BLOGGER: Yes, please have a chair. Do we have enough seats for everyone? My, you’re probably the largest family I have had in the office for a while! Why don’t you introduce yourselves, and I’ll do my best to keep track. I am quite forgetful when it comes to names, so I’ll take some notes as we go along.
JACOB: I am Jacob, but you can also call me Israel. These are my sons. I have Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah. Here is Zebulun and Is’sahar. I have Dan and Gad, as well as Asher and Nephtali. And here are Joseph and Benjamin. Oh, and these are my wives. And this is my daughter, Dinah.
BLOGGER: Thank you for coming, everyone. So then, am I understanding the situation correctly: you don’t all have the same mother?
JACOB: It’s all the same father, that’s the main thing.
BLOGGER: Alright, but just to understand everything, I want to know how everyone is connected. How about this: I’ll ask the mothers to introduce themselves and tell me which sons are theirs? Would that work?
JACOB: I suppose it’s one method. You’re the expert.
BLOGGER: Okay, so why don’t we begin with the first wife?
LEAH: I am the first wife.
JACOB: But I got tricked into marrying her.
LEAH: He never loved me.
JACOB: I got tricked. I worked for him for seven years, and then he gave me the wrong girl!
LEAH: See? You can tell he doesn’t love me.
BLOGGER: Who gave you the wrong girl?
JACOB: Laban! Laban did this! I honoured my side of the agreement, and then he gives me his other daughter, the old one with the weak eyes. The wrong girl! I didn’t even realize it until it was too late! I couldn’t see until it was too late that it was this one beneath the veil, this one, instead of my Rachel. And besides, her attendant was the younger maid — who gives the younger maid to the older daughter? I was tricked! Afterwards he says, “But I could not give you my younger daughter in marriage first; it is not done!” So — would you believe? — Laban made me work for another seven years before I could have Rachel! Fourteen years I slaved!
LEAH: He never tried to love me. No matter how many sons I gave him, his heart never opened to me. If I were to give him one hundred sons, he still wouldn’t care for me! I can never be better than her! I can never win!
BLOGGER (addressing another woman): Are you Rachel?
ZILPAH: No, I’m Zilpah.
BLOGGER (addressing another woman): Are you Rachel?
BILHAH: No, I’m Bilhah.
BLOGGER: Where’s Rachel?
BILHAH: She’s dead.
JACOB: My Rachel!
BLOGGER: Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.
BLOGGER: So we have 1 father and 4 mothers?
JACOB: Should be 4 mothers, but today, only 3 are here. The best one is gone!
BLOGGER (Looking sympathetically at Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah): Okay, so how did this work? Were you married to four women at once, or was divorce involved?
JACOB: Divorce! No! No divorce! Only 2 marriages. These (pointing to Bilhah and Zilpah) — no marriage.
BLOGGER: No marriage?
BLOGGER: But children?
BLOGGER: Hmm, okay. I thought you said these women were your “wives.” How about this: we’ll go back to the plan. Let each woman who is present name her sons. Okay?
LEAH & BILHAH & ZILPAH: Yes.
BLOGGER: Who will go first? Whose son is the eldest?
LEAH: Reuben. He is the eldest, first-born to Jacob. I prayed to the Lord, and he gave me son. I thought that my husband would love me if I had a son. I named him Reuben. I said, “the Lord has seen me suffering so much; now for sure Jacob will love me.” But did this work? No. Still he pined after Rachel!
JACOB: You complain so much, but I never asked for anyone other than Rachel. Blame your father! Blame his tricks. He changed my wages ten times! He demanded seven years for Rachel and seven years for you, and six years for the flocks. It is not my fault! My heart was true; I always loved Rachel and your father promised her to me!
LEAH: But you are not saying things correctly! You never made any room for me; you never gave me a chance! The Lord knows that I would be content with a scrap of your love, yet you give me nothing!
JACOB: I owed you nothing! Yet I still took care of you, gave you a home and food enough!
LEAH: Oh! How he talks like this to me!
BLOGGER: Yes, this is a difficult situation. He feels that he was tricked. And what about you? When your father substituted you for Rachel, what did you think? Did you agree?
LEAH: I was young. Jacob says that I was the “old one,” but twenty-three is not a grandmother! My father put pressure on me; he said nobody would want me because I was so old, and he said I wasn’t pretty, like Rachel. He said that he was rescuing me.
