not replace the first by the second, for fear that the second when appointed will become indolent [having no competitor to fear].

R. Dimi from Nehardea, however, held that he would exert himself still more if appointed: 'the jealousy of scribes increases wisdom.' [I.e., the jealousy of the one who has been replaced will be a stimulus to the other not to disgrace himself.]

Rashi writes, citing Genesis Rabbah 71:6, She envied her [Leah’s] good deeds. She said, “If she had not been more righteous than I, she would not have merited children.”

[From notes to Genesis Rabbah (Kleinman/Artscroll)] Rachel was envious of Leah’s righteousness, which is regarded as wholesome and laudable.

    • Anthony Trollope novel, He Knew He Was Right [?]
    • Zelig Pliskin – no escaping normal human emotions (envy); never assume that other people have no envy. I.e., avoid boasting, mentioning what other people have that another doesn’t have.
  • Rachel abruptly addresses Jacob: “give me children or I die!”
    • How would a husband react to this? Jacob would feel inadequate; he’s not entirely to blame. “What am I, chopped liver?”
    • Why did Rachel use these words? She would be “dead” without a line of descendants. Life is not worth living; she is passionate about having children.
    • Is Rachel calling for adoption?
    • Rashi - Did your father [not] do that for your mother? Did he not pray for her? [From Genesis Rabbah 71:7]. In other words, Rebecca is saying, do what your father did, pray for me. Or, bring in another wife.
    • Nahum Sarna [JPS Torah Commentary. Genesis] on “I am dead” [or “I shall die”]:
      • Genesis 25:22 just after Isaac pleads to God when Rebecca is barren. As the twins were struggling in her womb, Rebecca cried out, “Why do I exist.” It was a difficult pregnancy and Rebecca feared a miscarriage.
      • Genesis 27:46 on Esau’s wife – Rebecca is disgusted and would rather die if Jacob married a Hittite wife. She laments, “what good will life be to me?”
    • Rashi - From here [we learn] that whoever has no children is counted as dead [from Genesis Rabbah 71:6]. Rachel is anguished because she cannot name children.
      • Jacob consoles her by saying that these words only apply to the wicked; if childless, then good deeds are your children.
      • Isaiah on yad vashem; legacy will stay with Jewish nation.

56: 5 - Even unto them will I give in My house and within My walls a monument and a memorial better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting memorial, that shall not be cut off.

Or, "I will give them in My house and in My walls a place and a name, better than sons and daughters; an everlasting name I will give him, which will not be discontinued.

וָשֵׁם יָד is literally “a monument and a name.”

“One of man’s greatest fears is that of dying and not being remembered, that’s why he builds monuments. All his life a man is obedient to G-d, observing His laws and his goodness seems to go unnoticed, when he dies nobody remembers that he was ever here on earth, excepting his children and those close to him.

“The words of Isaiah are a comfort to the G-d fearing man that he will be remembered, through his obedience to G-d he has caused a much more significant memory than the transitory memory of human beings. Through his observance of G-d’s commandments he has caused his name to be recorded in G-d’s memory. G-d will remember him forever because he was obedient in observing G-d’s commandments. His children cannot remember forever, they do their best to create ways to memorialize him for future generations but there’s nothing they can do which can guarantee everlasting memory. Only G-d can give an everlasting name because He is everlasting.”

[From, accessed 19 June 2012]

“Man” in these paragraphs refers to women, too. Without offspring, Rachel fears that no one will remember her; there will be no “monuments” to her life.

  • Ramban – Rachel is looking for a sign of love but doesn’t get it, instead, anger. She could die of grief.

Actually, Ramban’s interpretation is about Jacob praying for Rachel. He writes that Rachel told Jacob emphatically that he should pray for her until she conceived. If not, she would die of grief. This request may have been inappropriate because of her envy of Leah. However, Rachel thought that from his great love for her, Jacob would “fast and don sackcloth and ashes and keep praying until she would have children.”

