Deborah Beach Giordano
© July 31, 2017
Genesis 29:15-28 ~ as told by Deborah
Laban said to Jacob, “Just because we’re relatives doesn’t mean you should work for me for free. So tell me: what will your wages be?”
Now Laban had two daughters; Leah was the elder, and Rachel was the younger.
Leah looked at Jacob longingly, but Rachel was graceful and beautiful.
Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will work for you for seven years for your daughter Rachel.”
Laban said, “Better that she be married to you than to some stranger; it’s a deal.”
So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, but it seemed like only a few days because he loved her so much.
After the seven years, he went to Laban, “Now give me my wife — I’ve fulfilled my side of the bargain.”
So Laban threw a big party to celebrate the marriage. But that evening he brought his daughter Leah to Jacob.
In the morning Jacob discovered that he had spent the night with Leah. [Wow, that must have been some party!] And he said to Laban, “What did you to do me? I worked for you all these years for Rachel, didn’t I? Why did you trick me?”
Laban said, “That’s not how things are done here: you don’t marry off the younger before the elder. Finish your honeymoon week with this one, and we’ll give you the other one, too — in exchange for serving me for another seven years.”
So Jacob agreed, and spent the rest of the week with Leah; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife, too.
A Sad Tale
The story of Jacob’s marriages always makes me sad. Poor Leah! Slipped in under the covers as a substitute for her younger sister — a fact that the bridegroom fails to notice until the morning after — and then Jacob complains that he has been cheated; she lives out her life as the unloved, unappreciated wife. Even her children come in a distant third to the two born to pretty, petulant Rachel — who throws a fit at Jacob when she initially fails to conceive.
Despite presenting Jacob with seven children, including six healthy sons, Leah is always an afterthought, the “other one.” When or where she died remains a mystery, her burial a mere footnote (49:31), while Rachel’s last words are commemorated, and her memory lives on “to this very day” in the pillar that Jacob erected to mark her tomb (35:19-20).
It is so sad and unfair. To be unloved is surely the great tragedy of life.
Of course terrible things can happen: abuse, disasters, disease, suffering and loss — but we can find our way, we can endure storm and travail, if love is there.
Even love that has been lost — when death has taken the lifeblood of our heart; love’s lasting glow guides our footsteps, leading us forward. “Strong as death is love,” in Robert Alter’s glorious translation of The Song of Songs.
We are not told directly of Leah’s sorrow, we have no reports of her yearning to be cared for, her longing to be appreciated — to be desired — by the man she has married. In later years she complains of being hated by Jacob… despite the fact that he visits her bed (Gen 29:33). What grievous words! What inexpressible hurt!
Love at First Sight
From the first we are given hints that Leah will tread the way of Sorrow. We see only her eyes, and they look — well, it depends on who is doing the translating: occasionally they are called “lovely,” but more often described as “soft” or “dull,” “clouded,” or “resembling those of a cow (that is, large and vacant). I interpret it as the look of infatuation. As Jacob is brought into the family circle, Leah stands, dumb-struck and staring, as she beholds the object of her desire. But he only has eyes for Rachel.
Just as Leah fell for him, Jacob fell in love Rachel at the first moment he met her. And he continued to love her, devotedly, almost obsessively, for as long as she lived. As we saw, he built a shrine above Rachel’s grave, and favored her son Joseph outrageously, as well as little Benjamin — far above those he fathered with Leah or the sisters’ two servant women (whose voices we never hear). But, despite it all, Leah seems to have persisted in her deep, passionate desire for the unattainable man of her dreams.
What can we say, as we view this ancient version of the eternal triangle with our modern, “enlightened” eyes? The temptation is to tell Leah to cut that guy loose, walk away, move to Albuquerque and leave the heartless schmo to his own devices. But it is never quite that easy. It isn’t now and it certainly wasn’t then.
It is impossible not to see that tragic, hopeless hope, when Leah (as she must have done) conspired to masquerade as her younger sister on the wedding night. Did she imagine that Jacob would see her, under the shelter of the marriage tent, in a different light? that he would be persuaded by her act self-surrender, convinced by her passionate embrace?
We look upon it all and shake our heads. Yet who among us hasn’t been in a similar situation; trying to convince someone to care for us; engaging in that horrible, desperate, futile struggle to turn another’s heart. It may be a love interest, it might be a parent, a grandparent, a family member, a friend. We’ll try almost anything, do almost anything: change our hair, our voice, our clothes, our job, our car, our nose; pretend to be something we aren’t — just so they will love us. But it is impossible. We may elicit pity, or a grudging kindness, but, more often, the result is only scorn or outright contempt.
Leah tried to pass herself off as her sister. She tried to be “the woman Jacob wanted”; but it could never be — she could never be that other person. It was a hopeless, impossible effort that was doomed from the beginning. And it brought grief to all concerned.
Actually, It is You
The classic break-up line: “It isn’t you; it’s me,” is a lie. It is absolutely and utterly about you, personally and particularly. What matters in every relationship is who we are — in the deepest, truest sense. And that is how it should be. That is the beauty of our lives: the magnificent fact and gracious gift of each of our distinctly different, unique identities.
To live life in disguise, masquerading as something/ someone that we are not, is a sacrilege. It is an act of deceit: lying to others and betraying ourselves — as well as the One who made us. It is also exhausting, and nearly impossible.
The effort required to recast ourselves into a form that is not our own, and to maintain that false character, every minute of every hour of every day, demands absolute attention and eternal vigilance. At any moment we may slip up, the veil may drop, and our true selves be revealed. And then hated — as cheats and deceivers.
But the one most horribly cheated by this pretense is the deceiver. Weeks, months, years, even decades may pass — perhaps, as in Leah’s case, a whole lifetime — in make-believe: nothing is authentic to the self, but done to a script: “This is how Rachel would play it.” An entire life is lost.
For as long as she lived, Leah’s own beauty remained hidden behind Rachel’s veil; her gentleness overshadowed by jealousy, her joys shrouded by disappointment, her heart hardened, her hopes crushed. At the end she may have simply withered away, her passing barely noted.
Perhaps that is why Leah’s eyes may be described as clouded; she couldn’t see what mattered most: the work of being Leah, and of living into the fullness of that person — and no other.
Our culture is rife with temptations to model ourselves on others: to look, and dress, and behave like the chosen “celebrity” of the week. The advertising and entertainment industries pander to our fantasy of suddenly becoming “a whole new person” — always concerned with our appearance on the outside; careless and uncaring of the kind of person we are within. That way madness — and sorrow — lies.
In his farewell address to the people of God, Moses spoke these words of Eternal wisdom: “Choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and remaining faithful to Him” (Dtr 30:19-20).
Choose life — your own, glorious, amazing, unique and utterly individual life; bring it forth in all of its grandeur and magnificence, all of its simplicity and grace. Do not hide in the shadows of another. And do not be afraid.
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
Suggested Spiritual Exercise
Who are you, truly?
What light may you be hiding? (Matthew 5:15)