11 Cheshvan is the yahrtzeit of Rachel Imeinu.
Rachel and Leah – two sisters, two wives of Yaakov, and two of the Matriarchs of our People; Rachel and Leah-two powerful but contrasting personalities, each representing a world of her own.
Rachel was Yaakov’s first love and primary wife. But Leah was the first wife that he actually married, the first to bear his children and the one to mother the majority of his children.
At Leah’s hour of need, Rachel performed the greatest act of self-sacrifice by relinquishing her own destined groom in order to spare Leah degradation. As her swindling father veils Leah, replacing Rachel as Yaakov’s bride, Rachel not only remains silent, but aids her sister with the deception. She does this simply so that her sister not feel acutely embarrassed.
Leah, too, despite experiencing the pain of being Yaakov’s “unloved” wife, whose only consolation was bearing his children, demonstrates keen feelings of sisterhood and sensitivity to Rachel by praying for her to have a child. Pregnant with her seventh child, Leah prays that the fetus be female, so that Rachel, too, has her allotted share in the tribes of Israel.
Yet, despite their enormous compassion towards one another, Rachel and Leah were very different personalities representing two entirely different planes of reality, which in later times developed into actual rivalry.
An Enduring Schism
The vast gulf dividing their respective worlds not only affected their own lives, but continued as a penetrating rift in the lives of their descendants.
Beginning with the rivalry between Yosef (Rachel’s child) and his brothers (primarily Leah’s children), who sought to kill him but instead were placated by selling him as a slave to a passing caravan – the schism keeps resurfacing.
It was Moshe, Leah’s descendant, who redeemed our people from their slavery in Egypt, but only Yehoshua – Moshe’s disciple and Rachel’s descendant – who was able to lead the nation into the Holy Land.
The rulership of our first national king, King Shaul (descendant of Rachel) was cut short by King David (Leah’s descendant), through whom the dynasty would be established. But the schism again resurfaced with the constant strife and divisiveness between Malchut Yisroel (the Kingship of Israel) and Malchut David (the Davidic dynasty).
And this schism is set to remain until the end of time. Moshiach ben Yosef (from Rachel) has the task of preparing the world for redemption, but it is Moshiach ben David (from Leah) who actually accomplishes the final redemption for eternity.
What is the mystery of the spiritual qualities represented by these two sisters? What was the secret cosmic schism that would span centuries of history?
The Life Of The Tzaddik
Our first introduction to Rachel presents a young woman who is “beautiful and shapely,” of sterling character and overflowing kindness, shepherding her father’s animals. Yaakov’s keen spiritual sensitivity immediately senses that he has found his soul mate.
Like her father’s sheep that she tended, Rachel’s name means “ewe” – an animal characterized by its bright white color and serene, loveable nature. The beautiful Rachel, loved immediately by Yaakov for the shining qualities of her soul, is associated with the revealed, beautiful world of the present.
Rachel represents the tzaddik personality, a pure and righteous individual whose very being reflects the harmony and goodness of her Creator. Her task is to elevate our people to reach a higher reality. Her beauty is openly apparent.
In the original design for our world, it was intended that we taste the sweetness of the fruit even as it was developing, within the wood of the tree. In a perfectly functioning world, the present is supposed to be revealed in all its radiance, as a prelude to a more sublime future.
Rachel represents this state of simple and natural, revealed beauty. She epitomizes the world of perfection in the here and now of the tzaddik personality. She personifies the world of personal success, self-realization and spiritual perfection.
Her older son, Yosef, the handsome, enterprising and charismatic viceroy over the Egyptian empire also strongly embodied Rachel’s qualities. His handsomeness, too, mirrored an inner drive for spiritual perfection, retaining his righteousness even in the most corrupting of environments in Egypt.
When Yosef was born, Yaakov learned prophetically that his sons would have the power to defeat Esav as it is written, “The house of Yaakov shall be fire, and the house of Yosef shall be a jet of flame, while the house of Esav shall be straw.” Yaakov was likened to an ordinary fire that cannot burn something at a distance. Yosef, on the other hand, was like a jet of flame, which could burn something far away. For this reason Yaakov said, “I am no longer afraid of Esav. Yosef, his adversary, has been born. Now I can return home.”
Yosef’s power to destroy anything opposing holiness was openly revealed and readily manifested.
The Life Of The Baal Teshuvah
On the other hand, Leah’s name means “one who is weary.” She is described as the weak-eyed sister, bespeaking a weariness borne from her struggles.
Leah personifies a more complicated individual who struggles with the darker forces of our world and faces an exhausting, perpetual struggle. Leah is associated with the baal teshuvah, the repentant, an individual continuously plagued with battling, and overcoming, the negative urges rooted in her psyche.
The baal teshuvah personality does not only mean one who simply sins and repents. The righteous Leah did not commit any act of sin. The path of the baal teshuvah, however, refers to a specific Divine service where one is charged with dealing with the negativity of this world and exploiting its goodness. The baal teshuvah has the power of transforming the negativity by dealing with it, and thereby causing it to become holy.
Teshuvah, in its ultimate sense redefines and transforms negativity and reaches a new level of attachment to G-d. One who strays and then rebounds is fueled by his deficient state with a stronger yearning for divine life.
But the interaction with the negativity is strenuous and often painful. The baal teshuvah must be vigilant, on constant guard with each of his interactions with the world, for fear of succumbing to its embrace.
Advantage Of The Baal Teshuvah
Though Rachel was the beautiful individual, favored by Yaakov and leading the life of the tzaddik, Leah’s path ultimately led to greater heights.
Leah mothered the majority of the tribes of Israel. She lived with Yaakov for a greater part of their lives, while Rachel’s life was cut prematurely short. Leah, too, was buried at Yaakov’s side as his eternal partner in the Cave of Machpelah.
Leah’s beauty is a majesty reflected in all of our people, in the wonder of exposing our potential-within our hardships, our struggles and our uncertainties.
Because ultimately, though the path of the baal teshuvah is a difficult and twisted one, its impact on the world is weighty. It is when we victoriously face the wearying struggles and tempting choices in our lives that we emerge, finally, as a greater people after reaching an even more intense and meaningful bond with G-d.
Mothers Of Israel
Rachel and Leah were two special personalities who together with Sarah and Rivkah become the mothers of Israel. Whether it be through the revealed path of righteousness of Rachel, or the more hidden path of Leah, the qualities and mannerisms modeled by our matriarchs in dealing with the challenges of their lives are vital lessons for us, their children, for all times.
(Excerpted from Tending the Garden by Chana Weisberg)
Chana Weisberg is the author of several books, including the best-selling Divine Whispers – Stories that Speak to the Heart and Soul and the soon-to-be released book, Tending the Garden – book about the Jewish woman from the beginning until the end of time. She is a columnist for chabad.org and she lectures worldwide on a wide array of issues. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org