Ramban further asks, if Rachel’s childlessness is her fault, why should not Jacob pray for her? After all, other righteous people pray for those not related to them, such as Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17:21 for a widow’s dying son; and 2 Kings 4:16 for the poor debt-ridden Shunammite woman who gave Elisha room and board and who eventually had a son).

[From Blinder, Yaakov. The Torah: With Ramban’s Commentary Translated, Annotated, and Elucidated. Bereishis/Genesis Volume II. Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah Publications. 2004]

  • Midrash Rabbah 71:6 footnotes: Rachel intention was to stir Jacob’s compassion so that he would pray for her.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Complex Family and Jealousy

9 June 2012 Torah Study Notes by Howard S. (thanks)

  • Introduction to 29:31-35
  • Othello, Act III (scene III) on jealousy as a monster who devours you; it’s cruel and destructive. It’s not the same as envy.

In this story, it’s unclear whether the Leah - Rachel relationship is characterized by envy or by jealously.

[Iago to Othello] O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;

It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock

The meat it feeds on …

Envy: wanting something that belongs to another and to which one has no particular right or claim

Jealousy - an intense effort to hold on to what one possesses, often associated with distrust, suspicion, anger, and other negative emotions

Leah may be jealous of Jacob’s preference for Rachel, but envious of her good looks.

  • Leon Kass [The Beginnings of Wisdom, page 427] on Chinese ideogram for trouble: two women under one roof! If Jacob professes to love Rachel more than Leah, an inevitable occurrence in a bigamous household, then trouble portends.
  • Poor Leah. She’s in a marriage where she’s not loved.

29:31. And the Lord saw that Leah was hated, so He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.

  • 29:31 on שְׂנוּאָה, “hate” – could mean hate based on status or lower status; see Deuteronomy 15-17 on law allowing firstborn a double share even if born to the less-favored wife. This law is flaunted in Genesis.
    • Midrash - God saw that she was not loved; Leah didn’t notice. God was aware of imbalance in the house. But Jacob was doing his job as a procreator. Midrash Rabbah 71:1-2 offers several alternate interpretations of שְׂנוּאָה, base on the contention that a righteous man such as Jacob could not truly “hate” Leah.
      • Psalm 69:34, For God hearkens to the destitute, and He does not despise His prisoners. “Destitute” and “prisoners” refer to infertile women who are in effect confined to their homes, downtrodden and forlorn. Leah was initially infertile until “God opened her womb.”
      • Psalm 145:14, The Lord supports all those who fall and straightens all who are bent down. In other words, God gives moral support to infertile women, who have “fallen” because of lack of children and “straightens” them by enabling them to bear offspring. I.e., Leah will no longer bow her head in shame, because she has sufficient merit to become fertile.
      • Leah behaved like those who were “hated,” i.e., she bemoaned her fate to marry the “wicked” Esau. So, she prayed that Esau would not become her spouse, as previously decreed by Lavan (Midrash Rabbah 70:16). It worked, testifying to the power of prayer to nullify such decrees. Midrash Tanhuma also presents this theme.
      • Leah may have been “hated” by the community for her part in the deception of substituting for Rachel, i.e., she behaved like a swindler, which everyone despises.
    • David Zvi Hoffmann (contemporary of Hirsch) – of the two principal names of God, יהוה, representing the attribute of mercy, opens her womb.
    • Rambam – can God “see?” No, but He perceives, directs, and focuses his divine compassion to whomever needs it [Guide of the Perplexed 1:4, cited in Munk, page 398]. God alone observed what no one else could, Jacob’s deep-seated hatred of Leah. Jacob concealed his feelings so well that Leah did not suspect his hostility. God also knew that Leah, a “righteous and virtuous woman,” did not deserve such feelings. God “saw” her plight, just as He would “see” anyone who was oppressed, such as the Israelite slaves in Egypt [Munk page 398, citing Rashi on Exodus 2:25]
  • Alter [Five Books of Moses, page 156] – annunciation theme in this theme (like at the well) – a barren woman has a child, just like with Sarah (Hagar) and Hannah (Peninah in 1 Samuel 1).

