Brian Sullivan



I love looking at the archetypes and legends of history. I say legends of the past because, unlike the word myth, a legend is a guide on the side of a map that aids in interpretation. This approach to literature is nothing new. Allegoric interpretation was used by Greek philosophers to explain Homeric myths ,and Philo of Alexandria  interpreted the Hebrew bible allegorically. Following the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 C.E., many of the Biblical laws and stories were interpreted internally. Kabbalistic writers saw hidden spiritual truths rooted in the Torah. One such Kabbalistic approach is found in the marital life of Jacob, Rachel and Leah.

Jacob fell in love with Rachel, the beautiful younger daughter of Laban, who has Jacob work seven years before the marriage can occur. Rachel was his dream girl. In Hebrew literature the meaning of names is often important. Rachel means ‘ewe’ – a harmless, loveable, peace loving animal of sweet disposition. The Hebrew Alphabet is also used to write numbers; hence the name Rachel spells 238 which is also the numerical equivalent of one of the words for light. (Hebrew has 13 words for light, just as Inuit has 27 words for snow, and I believe Arabic has 80 words for camel). Rachel was the light of Jacobs’s life, the girl who would light up a room the moment she walked in it. She was the beautiful girl that any man would love to have on his arm.

Jacobs love for Rachel was so intense that the seven years of labour flew by and soon the blessed union was to occur. Bedecked in a garment that covered his bride’s face, which was to remain in place all night, in the be-darkened bed chamber, he awakens to find he’s slept with his sister in law! Now what could be worse than waking up with your sister in law (no mother in law jokes please). Dad had switched the girls, and whether due to the social conditions prevalent at the time, the sister, Leah, did not dare speak up we know not. There are some Rabbi's who claim that Jacobs bad dude of a brother, Esau, wanted here and Leah would do anything to avoid that bad match. Well, we do know that Laban was the ultimate con man – he tries to make out it was wrong for the younger Rachel to marry before her older sister. “You know you have met an authentic crook”, said Rabbi Jesse Jacobson, when you walk out feeling guilty’!

Jacob could have divorced Leah on the spot but instead agrees to work another seven years for Rachel as well (although he can marry her long before then). One can feel for Rachel shunted away from her future husband and betrayed by sister and Dad, and Leah would always know that Jacob loved the younger more beautiful sister more. Yet Rachel would die relatively young and Jacob would spend the majority of his life with Leah and traditionally his remains lay with her to this day, whereas Rachel was buried elsewhere.

To the Jewish interpreters everything was by divine providence so what is the point? Jewish interpretation sees the stories of Torah as revealing the qualities that reside within - a Rachel and a Leah in every bride. The characters in the story are qualities within all women.

Rachel was the young girl that inflated Jacobs ego. She was what Jacob saw projected of himself in her. Such illusions do not last however. After the wedding night, the illusions of courtship, give way to the reality, and hard working Leah of the relationship. Leah means exhausted, and her eyes are described as not having the luster that shone from Rachel’s eyes. She is the harried housewife, the worker. Whereas Rachel lifted the spirits of Jacob, Leah represented that part of Jacob that forced him to battle inner forces within. Jacob was later renamed Israel or ‘struggler, contender, wrestler with God’ and he would have to contend the jealousies between sister wives -the fertile Leah and barren beautiful Rachel.

In marriage we, and I speak as a male, are often drawn to the beautiful bride who soon will – no matter how perfect she truly is – force us to transcend our egoic infatuation over her obvious beauty. After all we know all women are beautiful! Yet we are soon forced to discover a Leah – the real woman who forces the man to go deep within himself beyond the Rachel element that suits our own personal ego and dreams to face reality and be forced to grow.

Of course principles are not limited by our sex. For in every man there is also the fantasy and reality that confronts the new bride.

The story of Rachel and Leah however has us ask whether we are ready to marry the other woman within your bride – or the other man within the husband. Am, I marrying the girl who lightens up the very space she enters, the girl who thrills my ego, or am I prepared to stay married to the woman exhausted after a hard day with the kids, who is perhaps too tired to put on the makeup.

Perhaps it is only when we are truly prepared to work through the exhausting realities of marriage are we emotionally mature enough to again reawaken within our beloved exhausted Leah the beautiful beloved Rachel that is waiting to be drawn back to a passionate life of joy.

Thus endeth the speculation ……


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