(From the teachings of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztvk”l)
(written by his grandson HaRav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a)
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
Explaining the Complex Dynamic Between Yaakov and Lavan, as well as Yaakov, Rachel and Leah, Which Led to Leah Being Substituted under the Chuppah for Rachel
It this week’s Parashah we shall read the dialogue between Lavan the Arami and Yaakov Avinu , “Lavan then said to Yaakov, ‘Just because you are my close relative (lit. brother), does it mean that you must work for me for nothing? Tell me what you want to be paid’” (Bereishit 29:15). After Yaakov worked for Lavan for a month, Lavan came to him and asked him “Just because you are my close relative”, you are literally my brother, there’s no one like you “my brother”, tell me what you want to be paid, would it enter your mind that you work for nothing?
We must reflect on what is going on here. Lavan the Arami says to Yaakov, “Just because you are my close relative”! And even offers to pay him for his work.
The explanation is that Lavan the Arami was conscious that Yaakov was no less astute than him. It is true that Yaakov was a yeshiva student, “a scholarly man who remained within tents [of Torah]” (ibid. 25:27), but at the same time Lavan knew that Yaakov was deeply perceptive, as they say “still waters run deep”, therefore he was worried about Yaakov’s profound intellect.
What happened? When Yaakov arrived at Lavan’s house, he met Rachel and had already said to her “that he was Rivkah’s son and therefore related to her father” (ibid. 29:12), and he told her that he came to find a wife. Therefore he asked Rachel, are you willing to marry me? Rachel replied to him, from my part for sure I am prepared to marry you, where will I find a righteous and wise person such as you? If only I would merit to marry you! But you should know that you cannot marry me as your wife because my father is a dodgy guy and a big swindler, as he is called “Lavan Ha’Arami, “the Arami” in Hebrew has the same letters which spell the Hebrew word “ramai” meaning fraudster, furthermore he was “the” greatest fraudster indicated with the Hebrew letter “hey” the definitive article “the”. I have a sister Leah, who is older than me, and for sure my father will want you to marry her first and he will trick you, and you won’t be able to outwit him!
After this it is written that he substituted Leah for Rachel under the chuppah. What did he do? Lavan the Arami was as thick as thieves with all the wicked people in his area and wanted it dark on that night so that Yaakov would not detect that he substituted Leah under the chuppah. So he made a pact with all those in charge of lighting the lamps that on that night they won’t light the lamps and it will be dark, sheer darkness. This is what he schemed with them and they listened to him and it was pitch black. With this Yaakov was unable to realise that Leah had been substituted for Rachel.
“Lavan invited all the local people and made a wedding feast” (ibid. 29:22). They were all sitting, eating, drinking and rejoicing, and it was cold the whole night so everyone who was invited brought a coat. When they arrived at the wedding everyone hanged their coat and sat and ate and it was all dark. Lavan ordered one of his henchmen that he take all the coats and sell them in the flea market and with this money he bought for them wine and arak, and they ate and drank. When they came to leave, each one asked, “Where is my coat?” He replied to them, “Did you not eat and drink? Do you eat on someone else’s account? Your coat was sold!” Already on that night Lavan the Fraudster’s disgrace was exposed.
“In the morning, [Yaakov discovered that] it was Leah (ibid. 29:25), Yaakov came to Lavan and said, “How could you do this to me? Didn’t I work with you for Rachel? Why did you cheat me?” Lavan retorted, everyone who is a master also has pupils! When your father asked you “Who are you, my son?” (ibid. 27:18) indeed you replied to him, “It is I, Eisav, is your firstborn”, how did you deceive your father? Just like you are a tricksters so am I a trickster!”
“Hashem saw that Leah was unloved” (ibid. 29:31). Why was Yaakov angry with Leah? Because he also had claims against her, he asked her how could you have tricked me? How could you go under the chuppah when you knew I thought that you were Rachel? In the night when I asked you are you Rachel, you replied that you are Rachel. What have you done to me? Leah replied to him, and did you not behave so? When your father asked you “Who are you, my son?” indeed you replied to him, “It is I, Eisav, is your firstborn”. If so, so did I. When you asked me who are you? I replied, I am Leah.
We can understand that since Lavan was a wicked person therefore he answered Yaakov as per his [corrupt way] of thinking that he tricked, since he thought Yaakov tricked, but how could Leah who was righteous and very wise, reply to Yaakov in such a way?
In truth Leah had a legitimate claim. She said to Yaakov, the whole world are saying “the older to the older one and the younger one to the younger one”, meaning the older one Leah, will be Eisav’s wife and the younger one Rachel, will be Yaakov’s wife. And so Leah cried all her days for she was petrified to fall to Eisav’s lot, therefore “Leah’s eyes were sensitive” [meaning she had cried due to her sensitivity, see Midrash Rabbah and commentaries ad loc.] (ibid. 29:17).
But in the end, Leah reflected deeply on it [that she was right and reasoned as follows]. How could Yaakov have answered his father something that wasn’t correct? How could he say to him “It is I, Eisav, is your firstborn”? Is Yaakov a trickster? But Yaakov knew why his father sought to give Eisav the berachot? Because Eisav was the firstborn and not because Eisav had lovely eyes! Yaakov also knew that in truth he had acquired the birthright from Eisav, not for naught but for the lentil stew! Therefore Yaakov said to his father “It is I, Eisav, is your firstborn”, for he knew in truth that the berachot are rightfully his due! He is the firstborn! As Yitzchak said to him at the end “The berachah will remain his!” (ibid. 27:33).
Therefore Leah said to Yaakov, me too likewise. At first everyone said “the older one to the older one” but now that you yourself said that you are instead of Eisav, that means you too are the firstborn, therefore I am suitable for you! I am in Rachel’s place Therefore there was enmity between Leah and Yaakov, because of these claims. (Ramban z”l writes that really there was no enmity but rather that Leah wasn’t loved as much as Rachel.)
Our chachamim extolled Rachel’s virtue of compassion. She knew that she was doomed G-d-for-bid - if not for the fact that miracles were done that Lavan went and said to Yaakov that he should work another seven years and in the end he married Rachel - Rachel’s world have been shattered! She knew that her father was going to bring Leah in her stead, and not only that she didn’t reveal this but she went to Leah and revealed to her the codes that Yaakov had given her. This is because Yaakov had already been concerned perhaps another lady will be placed under the chuppah instead of Rachel, so he entrusted her with some codes. What were the codes? He taught her some halachot and told her that he will ask her them on the night of the chuppah. He taught her hilchot niddah, challah and candle lighting. She went and taught everything to Leah so that her sister won’t be disgraced and exit in shame.
Rachel Imeinu gave up her entire world and Olam Haba, all so that her sister will not be embarrassed! Therefore after the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, our chachamim revealed to us that the all Avot came before Hashem and pleaded before Him for Am Yisrael that He have mercy on them and redeem them. But nothing helped, until Rachel stood in prayer and said, Ribono shel Olam, look at what I did that I brought my co-wife into my home and I was at a loss, and you behave so with my children?! Hashem replied to her “Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for there is reward for your accomplishment…and your children will return to their border” (Yirmiyahu 31:15-16), Hashem accepted her prayer! We too put our hope in Hashem that He will accept Rachel’s prayers for us, when our enemies Bnei Yishmael scheme against us, that Rachel will stand in prayer and that Hashem will annul from us all harsh and evil decrees. And about us will be fulfilled “Then I will restore your judges as at first, and your counsellors as at the beginning” (Yeshaya 1:26). May we see the complete redemption speedily in our days. Amen.