04 Jan The Character in the Storm
“Talents are better nurtured in solitude, but character is best formed in the stormy billows of the world (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe).”
We have been accompanying Jacob as he traces backwards the steps of his life in this life-defining portion, “Jacob Lived,” as his mission to reverse the steps taken by those who distanced themselves from the Garden in Eden, and, as the man who, “Did Not Die,” who addresses death and its consequences of “Envy,” & “The Green Master,” distance from God, leaking energy, and breaking links to the eternal (For King David’s similar concern, see, “Haftarah-Vayechi-Reading the Text I”). (“A Different Sort of Fear of Life,” “Not Waiting For the Monument,” “The Fragrance of Permanence,” “Stopping the Leaks,” “Strength from Brokenness, with a slight detour that, hopefully, will eventually become clear, in “Power of Softness”)
Jacob may very well have been a master teacher guiding Rachel and Leah in their relationship with God, but he still had much to do. Jacob decides to not directly address certain outstanding issues between Rachel and Leah but to allow them, now that they have developed their relationship with God in both, His Attribute of Compassion and His Attribute of Strength–judgment, to address their issues together.
“During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, ‘Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.’
But she said to her, ‘Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?’
“Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?” Leah is still angry with Rachel! Not only that, she accuses Rachel of taking Jacob from her! After all, Leah was Jacob’s first wife. Did Leah forget that she successfully folded Jacob only when her sister unselfishly confided certain predetermined secret signals to her sister so that we are would not be put to shame (Rashi, Genesis 29:25)? How could she possibly accuse her selfless sister of taking Jacob from her?
Was Rachel so insensitive to her sister that she did not suspect how Leah would feel when Rachel asked her for the mandrakes? The sister who was willing to give up her wedding bed to her sister was not an insensitive person.
‘Very well,’ Rachel said, ‘he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.’
When we pay careful attention to Rachel’s request, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes,” we see that Rachel is asking her sister to share. This is not Rachel saying, “I shared my bed with you, so you share your flowers with me!” This was the Rachel who had successfully incorporated Jacob’s lesson of relating to God both in His Attribute of Compassion and His Attribute of Strength–judgment: Rachel was saying to Leah, “We, who began with two very different relationships with God, and successfully learned to combine them, can now share everything in and eternal way.”
Leah was not yet ready to hear Rachel’s message. Leah had such a powerful sense of obligation to Rachel that she could not imagine denying her sister’s request. Rachel’s request was synonymous with a demand! In Leah’s mind, she was being forced to give up something her son had given her.
Rachel understands her sister. “Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your sons mandrakes.” Rachel does not say, “Jacob can sleep with you,” she says, “he!” Rachel understands that even though they had been discussing flowers, Leah was speaking only of her relationship with Jacob. Rachel, in the effect, was telling her sister, “I am willing to again share my bed with you!” What happened the night of your wedding to Jake up was not an emergency reaction; it was a statement to you, a statement I am reaffirming now, that I understand that we do not exist independent of each other and, just as we share this new level of a relationship with God, we share in that eternal connection with Jacob.
Did Leah understand Rachel’s message? We’ll see…
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