BLOGGER: So you knew that Jacob wanted Rachel?
LEAH: Of course! Everybody knew.
BLOGGER: So then, why did you agree?
LEAH: What choice do I have when I am in my father’s house? My father made it like this. It was not my idea. My mother also agreed.
BLOGGER: So it was a secret plan? Did Rachel know?
LEAH: Later she found out what we were planning, somehow. Perhaps one of the servants told her. She was furious — she was crying, and yelling at me, and almost at our father as well! But it wasn’t my fault!
BLOGGER: So the three of you — your father, your mother, and you — decided that you would be substituted for Rachel?
JACOB: Oh! The sorrow of it! The treachery! All of you! Your father should be grateful I didn’t murder you!
LEAH: Listen to him! He hates me!
JACOB: You are dramatic for nothing!
LEAH: Oh! You! You said you should have killed me! Who is dramatic? You are dramatic!
BLOGGER: Alright, alright. So let me take a guess, Leah. Were you, on some level, happy to take your sister’s place as the bride?
LEAH: Do I look happy? Who is happy with such a one as this?
BLOGGER: At the time of the wedding. At the time of the wedding, were you happy?
LEAH: Nobody has ever asked me this.
BLOGGER: Were you happy to be marrying Jacob?
LEAH: I suppose I was. Yes, I was. I thought I would enjoy being his wife, and that eventually, he would be happy as well.
BLOGGER: You thought that he would grow to love you? You thought that you could take Rachel’s place?
LEAH: Was she better than me? I bore him more children than she did! I could be just as good as Rachel.
JACOB: But you weren’t! You weren’t!
LEAH: Yes, I know that you think that, you crazy man! Don’t you think I know? I was never good enough for you!
BLOGGER: I suppose your happiness was short-lived, because as soon as he found out that you weren’t Rachel after the wedding, he became upset?
LEAH: The next morning, he was furious! As if I were nothing, as if I were worse than a dog, really!
BLOGGER: So it wasn’t a happy ending.
JACOB: No! It was terrible!
BLOGGER: Alright, let’s return to the sons. Who came after Reuben?
LEAH: After Reuben, I had another son. My second son I named Simeon, to mean, “The Lord knows that I am hated, so he gave me this son too.”
BLOGGER: And then?
LEAH: I had more sons. When I had my third son, Levi, I said, “Now this time my husband will join to me, for I have given him three sons.” And then I had another son. I said, “This time I praise the Lord,” and I named him Judah.
BLOGGER: And at some point here, because we must be about seven years along, he marries Rachel?
JACOB: Yes! Finally! I was Laban’s slave for fourteen years! He took advantage of me!
BLOGGER: What happened then?
LEAH: They married, but Rachel had no children! I had so many sons, but she had nothing. She envied me.
BILHAH: This is my part of the story, if you don’t mind, Leah. Let me explain. The situation was that when my mistress, Rachel, realized she could not have children with Jacob, she sent me in with him. She said, “Here is my maid Bilhah. I can have children through her.”
BLOGGER: Wait, so you were the servant of Rachel, and she wanted you to conceive a child with her husband? You were helping her in this way?
BILHAH: Of course, yes.
BLOGGER: Oh my.
BILHAH: I had a son for Rachel, and she named him Dan.
BLOGGER: Was Rachel happy about that? The whole system, if I can call it that, sounds dreadful to me.
BILHAH: Of course she was glad! Because of me, she could provide Jacob with a son! She said, “God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son.” And that is why she named him Dan.
BLOGGER: Then what happened?
BILHAH: Then I conceived again — another son for her. She said, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and I have won!” That’s why she called him Nephtali.
LEAH: I will explain the next part.
BLOGGER: Alright, go ahead.
LEAH: When I found out Rachel’s way — to use her servant — I thought that two could play at that game! After all, I had a servant as well.
BLOGGER: And did it work?
LEAH: Of course it worked! I had son, who I named Gad, to mean “Good fortune!”
BLOGGER: Zilpah, that’s you?
ZILPAH: Yes, I’m Zilpah.
BLOGGER: You had this son, Gad, conceived with Jacob?
LEAH: And there was another one?
BLOGGER: Through Zilpah as well?
LEAH: Zilpah, yes.
BLOGGER: What was his name?
