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Our Matriarch Leah, Though a Tragic Figure, Is as an Inspiration in Times of Trouble

Rabbi Arie Hasit
| 23/11/2023

Though Leah is a very tragic figure in our tradition, she can be an inspiration. Taking his cue from midrashim, Rabbi Arie Hasit argues we can find Leah’s thoughts and action as guides for us in times of trouble.

Rabbi Arie Hasit – Associate Dean, The Schechter Rabbinical Seminary

With apologies to (Sir) Paul McCartney. 

When I think about this week’s Torah portion: VaYetzei, I want to sing: 

“When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Leah comes to me.” 

Even though our parashah is so much about Jacob, I really do feel that we can learn just so much from Leah. 

Leah is a very, very tragic character in our tradition because she was the unwanted wife and so many times and even as she mothers so many children, it always feels like she never gets to be herself. She never gets to express some real personality. She is just sort of always that woman who is there for motherhood. 

Yet, at the same time, Leah is really very much our communal mother. 

I believe that the midrash fills in for us in a few different places a lot of these Leah stories which are just so interesting. 

One of the early midrashim that we have, early not in terms of only how long it goes back, but also in terms of early in our story. It says that Leah’s eyes are soft. There are many questions about this.  

A Middle Ages midrash called Tanhuma asks this question: What does it mean that her eyes are soft? 

It tells us that, as so many midrashim do, that she cried. And her cry is in fact a praise to Leah. Because she understood that she and her sister were to be betrothed to their two first cousins: to Esau and to Jacob.  

She asks what Esau does and she understood that he was an evil man, according to the midrash. She cried and she prayed that she not have to be married to an evil man because she wanted to be married to a righteous man.    

God, of course, answers her prayer. She does not only prayer then, she prays again in the most beautiful way. When Leah sees that she is pregnant for the seventh time, she knows that the handmaids each had two sons and she knew of a prophecy. Leah was a special woman. She knew of the prophecy that there would be 12 tribes. And she knew that the tribes would be descended from the sons. 

Doing math in her head, she said if I have a seventh son right now, we are told this in the Babylonian Talmud, if I have a seventh son, my sister Rachel will have only one son from which to have a tribe. It can’t be that she will be the least of the four mothers of the tribes.  

She prays to God. God answers her prayer and she gives birth to a daughter who does not have a tribe named after her. 

I think about the times of trouble that we are in right now and I see Leah as a beautiful, beautiful example for all of us right now. Because she is a woman who suffers deeply, and she knows how to fight out her own suffering. But, she does not allow her personal suffering to stop her from seeing the suffering of others.  

She looks to her sister, sees her sister suffering and prays that that suffering should end.  

We are in a time of crisis in Israel but in a time of so much giving. I see Leah as an inspiration for us all. Even as we are suffering, how much Israeli society has come together to see the suffering of others. To see the people in our society who need us and to come together and to give. 

I believe that we can look to our matriarch Leah as the inspiration for all that we can do for others.  

And finally, Leah’s final prayer is by naming her son Yehuda (Judah) saying “I will give thanks.” 

That we can thank one another in our society for all that we are doing in our times of need.  

 Shabbat Shalom from Schechter    


BONUS (article on Leah in the midrash by Dr. Tamar Kadari, Schechter Institute Sr. Lecturer, Midrash and Jewish Art) 

image: Michaelangelo – Leah, photo by Yair Haklai

Rabbi Arie Hasit, Associate Dean, Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, was ordained by the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in 2016 and was in the second cohort of the Mishlei program. Prior, he served six years as the founding rabbi and CEO of 70 Faces — Mazkeret Batya, a unique community that promotes the values of Masorti Judaism and religious pluralism in the public sphere.

Rabbi Hasit volunteers as co-chair of the Masorti Movement’s Youth Committee and as a member of the Law Committee for the Israeli Rabbinical Assembly.

He lives in Mazkeret Batya with his wife, Sara Tova Brody and their two children.

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