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Complicated Lives of our Biblical Forebears

12/05/2019 08:27:04 PM


Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

Va'Yetzei, this week's Torah portion, presents a challenging passage concerning intense sisterly rivalry, one woman's sense of self vis a vis her husband, and the subservient status of another woman. 

Rachel is in extreme distress for not bearing a child. “When Rachel saw she had borne Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister and she said to Jacob, ‘Give me children or else I will die'” (Gen. 30:1).

Note the complexity of her feelings!  Rachel is upset for being unable to conceive. She is upset because she feels she has disappointed Jacob. And she is upset because her sister Leah is fertile.  Meanwhile, it is eminently clear to Leah that her husband loves Rachel more than she. Complicated!

Rachel handles her insecurity by instructing Jacob to impregnate her maidservant, Bilhah. Bilhah bears two sons " Dan and Naphtali " in quick succession, whom Rachel essentially claims as her own. 

The Torah is silent as to Bilhah's feelings about this one-sided arrangement in which she must essentially relinquish control of her body and of her children.

Torah reflects real life. It does not flinch from honest emotions nor from our biblical forebears' less worthy qualities. It is our privilege to engage in Torah in a serious way. We need not simplify these stories or whitewash their moral ambiguity. Rather we " like generations of Torah readers before us " learn about our biblical forebears " and about ourselves " through their complicated and nuanced lives.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jeffrey Weill

Wed, December 2 2020 16 Kislev 5781