The term שְׂנוּאָה, hate or despise, in addition to carrying emotional connotations, is also a legal and technical term for the unflavored wife. “The pairing of an unloved wife who is fertile with a barren beloved co-wife set the stage for a familiar variant of the annunciation type-scene.”

    • Munk [page 397 on 29:30] citing Midrash Rabbah and Tanhuma – Jacob and Leah argued over the situation; both were bitter over the deception. Only on his death did Jacob appreciate what Leah did.
      • From above (Sanhedrin 22a and Proverbs 5:18), Jacob initially loved Leah, but his feelings turned to hatred on the wedding night when he discovered the sisters’ trickery. The following conversation ensued:
        • Jacob: “Deceiver, daughter of a deceiver! You have become your father’s accomplice and are just as treacherous as he.”
        • Leah: “And you! Did you not trick your father when he asked, ‘is it not you, my son Esau?’ And you replied, ‘I am Esau, your firstborn.’ Did your father not tell Esau about you, saying, ‘your brother came wit cleverness (27:35)?’ And you think you have the right to reproach me for my deception?”
      • Jacob had no response to Leah’s words. He thought, on the one hand, the trickery must be accepted as reflecting Divine will, just as Isaac had acknowledged Jacob’s ruse. On the other hand, he had received just punishment for all his ruses, even though it was his mother’s command to disguise himself as Esau.
      • In either case, the atmosphere was embittered, leading Jacob to contemplate divorce. But these thoughts vanished when Leah became pregnant. Even after bearing him four sons, Jacob’s resentment festered long after Rachel died. Only on his deathbed in 49:31 did Jacob pay homage to Leah by mentioning her burial site. This mention of Leah was the first since chapter 30 [?].
    • Chassidic reading – Leah did not love herself. Like a righteous person always seeing his/her faults, she was hyperconscious about her behavior.
  • 29:31, “[God] opened her womb … Rachel was barren.”
    • Reference to barrenness is inserted to prepare for subsequent verses on Rachel’s children.
    • Midrash –links עֲקָרָה, “barren” to the main theme or principle – Rachel was the main person in the household, who brought light to her husband’s eyes.
    • Rav Kook (Gideon Weitzman) on fusion based on Rachel and Leah and their differences. Kabbalah (Zohar) – Rachel was in physical world; Leah, the spiritual world, pious (she mentions “God” many times). Characteristics blend together to sustain the Jews. Rachel was the proselytizer (like Abraham); Leah handled the home. The twelve tribes were based on this fusion; some go out in the world to spread the word; others preserve the sanctity of the home. [Sounds like male-female roles in the orthodox world.]
    • Are Rachel’s and Leah’s issues the result of polygamy?
    • Zelig Pliskin – God saw Leah’s sadness; Leah was an introvert, who lived in her house and was unloved, and kept to herself. Lesson: be sensitive to “pain” of others through body language as well as in words.
    • Adin Steinsaltz and Naomi Rosenblatt on analogy of dinner dishes:
      • Steinsaltz – Leah is meat and potatoes; Rachel is dessert.
      • Rosenblatt (page 277) – If so, then Bilhah and Zilphah are side dishes.

32. And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben, for she said, "Because the Lord has seen my affliction, for now my husband will love me."

  • 29:32, Leah conceived, bore a son, and bestowed his name.
    • Midrash - proximity of verbs suggests that baby was conceived the first time they had sex
    • Reuven – combination of Hebrew words for “look” and “a son”, i.e., “see, a son!” However, Leah interprets it as a way to please Jacob and make him love her.
      • According to Midrash Rabbah 71:3, Leah was saying, “see the difference between this son and other sons.” The “other son” was Esau, as Rashi explains,

Our Sages explained: She said, “Look at the difference between my son and the son [Esau] of my father-in-law [Isaac], who sold the birthright to Jacob (above 25:33). This one (Reuben) did not sell it to Joseph, but he nevertheless did not contend against him but sought to take him out of the pit.”

