April 17, 2024
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“And Hashem saw that Leah was disliked, and He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren” (29:31). The phrase “Rachel was barren” being in the same pasuk and immediately following that “Leah was disliked,” seems to imply a connection between these two facts.

Indeed, Rav Simcha Zissel from Kelm (seen in “Noam Hamussar,” Vayeitzei) points out that it’s therefore implicit that Rachel’s barrenness was because of Leah being disliked. But why should it be decreed that Rachel be barren just because Leah was disliked? What does that have to do with Rachel? Rav Zissel explains that when it says Leah was disliked, it means that Leah felt disliked since she was introduced into Yaakov’s house through deception. This was something with which Leah struggled. Rachel knew this and was taken to task for not doing all she could to resolve this and help Leah overcome her insecurity. It was expected that Rachel would ensure Leah felt comfortable, and that she belonged in Yaakov’s home. Hence, because “Leah was [i.e. felt] disliked,” “Rachel was [punished with being] barren.”

Let’s put things in perspective. Rachel already gave up so much for Leah’s betterment; She went so above and beyond for Leah—and that description might not nearly size up the sacrifice Rachel endured on Leah’s behalf.

As we know, Yaakov was planning on marrying Rachel. Yaakov already anticipated Lavan’s potential scheme, so he specifically made secret codes with Rachel. Nevertheless, Lavan switched Leah for Rachel, and Rachel realized that Leah would be embarrassed if she didn’t give her the codes. Giving Leah the codes meant giving up on marrying Yaakov, but Rachel did it anyway. Can we imagine what it means to wait so long to marry Yaakov and at the last moment give him all up for someone else? Even more so, she was going to marry the holy Yaakov Avinu—the “chosen” of the three avot! Yaakov was to father the shevatim—the foundation for the rest of Bnei Yisrael, and Rachel gave up being their mother, and let Leah have that honor instead. Moreover, it was commonly assumed that Yitzchak’s two sons, Yaakov and Eisav, would marry their uncle Lavan’s two daughters—Rachel and Leah. Accordingly, it would seem then that Rachel was not only giving up on marrying Yaakov but was also putting herself in a position to be potentially married to Eisav!

Rachel didn’t begrudgingly give up Yaakov to Leah—she did it of her own volition. In fact, some even explain (brought in Chesed l’Avraham, Vayeitzei) that when giving over the codes to Leah, Rachel—to spare Leah of any ill-feelings—went so far as to make it seem like Leah was doing her a favor by marrying Yaakov! Rachel pretended to Leah that she was not fit for marriage yet, claiming she was too young and not ready for the responsibility of marriage. Essentially then—in order to spare Leah of any embarrassment—Rachel was imparting to Leah: please, do me a favor and marry Yaakov instead of me. Furthermore, Rachel went so far to ensure Leah’s success that the midrash (Eicha Rabbah, Petichta, 24) even says that Rachel hid in the room where Yaakov and Leah were, and any question Yaakov would ask, Rachel would respond instead of Leah! We clearly see the extreme efforts Rachel put in to make Leah feel comfortable with the whole process, and spare her any uncomfortable feelings.

How can we adequately, truly size up Rachel’s sacrifice? It was so great that not even the outstanding feats of our avot or Moshe Rabbeinu merited for Hashem to have mercy on us in this galut, but only in the merit of Rachel’s act that she did for her sister (midrash ibid)! As the midrash there says that Hashem said, for your sake, Rachel, I will return Bnei Yisrael to their place (they will eventually return from the land of their enemies).

So did Rachel really not do enough for Leah already? Yet, it would seem that according to Rav Simcha Zissel, Rachel still lacked one thing despite all that she had done for Leah’s sake, and that was she didn’t make Leah feel at home.

If we could perhaps put it in other words, although Rachel fully gave up her place on Leah’s behalf, afterwards—after Leah’s new adjustment—she didn’t fully check up on Leah’s behalf. Although Rachel may have done everything she could to make the process of the substitution smooth and comfortable for Leah, Rachel, to some degree, fell short in checking up on Leah’s daily living—how things were going for her in Yaakov’s house, to help resolve her feeling of being despised, perhaps also by Yaakov, over the fact that she gained entry through less than noble terms.

The following example is greatly underestimating the case with Rachel, but imagine someone who for an entire year is planning a five-star vacation. Everything is set and ready, but at the last moment he gets a call that a relative of his is going through difficult times and could really be helped by going on that vacation he planned. Although he really anticipated going on this vacation, deep down he believes this is the right thing to do, so despite the difficulty of giving it up, he nevertheless agrees. Would he then also check up on his relative to see how things are going for them on “their” vacation? For Rachel, even after her indescribable act of being mevater for Leah, it was perhaps expected for her to go the extra mile and check up on Leah to help her feel comfortable with her new lifestyle, to feel at home, that she belongs.

Being mevater is such a great act; yet, we perhaps see from here that even after we give up for someone else’s sake, we can even take it up a notch by checking up on them to see how they are adjusting to or how they are experiencing that which we gave up for them.


Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon, and Wurzweiler School of Social Work

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