LEAH: Asher, because I said, “Happy am I! The women will call me happy!”
BLOGGER: Alright. Whew. So far, then, we have 8 sons. That is obviously not the end of the story, because there are 12 of you here today.
LEAH: When Rachel was hungry for mandrakes, she let me lie with Jacob. My son Reuben brought mandrakes to me, and Rachel wanted them. So I said, “You already took away my husband — now you want to take away my mandrakes too?” She said, “Then you can lie with Jacob tonight.” So I did, and I conceived another son. When he was born, I named him Is’sahar, to mean, “God has helped me because I gave my maid to my husband.”
BLOGGER: So you had five sons then?
LEAH: I named the sixth one “Zeb’ulun.” I said to myself, “God has given me a good dowry. Now my husband will honour me, because I have given him six sons!”
BLOGGER: That’s a lot of sons. No daughters?
LEAH: I had a daughter. This is Dinah.
BLOGGER: Hello, Dinah.
BLOGGER: Did Rachel have any children of her own?
JACOB: Of course she did! She gave me Joseph, and she gave me Benjamin.
JACOB: But she died when she was giving birth to Benjamin! She died too young! She left me alone!
BLOGGER: (thinking: “Yes, alone, except for the other three women and the twelve sons and one daughter.”)
JACOB: The love of my life.
JACOB: You know, I still think of her every day. Every day. Every day I think of my Rachel. I think: Rachel, you left me too soon. We had so little time together.
BLOGGER: Yes, I’m sorry that she died so young!
JACOB: Yes, so young!
BLOGGER: So who raised Joseph and Benjamin? Their mother was gone; were they raised by the other women?
ZILPAH: Mainly, it was me. I raised them.
LEAH: I helped too.
ZILPAH: No, not really.
LEAH: Yes, I did! Remember when you went away? You went to visit your mother. Who took care of them when you were gone?
ZILPAH: Alright, there was that time, but it was just the once.
LEAH: Ah! Who is forgetting now? You know how to show gratitude!
ZILPAH: I think I was their mother most of all.
LEAH: You remember things to match your taste.
ZILPAH: You are angry at the world!
LEAH: Oh! You scum! Do you see how she talks to me? This is a servant girl, yet dares say I am angry at the world!
JACOB: No, you are both wrong! You cannot say, “I am their mother” — to say this does not make it the truth. Blogger, I tell you: they had no mother! Their mother was in the ground! The only one they had was me: I was their father; I was their mother.
BLOGGER: Alright, so we will need to end today’s session soon. I will tell you my thoughts, as you have asked.
From what I’ve heard, there are a few layers of difficulty here.
I will address Leah first, because the first problems seem to stem from your rivalry with Rachel, which probably predated your wedding to Jacob. I don’t know if this rivalry went both ways, because Rachel isn’t here. It would be likely, though, that even if Rachel weren’t envious of you initially, she would have become so when you took her place. You had hoped, wrongly, that your marriage to Jacob would be a victory, but it was not, because it came about through deceit. You had hoped that Jacob and Rachel would forget about each other, but as we see even now, this is not how it turned out. Now I know that so many fathers viewed and treated their daughters as property, but you did not need to consent to your father’s plan. You consented because you saw the trickery as being to your advantage. You believed, as did your parents, that Jacob and Rachel would forget about each other, but they did not.
Their love was strong. It’s a beautiful love, and overcame the obstacles thrown in its path. Jacob, your enduring love for Rachel today is romantic in its way.
Nevertheless, you, Jacob, have not treated Leah fairly. Once she came under your protection as your first wife, you owed her more than shelter and food. You would have been given the grace from God to treat her kindly. She has experienced a great deal of sorrow, and it didn’t need to be this way. She is a daughter of God, and has a right to be treated with respect, consideration and love. This love need not even be romantic love. It can be the love of one human for another. There is always room in one’s heart for that type of love, and you would not be guilty of dishonouring the memory of Rachel by being kind to Leah. Moreover, as the mother of your sons, you owe her kindness. To treat the mother of your children poorly is a sign of barbarism.
With respect to the servants, Bilhah and Zilpah, you are, along with Leah, in an unfortunate situation which is a product of the types of unions which were accepted in your era. As best as you can, treat each other with compassion. Restrain your anger, because you have been bound together, and when you lash out at one another, you are only preparing future harm for yourself and your children.