In other words, Esau lost his birthright to Jacob and hated him for it (27:41) while Reuven lost his birthright to Joseph (1 Chronicles 5:1) but harbored no ill will (37:21 where he tried to save Joseph).

    • “… now my husband will love me”
      • Leah already felt spiritually empty and abandoned by God. When Leah finally gives birth, she hopes that Jacob will embrace her. However, Reuven’s birth does nothing to win over Jacob; perhaps his great love for Rachel blinded him. “In response, Leah could have chosen bitterness … toward life [and] chosen to curse God. Instead, she choose sto bless God for all the love she has been given. Leah, the so-called unloved one, chooses to experience herself as the beloved of God.” [Ochs, Vanessa. Sarah Laughed. Modern Lessons from the Wisdom and stores of Biblical Women. NY: McGraw-Hill, 2005. Pages 179-180]
      • “God may have known how Leah was neglected, but he could not or would not change the heart of her husband, as it leaned toward Rachel, morning, noon, and night and pulled away from Leah despite the birth of the baby, despite Jacob’s pleasure in that birth.” [Roiphe, Anne. Water from the Well. Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah. NY: William Morrow (Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers), 2006). Page 204]
  • Rambam on Talmud Nedarim – a man cannot make love properly to his wife if his mind is on another woman. Then why did Reuven turn out to be a beautiful [admirable] child when he was thinking about Rachel? Did Jacob think he was being intimate with Rachel?

[From Talmud Nedarim 20a-b] R. Johanan b. Dahabai said: The Ministering Angels told me four things: People are born lame because they [sc. their parents] overturned their table [i.e., practiced unnatural cohabitation]; dumb, because they kiss 'that place'; deaf, because they converse during cohabitation; blind, because they look at 'that place'.

But this contradicts the following: Imma Shalom was asked: Why are your children so exceedingly beautiful? She replied: [Because] he [my husband] 'converses' with me neither at the beginning nor at the end of the night, but [only] at midnight. …. And when I asked him, what is the reason for this [for choosing midnight], he replied, So that I may not think of another woman lest my children be as bastards [figuratively]

See also on inappropriate forms of marital relations and offspring therefrom.

33. And she conceived again and bore a son, and she said, "Since the Lord has heard that I am hated, He gave me this one too." So she named him Simeon.

  • 29:33 – God now “heard” Leah’s plight
    • Just as Reuven is related to the word for see, the name שִׁמְעוֹן, Simeon, is related to the שמע, the root for hear or listen., …71:4
    • Midrash –sense of redemption in that Simeon’s descendant Zimri, who sinned by bringing his paramour to Moses and the elders (Numbers 25:1-9) during a time when women of Moab and Midian tried to seduce the Israelites. God’s wrath at this incident resulted in a plague that killed 24,000. Leah’s next son, Levi, would have a descendant Phinhas who would halt this plague [Midrash Rabbah, 71:4]

34. And she conceived again and bore a son, and she said, "Now this time my husband will be attached to me, for I have borne him three sons; therefore, He named him Levi.

  • 29:34 - Levi is born.
    • Root of Levi is root for attached, לבי. Rashi on “attached” (citing midrash): Since the Matriarchs were prophetesses, they knew that twelve tribes would emanate from Jacob, and that he would marry four wives, she said, “From now on, he will find no fault with me for I have contributed my share in (producing) sons.”
    • Also, root for funeral procession (from Mishnah Peah 1:1): הַמֵת לְוָיַת, attending the dead, part of the passage of text study following the blessing for daily miracles during shacharit services. It’s one deed that yields fruit immediately and continues to pay rewards in the next life.
    • She hopes baby will save marriage, as she thought at the previous births. See above on “attached.”
    • Rosenblatt [pages 273-280] on why life is not fair. People’s situations are result of factors they cannot control.
      • “Life is unfair” – President John Kennedy, who had the advantages of privileged upbringing and the disadvantages of serious back pains (not to mention an assassin).
      • Everyone has limitations and blessings. “It is painful to accept how little control we exert over the forces that affect us most. We cannot choose our gene pool, our parents, our position in our family, or our homeland. Neither can we choose the time of circumstances of our birth and death.”
      • Rachel and Leah are quintessential examples of how character traits are distributed unevenly between siblings.



