Symphony in minor and major: Rachel and Leah
Updated: Mar 27, 2022
"It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences" (Audre Lorde)
My dear sisters,
God, our creator, he is compared to all sorts of things. Author, director, potter, painter, composer. What is common to all these designations, it is: art. Beauty. God is presented as someone who conceives, creates, makes something out of chaos that touches our hearts. Someone who follows a deeper inner harmony, creating an overall picture that is captivating, breathtaking.
In music there are two keys, and depending on which one is chosen, it takes us to different places, thoughts, emotions:
There is the minor key, a key of depth. Of pensiveness, of melancholy.
Songs in minor key are of an earthy heaviness, bring us in contact with our longings, our blowing longing, which the Bible calls "the groaning of all creation". In their depth one wants to lose oneself, they are so complex that they let us hear the deep, the true, the painful and yet also the sweet pain of the heart's call to home. They warm, they carry, and often they are quiet and rather sustained. The most beautiful love songs- they are written in minor.
Major- on the other hand- are like spring, like summer, which outshines everything in its cheerfulness. Songs in major, compositions in major express fullness, exuberance, liveliness. They invite to dance, to praise, they are like refreshing springs, light-footed and playful.
In Genesis 29 we meet two sisters who could not be more different. And the first thing we learn about them is, in fact, their almost irreconcilable opposites:
"Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger Rachel. Leah's eyes were matte (weak eng.transl, author); but Rachel was fair in form and beautiful in appearance" (Genesis 29:16 ff).
Leah and Rachel- minor...and major.
Two women, different as day and night, united by a common destiny as well as by the bond of sisterhood, who were to remain united by a deception of which they both became victims: As wives of the same man: Jacob.
Both were daughters of a cattle rancher who gave his children names of animals. "Wild cow" is the meaning of Leah, "ewe" the meaning of Rachel.
Yes, certainly, both names have another, a second meaning, as is more often found in Hebrew. But it is quite significant that a stockbreeder chooses such names for his daughters, who are not sons. A commodity they are, and we know that Laban was a shrewd and successful trader when it came to cattle raising. He was as scrupulous about truth as he was about full-heartedness in serving God: In his house, the name of the Lord was invoked- and household idols were worshipped wherever it seemed useful.
Also the way the story develops with Jacob, Leah and Rachel suggests a certain indifference and possessiveness attitude of Laban towards his daughters. Meanwhile, we read nothing of a mother-. Perhaps she existed, somewhere in the domestic sphere. Perhaps she died in childbirth. However-we do not meet the father Laban as a husband.
When I reread this story after many years, I did so because shortly before I read an interpretation that broke my heart: God, it said, had punished Rachel for her beauty with barrenness and lifted up Leah's godly heart and blessed her with motherhood. Was it obedience, then, that granted motherhood to Leah and not to Rachel? Was it not also God who had given Rachel this joyful nature? So why punish her for what she was- for her outstanding beauty?
Every time I hear an interpretation that contradicts my image of God, I decide to dive deep into these stories.
What has Jesus shown me?
A fascinating story of otherness that led me into deep thought. A story of competition between two women. A story of striving and envying others for what you don't have yourself. And quietly, in the background, the message of how it could have been.
It is the story of a dysfunctional sisterhood. And the story of a man who drew the best for himself from both wives, rather than granting reconciliation and balance.
Who was Leah?
We are quick to see her as a mistake, aren't we? To pity her, to criticize her a little, perhaps. Leah, we are told, had dull eyes, not like her sister, whose eyes shone with lust for life! No wonder Jacob preferred the younger sister, fell head over heels in love with her! And then, Leah also becomes his wife instead of Rachel by betrayal! Like a troublesome third in the marriage bed...but did Leah have any choice? Hardly.
The story reveals so much more between the lines. Who and how was Leah, what was her sphere of life - and what does this passage with the "weak (NIV)/ matte eyes (Elberfelder)" actually mean?
The hebrew word that some Bible translations translate as "weak" has a variety of meanings: gentle. Introverted. Shy. Anxious. Weak/matte eyes are often a sign of melancholy, but in it also of depth, intelligence, of an earthy motherliness.
Leah, unlike Rachel who worked as a shepherdess for her father, probably led a secluded life. Was rather quiet, busy in the house, which narrowed her radius of action. And in fact Leah means "the weary one, the one who labors in vain".
Running a household, it did not leave much time for oneself. Women worked from early in the morning until late at night. And they were rarely seen. They as women- were invisible providers.
