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Did Jacob Really Hate His Wife?

We Hate What We Don’t Understand

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

    4325 views
  • November 19, 2015
  • |
  • 7 Kislev 5776
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Class Summary:

The story of Laban’s deception, exchanging Rachel with Leah, is one of the most intriguing stories in all of the Tanach. It contains some of the profoundest ideas about relationships, love, and the workings of the human mind. But today I want to ask a simple question: How can Jacob hate his own wife, Leah? Jacob is the third Patriarch of Israel, the father of every Jew living since. Did he really hate his own spouse? And what lesson does this teach us? 

In fact, the Talmud cautions us heavily against living with a spouse that we hate and despise. Either change your attitude or get out of the marriage. It is especially harmful for children of such a relationship. If Jacob really hated Leah why did he stay married to her?

There are many interpretations, spanning hundreds of years. The most original and stunning interpretation, though, is found in the writings of the first two masters of the Chabad dynasty, Rabbi Schnuer Zalman of Liadi, known as the Alter Rebbe (1745-1812), and his son, Rabbi Dov Ber, known as the Miteler Rebbe (1733-1828.) People hate what they don't understand; they recoil from that which they can’t wrap their brain around; they fear that which they can't conquer; they loath that which they can’t control.

A Doctors advice

A woman accompanied her husband to the doctor's office. After his checkup, the doctor called the wife into his office alone. He said, "Your husband is suffering from a very severe stress disorder. If you don't do the following, your husband will surely deteriorate and die.

"Each morning," instructed the doctor, "fix him a healthy breakfast. Be pleasant at all times. For lunch, make him a nutritious meal. For dinner, prepare an especially nice hot meal for him, and have it waiting for him when he comes home from work. Don't burden him with chores. Don't discuss your problems with him; it will only exacerbate his stress. No nagging is allowed. You also must compliment him at least five or six times a day, telling him how brilliant and talented he is. And most importantly, never disagree with him.

"If you can do this for the next 10 months to a year," the doctor said, "I think your husband will regain his health completely."  On the way home, the husband asked his wife, "What did the doctor say?"

"He said you're going to die," she replied.

Deception

Jacob flees his home in Canaan and travels east to the house of Laban. Upon arriving, he meets Laban’s younger daughter Rachel and falls in love with her. Laban proposes a deal: work for me for seven years and I will give her to you in marriage. Jacob does so, but on the wedding night Laban substitutes Leah for Rachel. Leah enters the dark tent rather than Rachel. Jacob consummates the marriage, and discovered the deception only the next morning. Ultimately, Jacob accepted his fate and remained with Leah. But he later also married Rachel, the bride of his choice.

This is how the Torah describes it (Genesis ch. 29):

And he [Jacob] cohabited with Rachel also, and he also loved Rachel more than Leah; and he worked with him yet another seven years.  And G-d saw that Leah was hated, so He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.  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."  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.

Did He Really Hate Her?

This is one of the most intriguing stories in all of the Tanach (the Hebrew Bible). It contains some of the profoundest ideas about relationships, love, and the workings of the human mind. But today I want to ask a simple question: How can Jacob hate his own wife, Leah? Jacob is the third Patriarch of Israel, the father of every Jew living since. Did he really hate his own spouse? And if he did, why did he not divorce her?

And what lesson does this teach us? After all, Torah means “lesson.” The stories in Torah are not merely historical narratives, for only few stories are recorded. Each story constitutes a timeless lesson, a blueprint for our own lives. What can this story teach us?

In fact, the Talmud[1] cautions us heavily against living with a spouse that we despise. Either change your attitude or get out of the marriage. It is especially harmful for children of such a relationship. If Jacob really loathed Leah why did he stay married to her?

There are many interpretations, spanning hundreds of years. The most original and creative I have discovered is in the writings of the first Chabad Rebbe, one of the greatest minds in the annals of Jewish history, Rabbi Schnuer Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), known as the Alter Rebbe. (It is even more elucidated in the writings of his son, Rabbi Dov Ber, known as the Miteler Rebbe (1733-1828). The yartzeit as well as the birthday of the Miteler Rebbe is this shabbos, 9 Kislev, and the anniversary of his liberation from Czarist imprisonment is the following day, 10 Kislev).[2]

In the Zohar, Leah and Rachel are described as “the hidden world” and the “revealed world.”[3] Leah, the Alter Rebbe explains, was far deeper than Rachel. While Rachel represents the conscious self, the self that is projected, manifested and expressed in articulated emotions and words, Leah represents the unconscious self, or the super-conscious self—the components of identity that are hidden from the surface of our conscious experiences and conceptualized sense of self.