  • Beautiful
  • Barren
  • Homely
  • Fertile
  • Loved
  • Starved for affection – “Leah suffered terribly as the undesired wife of Jacob. She hoped in vain that by bearing Jacob a son she would win his love. She continued to bear him children, and with each birth she prayed that she would move closer to his heart” even after Levi’s birth but Jacob was unresponsive. “She continued to dwell on the outskirts of her husband’s affections.”

  • With each son she bore, Leah hoped to gain Jacob’s affection, but without success. [Antonelli, Judith S. In the Image of God. A Feminist Commentary on the Torah. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc. 1995. Page 80]

    • Envious
  • Upon birth of Judah (29:34), credited God for her births.

  • Wednesday, June 06, 2012

    Jacob's Marriages - It is complicated!

    Torah Study at Beth Am - 2 June 2012 (Howard's notes)

    • Tammi Schneider on external beauty (Women’s Commentary page 176): beauty is dangerous (e.g., Tamar being raped in II Samuel 13; Lot living in S’dom because it looked better than Canaan in Genesis 12:11-12; Samson marrying Delilah because of her looks in Judges 14:1-3).  In Torah, easy to be seduced by senses, i.e., physical attraction.
    Through modern standards, Rachel seems to be favored over Leah because she’s a looker.  I.e., beauty is seen as a positive trait.  However, the bible points out elsewhere that beauty can be hazardous.
    29:24. And Laban gave Zilpah his maidservant to his daughter Leah as a maidservant.
    • This verse seems to interrupt the narrative, like an interpolation.  Will it be relevant later?  Maybe; she’ll be the mother of some tribes.  
      • Zilpah name may be based on the Arabic word zulfah, “dignity” or dhulifa, “to be small.”  [Sarna JPS Torah Commentary, page 205] But in Midrash, etymology is based on zalaf, to flow, as in tears, for sympathy.  The Hebrew root זלפ means sprinkling or spraying.
      • According to commentary Or Hayim, Zilpah was originally Lavan’s wife’s servant (since she had died, she was already Leah’s property; Lavan was being pretentious).  Verse is clumsy and repetitive.  Lavan had no real authority to give Zilpah away.  Lavan was unscrupulous!
    29:25. And it came to pass in the morning, and behold she was Leah! So he said to Laban, "What is this that you have done to me? Did I not work with you for Rachel? Why have you deceived me?"
    • Midrash is troubled by the way the deception happened.  Was Jacob that stupid?  Was it too dark for Jacob to see?  Or was he drunk?
    • Genesis Rabbah 70:19 speculates on what happened the night after the wedding feast.  “That entire night Jacob called out to her … ‘Rachel,’ and she responded as if she [Leah] were Rachel.  Thus, it was only in the morning that Jacob realized who it was.”  See commentary for 26 May 2012.
    29:26. And Laban said, "It is not done so in our place to give the younger one before the firstborn [older].
    • On firstborn/older vs younger, Nahum Sarna [JPS Torah Commentary, page 205] notes that this sentence structure is used for situations of “great moral turpitude,” such as Genesis 34:7 (Dinah’s rape), 2 Samuel 13:12 (Amnon “lying” with sister Tamar), Genesis 20:9 (Avimelech and alleged adultery).
    It reads like a horrified expression, coming from Lavan, the great [cynical] moralist.  Halachah on this …  
    Lavan was prevaricating; he should have made this clear to Jacob.  Lavan was lying because he was trying to get a homely daughter out of the house.  On the other hand, if Jacob told his life story to Lavan, including the deceptions of Esau and Isaac, Lavan’s behavior was a conscious effort to teach Jacob a lesson.