What Leah was not ...was an extroverted woman, a woman who took her space. However, the fact that her beauty was not praised does not necessarily mean that she was an ugly old maid. If we consider the marriageable age, which began at 13 and was almost passed at 17, that is not likely either. No. Leah was simply a quiet woman, almost still a girl, a withdrawn, gentle, tender nature. Probably she preferred to listen than to speak herself, she preferred to be caring than to take up space, and probably she carried something in her that corresponded to a curse at that time - and perhaps even today: an intelligence, a smartness that was not granted to her as a woman and that was considered unfeminine and different, complicated - and which she therefore felt to be a burden.
She completely corresponds to the ideas of a desirable match, and she is the first to meet Jacob. Why?
Well, she was a shepherdess, and so she was out- while Leah was at home. Tanned as a shepherdess, wiry because she moved around a lot, she was an eye-catcher for men. She was also not a princess with pale skin and delicate hands. No, she was self-confident, body-conscious, out and about in all weathers. Tending the sheep will have allowed her time that Leah did not find. Hours to herself while the sheep grazed. She was fun-loving, bright-eyed and positive. She was God-fearing, and before our eyes there appears a beautiful young woman with a silvery laugh, a golden heart, and a radiant presence. People liked to look at her, and we can confidently assume that men quietly admired and desired her. In fact, Laban immediately agrees that Jacob should marry her: "Better I give her to you than that I give her to another man" (Genesis 29:19) Candidates must have been plentiful for this present beauty with a cheerful disposition and capable hands, and Laban was glad to promise her before any mischief occurred!
Yes, indeed: A breath of summer cheerfulness touches us when we think of Rahel. Refreshing, light, joyful. But what also brushes us...it is a reduction of herself to those very attributes.
I wonder how these two sisters got along before Jacob came on the scene?
Sisterhood is never easy.
A sister who is introduced in the very first lines as the young one, the beautiful one, the vibrant one, the radiant one, is rather jarring to someone who is more introverted. I mean, look at the situation: Rachel's beauty is praised, she enjoys freedoms that Leah doesn't- and her being is immediately engaging. Someone who exudes such vivacity often doesn't understand why others don't. Perhaps Rachel was trying to make Leah laugh, and Leah could not come out of her shell. Perhaps Leah tried to restrain Rachel, to give her substance, domestic skills, patience-but Rachel saw it as constricting. Most certainly, however, one will have seen in the other more the difference than the similarities. Did they love each other? Oh, certainly. But sometimes this is not enough to overcome the idea of competition and comparison with the other.
It's in our nature to feel easily left behind. That women who are so much the focus of admiration seem to marginalize us. They don't do it on purpose, it's their wit, their way of filling spaces with their presence, captivating others. Often they do not think twice. They are spontaneous and a bit erratic. Overrun others with their being, not even on purpose.
Women on the other hand, who convey earthy substance and sovereignty, artistry and structure- they often seem mentally superior to these lively women, in all their seclusion. The gentleness, the patience, the steadiness, the deliberateness, and the pared-down being that is inherent in such women is something that these whirlwinds, these women often lack.
We all know that the conflict between the sisters resulted in open fighting.
I will write about the conflict, why it escalated so much, and God's intervention in the next post.
Today I would like to focus on something else:
If I had to assign myself to a key, I would be more major than minor. And like Rachel, I am exuberant, and bubbly and refreshing in my joy, in my love of life. But I would give everything for a sister like Leah.
You know, it's like this:
we can always meet each other with incomprehension and the will to make the other person what we ourselves are. But sometimes the antagonism is what is actually fruitful. As dramatically as the story of Leah and Rachel unfolds later, their sisterhood itself was designed to be a blessing.
If Leah had had an open heart for her sister, she could have accepted her lightness as an enrichment. She could have enjoyed her joy of life and perhaps learned not to be so timid, introverted, tired.
If Rachel had had an open heart for Leah, she could have learned from her depth, from her motherliness. She would have been grounded, learned constancy and empathy.
And yet: both chose to see the other as competition, courting the same man and his love, yet drawing their own advantage from both.
The man to whom we are entrusted in our difference is not Jacob, thank God. It is Jesus who loves us equally, blesses us, and gives to each of us what he wants to give us specifically . For Jesus it is important that we learn from each other, in respect, in love.
See: I think Laban had two beautiful daughters. And Jacob had two beautiful wives. If they had not envied each other, but had accepted God's arbitration, which was to put an end to Leah's being left behind, without taking away Rachel's romance, maybe they could have been happier. Being able to mediate, to bless, until both could experience both- even though the provoked situation of a double marriage has been grap in itself.
The song I chose today is a combination of antagonism: of minor and major. Of depth and lightness. It is contrariness that creates the greatest, the most beautiful masterpieces in music.
May we learn to see each other as enrichment - and not as competition.ASA
With love, be blessed as you are. A thousand times over.
Holy Bible: Rev. Elberfelder Translation, Genesis 29, 1 ff
Song: Anne Clark: Poem without words 2, / "Hopeless cases"