We each have our “Rachel” and our “Leah,” within ourselves, within our spouses, within our children, within our parents, siblings, and friends, within our entire lives—and, of course, in our experience of G-d. Rachel symbolizes those dimensions of yourself that you can make "sense of;" those aspects of your spouse that you comprehend, grasp, appreciate, and can somewhat control; you can wrap your brain around them. Rachel represents those aspects of your children that you “get” and are comfortable with. Rachel reflects the parts of yourself that you can categorize, classify, and see their patterns and structures; those aspects of your psyche that you have come to terms with.

Leah—oy my G-d!—represents the components of your spouse that challenge you, the aspects of your children that force you to reevaluate everything about yourself and your parenting, the dimensions of your identity that you have long ago repressed (or supressed) and they trigger deep fears. Leah embodies the aspects of yourself that you cannot make sense of.

Rachel is naturally loveable; Leah is naturally hated. Why? Here, the Alter Rebbe makes a stunning observation:[4]

People hate what they don't understand. They recoil from that which they can’t wrap their brains around; they fear that which they can't conquer; they loath that which they can’t control. I appreciate, love and enjoy that which I can assimilate into the modalities and structures of my identity, fit into my “box.” When I am faced with a reality that defies my comfort zone, it triggers deep unrest in me, it scares and overwhelms me. It raddles everything I came to “know” about myself. It makes me feel vulnerable, it forces me to give up control, it informs me of how much I have been blacking out of my system in order to survive. So what do I do? I hate it! That allows me to ignore it and move on. The resistance, in the form of hate, allows me to ignore truth.

Rachel is "the shapely and beautiful” woman; she is attractive and beautiful. We love Rachel because we “get her,” and we appreciate what we get. She fits in into our comfort zones, and as such, she enhances our lives. In Hebrew Rachel means "ewe," an animal characterized by its bright white color and its serene and lovable nature. The numerology of the Hebrew name Rachel, 238, is the same as the numerology of the Hebrew words “Vayehe Ohr,” "and there was light."[5] Rachel is light. She is our projected self, she embodies the light which allows us to observe and understand.

Leah is derived from the Hebrew word “nileh,” or "leuit," exhaustion. She embodies an infinite depth that tires us out—it perplexes, confuses and overwhelms us. Leah rattles our conscious psyche. She has no filter. We don’t “see” Leah; we are just made uncomfortable by her. You can’t see your unconscious. Your finite eyes can’t reach it. You can just get shaken by it, because you never “have it;” it has you.

How do you encounter Leah? Never consciously. Jacob can’t enter into a relationship with Leah by choice. Leah always surprises us. It is not something we get ready for—because that which we prepare ourselves for is always a reflection of our own aspirations and expectations. Leah represents the parts of yourself that you do not “know” in a systematic way. It enters into your life unconsciously. Leah personifies the realities of life that defy our constructs and hence we encounter them “by mistake.” Things that transcend your systems enter into your lives via unconscious pathways. Jacob can't agree to marry Leah. He would never do such a thing, because Leah defies his very sense of "I." My conscious I would never choose Leah. It is his super conscious self that chooses, in an unconscious way, a relationship with Leah. Because that is where he grows most.

Jacob chooses to marry Rachel. But in the process he marries Leah. Each of us marries two people: Leah and Rachel. Our conscious self marries our conscious spouse; our unconscious self marries our unconscious spouse. One spouse we love; the other challenges us deeply.

Jacob understood this. Slowly, he learnt to appreciate, respect and love Leah. We too must discover this ability within ourselves. Those aspects in your life that you run away from most—may contain the deepest “tikunim” (healing powers) for you; those aspects in your spouse that irk you most, may hold the secret to your recovery; those aspects in your relationships that challenge some deep emotions in you, may contain the key to ultimate self-discovery.  Sometimes we hate things because they are bad for us. But not always. Some things we hate because we are scared of their truth; or because we are scared to open ourselves to unknown horizons. We hate them because they makes us feel ignorant and vulnerable. Or because they force us to go to places we have long repressed.

Yet as the Torah puts it so shockingly simple and profound: “And G-d saw that Leah was hated, so He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.” It is often in that which are so afraid of that allows us to give birth to our deepest soul-powers. From surrounding yourself only with things and people that make you feel in control, you remain barren. By exposing yourself to the unknown, you can give birth to infinity.

What is more, your path to Rachel always goes through Leah. You can never love your Rachel if you do not make peace with your Leah.

[1]  Nedarim 20

[2] Toras Chaim Vayeitzei p. 168, based on a discourse by his father, Maamarei Admur Hazaken 5572 p. 100; 102.

[3] See Torah Or Vayeitzei and references noted there.

[4] Maamarei Admur Hazaken 5572 p. 100; 102. Toras Chaim Vayeitzei 169a. 