    • Hirsch – eldest daughter is automatically selected for marriage if a man asks the father.  Hirsch writes (pages 616-617), “The local customs [is that] if someone proposes to marry the younger sister, the understanding is that his proposal includes the older sister as well.  Thus everything is perfectly in order.  After Leah’s marriage, ‘we will give you’ Rachel as well.  The plural ‘we’ underscores the propriety of the act, as though it were in complete accordance with local custom – as concocted in Lavan’s mind.  ‘Of course, you will then have to serve me for another seven years.’”
    • Alter – this verse is an instrument to teach Jacob a lesson about lying and deceiving.  He contrasts g’dolah and k’tanah in earlier verses with what’s in this verse [firstborn/older and younger].  Alter writes (page 155), “Lavan is an instrument of dramatic irony: his perfectly natural reference to ‘our place’ has the effect of touching a nerve of guilty consciousness in Jacob, who in his place acted to put the younger before the firstborn.  This effect is reinforced by Lavan’s referring to Leah not as the elder but as the firstborn … The whole story of the switched brides is a meting out of poetic justice to Jacob” Just as Isaac was deceived by darkness and blindness, Jacob was also fooled by the darkness of night.  Both relied on a misleading sense of touch [See Naomi Rosenblatt commentary below].  Alter also cites Genesis Rabbah 70:19 above.
    • Women’s Commentary, page 163 – does human disruption help or inhibit the divine plan?  Is Lavan’s trickery an act of divine providence?  After all, four women will produce the Twelve Tribes.  “It is the interfamilial competition that renders the household productive.”
    • Naomi Rosenblatt – “when our hearts lead us down a blind alley” (pages 270-272).  Is it willful deception?  Jacob is blinded by need to be loved; wants approval of surrogate father.  His emotional blindness is comparable to Isaac’s physical blindness.  Such individuals are easy to abuse emotionally.  Yet Jacob meekly goes along with it. He feels guilty and unworthy over stealing his brother’s birthright [he really didn’t] and his blessing.
      • Lavan’s motives were primarily to rid his household of a financial liability, the unmarried older daughter.
      • “Jacob’s emotional blindness on his wedding night mirrors Isaac’s physical blindness when bestowing his blessing on his son.  Both scenes are cloaked in darkness.  Both men close their eyes to the deception … allowing themselves to be beguiled by their less reliable senses of touch, taste, and smell.”
    • Veiling at a marriage ceremony derives from the episode of Jacob and his non-recognition of Leah; groom must see bride before veiling her.
    • Divine providence and purpose behind all this; as opposed to free will.  Much of our behavior is determined not by free will, but by genetics and cultural mores.
    • Jacob is a passive figure: Just as Rebecca masterminded the blessing deception, Lavan stages this one.
    • Growth through Torah by Pliskin – sarcasm should not be used to correct behavior; it’s malicious and causes pain.
    27. Complete the [wedding] week of this one, and we will give you this one too, for the work that you will render me for another seven years."
    • 29:27 – shevuah – a week of feasting before a wedding
      • This feasting is also in Judges 14:10 ff for Samson’s wedding and was a precedent established in biblical times and continues to the present day (at least in traditional communities).
      • Nahum Mohl on seven days of feasting in orthodox community: the week after marriage is typically devoted to “honeymoon,” bride and groom go away alone.  In Jewish lore, it a feast with family and friends.  The idea is that the two families marry, m’chutim, the families bond.  That custom is based on this verse.  For the gory details, see (accessed 5 June 2012)
    28. And Jacob did so, and he completed the week of this one, and he gave his daughter Rachel to him as a wife.
