The Morning After the Wedding
"Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and broke into tears” (Genesis 29:11).
Thus begins the passionate and troubled love affair between Jacob and Rachel. Jacob has just fled to the land of Haran to escape the wrath of his brother Esau whom he has deceived by stealing his birthright (Genesis 27). In Haran he finds his relative Laban and agrees to work for him. Chapter 29 of Genesis tells how Jacob comes to marry both of Laban’s daughters: Leah the elder, and Rachel the younger. Let’s begin our discussion here by giving particular attention to Jacob’s first marriage in Genesis 29:1-29.
“In the morning, look—it was Leah!” (Genesis 29:25).
Jacob wakes after his wedding night to find himself deceived. He believed he had married and was sleeping with Rachel but instead her older sister Leah has been substituted. Jacob confronts his father-in-law, Laban, and we are sympathetic to his distressed cry:
“Why did you deceive me?” (29:25).
The Jewish sages who have reflected on this passage over centuries have long detected a certain divine retribution in this event. After all, wasn’t it Jacob who once caused deception and havoc in family life (Genesis 27)? Let’s examine our text through the eyes of a 16th century rabbi, Eliezer Ashkenazi. Ashkenazi is particularly interested in Laban’s curt response to Jacob’s distress:
“This is not done in our region, to give the younger before the firstborn” (29:26).
Ashkenazi notes two subtleties. First, Laban is an aggressive person, so why doesn’t he use a stronger argument, i.e., “It is never done” rather than the milder “This is not done in our region”?
Also, Leah and Rachel have been previously described as ‘the elder’ and ‘the younger’ (v.16). Why does Laban describe them as ‘the younger’ and ‘the firstborn’? Why is a different Hebrew word inserted here to refer to Leah? [Note: not all English translations show this difference, translating as ‘elder’ in both cases. In fact, 29:26 uses the same Hebrew word as found in Genesis 27:19 “I am Esau, your firstborn.”]
So what is Laban really saying to Jacob? Ashkenazi paraphrases his response this way:
‘It is true in your place perhaps such things are done, that the younger is given precedence over the firstborn, and that his portion is taken away and given to another, and the younger is given the name of “firstborn.” But such things are not done “in our country to give the younger before the firstborn.”’
In other words, Laban is confronting Jacob with the matter of Jacob’s deception of his elder brother Esau who was robbed of his paternal blessing and inheritance (Genesis 27). Whether or not he is aware of it, Laban is dealing out divine justice.
The Jewish sages are not afraid to acknowledge the weaknesses of even the most chosen and blessed of God’s children. They see in the Torah a potent lesson: our actions have consequences. Our flawed decisions do not prevent God’s designs from being realized, but neither are we excused from dealing with their aftermath. In Jacob’s case, while he caused deception, he ultimately became a victim of deception.
A topic for journaling, prayer or sharing:
Think of a poor or questionable decision of yours in the past which has had difficult consequences in the present. How have you dealt with this event? What healing has occurred, or still needs to occur? Can you appreciate the hand of God in and through this part of your life’s story? •
1. See Leibowitz's commentary, p.324.
Bibliography: Leibowitz, Studies in Bereshit (New York, 1994); Plaut, The Torah: A Modern Commentary (New York, 2006); Sarna, ed., JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia, 1989). Scripture: Plaut. Photo: Shutterstock.
© Teresa Pirola, 2012. www.lightoftorah.net This article may be reproduced for non-commercial use with acknowledgement of website.
Light of Torah is a grassroots ministry based in the Catholic community in Australia, encouraging Christians to reflect on the Hebrew Scriptures with the help of insights from Jewish tradition. More... The reflection above refers to Parashat Vayetze (Genesis 28:10 - 32:3), the Torah portion read on this Sabbath in the Jewish liturgical cycle. Shabbat shalom!
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