Va-Yetze: Conceiving the children

A profound frustration underlay the relationships between Yaacov,Leah and Rachel. Jacob loved Rachel, but she was preoccupied with her difficulty conceiving, and Leah loved Yaacov and named her children as a record of her changing relationship with her husband and with G-d.


Nechama Leibowitz commented on the difficulty Rachel faced. “When Rachel saw that she had borne no children to Jacob, she became envious of her sister and said to Yaacov, “give me children or I’ll die””. Yaacov’s answer was angry, saying “can I take the place of G-d who has denied you the fruit of the womb?” Leibowitz asked whether Rachel deserved such an answer, and wrote that she was asking out of intense suffering and so should not have been blamed. Nechama Leibowitz referred to the explanation of Ramban, who wrote that Yaacov was concerned by her approach to prayer, where she indicated that she expected that Yaacov could change the will of G-d. In contrast a sincere prayer is one in which the supplicant knows that the prayer cannot force G-d to do anything.


R Eli Munk wrote that while Leah calmly accepted her fate, Rachel was more quick-tempered and irritable. Leah would have more happiness in her married life and her family, whereas Rachel would know the anxiety of becoming a mother. R’ SR Hirsch wrote that Jewish tradition has seen them as equals and equally deserving of respect for together being the source which nourished an entire people. R’ Munk wrote that after Yaacov’s answer to her plea, Rachel  resolved to pray to G-d herself. When she bore a son and named him Yosef, she said “G-d has taken away my disgrace” and she prayed “may G-d add on for me another (acher) son”. R’ Munk wrote that “acher” also means different, as Binyamin, along with Yehuda, constituted the nucleus of the Jewish nation whilst the descendents of the other ten sons ultimately faded from history. Rachel tragically died on the journey back to Canaan, and her tomb has just been bizarrely declared a mosque by UNESCO. Leah went on to be buried in the Cave of Machpela alongside Yaacov.

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