[5] Yonas Alem by the great mystic Rabbi Menachem Azaryah of Fano (1548-1620) Chapter 5; explained in Likkutei Sichos vol. 30 p. 286.

Please leave your comment below!

  • ZK

    Zalman Kastel -2 years ago

    Yasher Koach

    Thank you for this explanation. It is nourishing and enlightening.

    It also ties in with Leah confronting Jacob about his deception of his father by impersonating his brother at a time when he was enraged about Laban's deception. 

    Perhaps at a subcounsious level Jacob would have prefered to stick with his self image as a straight shooter rathen than acknowledge that there was a part of him that was more like Laban than he wanted to admit. 

    See Toldos Yaakov Yosef who taught us to look within when feeling outraged. He argued that anger about others’ faults is actually a reaction to seeing something ugly reflected in the other, that we are trying to deny in ourselves  

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  • R

    RabbiK -5 years ago

    comment

    (וזה ביאור "עזר כנגדו" זכה עוזרתו לא זכה כנגדו (יבמות ס"ג

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  • Anonymous -5 years ago

    a reply/comment

    i've heard many answers to this question over the years but this is the most profound and soul-searching. thanks. 

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • Y

    Yaakov -5 years ago

    WOW! So Deep and answers many perplexing questions about ourse

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • CF

    Caryn Fried -5 years ago

    Where does it say he hated Leah?

    I understand that Jacob loved and wanted Rachael. And I like the article about marryingthe conscious and unconscious aspects of your spouse.  But just because he loved Rachael, doesn't necessarily mean that he hated Leah. If you hate someone do you still have such intimate relations with them?

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • SH

    Sonia Hershky -5 years ago

    How true and amazing these words are!

    Ashrecha Rabbi, for letting us in on the words of the ALter Rebbe in such a practical modern way.

     

    Have a wonderful Shabbos from Mexico.

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • BG

    Bracha Goetz -5 years ago

    Wonderful!

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • Y

    yael -8 years ago

    This question was really bothering me. How happy I was to open my email and see you addressing this exactly! Thank you it is really profound and well expressed!

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • MZ

    Mendel Zilberberg -8 years ago

    Ty - this article seems to answer the basic question of why - after the deception which primarily was perpetrated by Rachel - it was Leah who the brunt of Jacobs wrath.

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • LP

    Lori Papermaster -8 years ago

    Amazing -exactly what I needed to hear.. I'm struggling with these issues right now in my life..
    my Hebrew name is Esther Chaya Leah- could that mean Hidden life of the unconscious??
    I never make peace w/ those I hate or am most angry . Perhaps it's my unconscious trying to give me a message I don't want to hear.. so easy to stay on the surface.. Yet I still don't get it about Rachel.. Today I was at Kever Rachel and I can't tell you
    how comforting it is to to go there. Maybe that's what you mean that the Leah in us Makes us uncomfortable..

    Thank you..

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • E

    Eli -8 years ago

    Brilliant. I always wondered why I sought to leave the people I grew up with to mingle with people and situations of much turbulence, eventually to become a baal tshuv. You have to deal with Leah to really grow. The people I grew up with are still doing the same things, in the same way, with the same friends they had when we were 5. They're beautiful, don't get me wrong, and I love them dearly, but it wasn't for me. Many times I wished I could be like them. Go straight to college, get a good job, etc. Yossie's article helps me understand why I had to leave my box. Kudos. EW Crown Heights.

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

Essay Vayeitzei

Rabbi YY Jacobson
  • November 19, 2015
  • |
  • 7 Kislev 5776
  • |
  • 4325 views
  • Comment

Class Summary:

The story of Laban’s deception, exchanging Rachel with Leah, is one of the most intriguing stories in all of the Tanach. It contains some of the profoundest ideas about relationships, love, and the workings of the human mind. But today I want to ask a simple question: How can Jacob hate his own wife, Leah? Jacob is the third Patriarch of Israel, the father of every Jew living since. Did he really hate his own spouse? And what lesson does this teach us? 

In fact, the Talmud cautions us heavily against living with a spouse that we hate and despise. Either change your attitude or get out of the marriage. It is especially harmful for children of such a relationship. If Jacob really hated Leah why did he stay married to her?

There are many interpretations, spanning hundreds of years. The most original and stunning interpretation, though, is found in the writings of the first two masters of the Chabad dynasty, Rabbi Schnuer Zalman of Liadi, known as the Alter Rebbe (1745-1812), and his son, Rabbi Dov Ber, known as the Miteler Rebbe (1733-1828.) People hate what they don't understand; they recoil from that which they can’t wrap their brain around; they fear that which they can't conquer; they loath that which they can’t control.

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