    • 29:28 – Jacob meekly acquiesces to another seven years.  Rachel was given “to him as a wife,” meaning a true partner.  This did not apply to Leah, with whom Jacob did not have a partnership; in the JPS translation of 29:23, Leah “cohabited” with Jacob.  Other translations of 29:23, none of which use the same language as 29:28, אִשָּׁה:
      • Alter (The Five Books of Moses): “he came to bed with her.”
      • Freidman (Commentary on the Torah): “and he came to her.”
      • Kaplan (The Living Torah): “… brought her to [Jacob] who consummated the marriage with her”
      • Scherman (Artscroll) – “he consorted with her.”
      • Hertz (The Pentateuch): “he went in unto her.”
    • 29:28 - How can Jacob marry two sisters?  Leviticus 18:18 states, do not marry a women who is a rival to her sister, i.e., the wife’s sister when the wife is alive.
      • Nahum Sarna (JPS Torah Commentary, page 205) suggests at the time of the Torah writing, this was OK. Later, it was forbidden.  In other words this narrative reflects an accepted practice in ancient times; the biblical authors did not rewrite the text to reflect the morality of later times.
      • Midrash Tanchuma – divine providence  [cannot find this in Midrash Tanchuma]
      • Rachel and Leah become proselytes; they’re from an idolatrous family, so they converted and as such, were no longer sisters in a legal sense.
      • According to Ramban [Blinder, pages 31-33 on 26:5], referring to Abraham, and presumably all is descendants, keeping My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My instructions:
        • Jacob’s observance was limited to Shabbat-related mitzvot
        • Jacob was bound by the Noachide laws; certain specific prohibitions such as theft and bloodshed; and non-rational commandments such as forbidden mixtures and crossbreeding of animals and plants.
        • Abraham’s observance of the Torah was limited to the land of Israel; Jacob married the sisters outside of Israel.  Furthermore, Abraham’s observance was voluntary, since the commandments he received were not mandatory, unlike the Revelation, when the Torah was formally received with the obligation to observe its commandments.  [See also Munk, page 396]
    29. And Laban gave his daughter Rachel his maidservant Bilhah, for a maidservant.
    • 29:29 – Bilhah means foolish or unconcerned based on Arabic root [Sarna, page 206].  According to Midrash, Hebrew root is בלה, to be alarmed.
    • From the Women’s Commentary, page 177: Bilhah and Zilpah (29:24) were daughters of Laban by a concubine and suitable as mothers of the Tribes (citing Rashi on 31:30).  Rachel’s use of Bilhah parallels Sarah and Hagar, since both matriarchs were (at first) barren.  Both Leah’s and Rachel’s righteousness in offering their maids to Jacob to procreate the twelve tribes are viewed as acts leading to the redemption from Egypt.  Indeed, some traditions view Bilhah and Zilpah as matriarchs.
    30. And he came also to Rachel, and he also loved Rachel more than Leah; and he worked with him yet another seven years.
    • 29:30 is a poignant verse
    • There is an extra word, גַּם (gam), referring to also loving Rachel.  Why?  The primary emotional commitment is typically to whom one marries first.  Although, Jacob loved Leah, he loved Rachel more.
    Proverbs 5:18 - Your fountain shall be blessed, and you shall rejoice with the wife of your youth …
    “[Talmud Sanhedrin 22a-b] Rab Judah taught his son R. Isaac: Only with one's first wife does one find pleasure (quickening of spirit) as it is said: Let your fountain be blessed and have joy of the wife of your youth.”
    The Talmud continues to discuss who is “the wife of your youth.”  Some say it’s the mother; others, the first wife.
    • Hirsch – the text infers that Jacob loved Leah in spite of Lavan’s deception.  Evidently, Leah was also fooled into believing her father’s fabricated custom about marrying the firstborn before other daughters.  Leah was a unwitting accomplice to the deception, but Jacob bore no grudge against her.  He nevertheless still loved Rachel more.