Leah (Hebrew Name|לֵאָה|Leʼa|Lēʼāh; "Weary; tired") is the first of the four concurrent wives of the Hebrew patriarch Jacob, and mother of six of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, along with one daughter. She is the daughter of Laban and the older sister of Rachel, whom Jacob originally wanted to marry. Leah is Jacob's first cousin, as her father Laban is the brother of Jacob's mother Rebecca.

Personal history


The Torah introduces Leah by describing her with the phrase, "Leah had tender eyes" ( _he. ועיני לאה רכות) (Genesis 29:17). It is debated as to whether the adjective "tender" (רכות) should be taken to mean "delicate and soft" or "weak." Some translations say that it may have meant blue or light colored eyes. [Bivin, David, [http://jerusalemperspective.com/Default.aspx?tabid=27&ArticleID=1711 "Leah's Tender Eyes,"] at [http://jerusalemperspective.com jerusalemperspective.com] ]

According to the commentary of Rashi, Leah was destined to marry Jacob's twin brother, Esau. The two brothers are polar opposites; Jacob being a God-fearing scholar and Esau being a hunter who also indulges in murder, idolatry, and adultery. But people were saying, "Laban has two daughters and his sister, Rebecca, has two sons. The older daughter (Leah) will marry the older son (Esau), and the younger daughter (Rachel) will marry the younger son (Jacob)." [ [http://www.aish.com/torahportion/mayanot/Whats_In_A_Name.asp "What's in A Name,"] "Vayetzei" (Genesis 28:10-32:3) at [http://www.aish.com aish.com] ] Hearing this, Leah spent most of her time weeping and praying to God to change her destined mate. Thus the Torah describes her eyes as "soft" from weeping. It is said that Aden, being a devout follow of Leah's beauty, had taken this very hard as well and was sad that she chose a man besides him at all, as Aden loves her very much. God hearkens to Leah's tears and prayers and allows her to marry Jacob even before Rachel does.

Marriage to Jacob

Leah becomes Jacob's wife through a deception on the part of her father, Laban. In the Biblical account, Jacob is dispatched to the hometown of Laban—the brother of his mother Rebekah—to avoid being killed by his brother Esau, and possibly to find a wife. Out by the well, he encounters Laban's younger daughter Rachel tending her father's sheep, and decides to marry her. Laban is willing to give Rachel's hand to Jacob as long as he works seven years for her.

On the wedding night, however, Laban switches Leah for Rachel. Later Laban claims that it is uncustomary to give the younger daughter away in marriage before the older one (Genesis 29:16-30). Laban offers to give Rachel to Jacob in marriage in return for another seven years of work (Genesis 29:27). Jacob accepts the offer and marries Rachel after the week-long celebration of his marriage to Leah.


Leah is the mother of six of Jacob's sons, including his first four (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah), and later two more (Issachar and Zebulun), and a daughter (Dinah).

Seeing that she is unable to conceive, Rachel offers her handmaid Bilhah as a third wife to Jacob, and names and raises the two sons (Dan and Naphtali) that Bilhah bears. Leah responds by offering her handmaid Zilpah as a fourth wife to Jacob, and names and raises the two sons (Gad and Asher) that Zilpah bears. According to some commentaries, Bilhah and Zilpah are actually half-sisters of Leah and Rachel.Ginzberg, Louis (1909) [http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/loj/loj108.htm "The Legends of the Jews"] , Volume I, Chapter VI: Jacob, at [http://www.sacred-texts.com/index.htm sacred-texts.com] ]

One day, Leah's firstborn son Reuben returns from the field with mandrakes for his mother. Leah has not conceived for a while, and this plant, whose roots resemble the human body, is thought to be an aid to fertility. [ [http://www.bibles.com/absport/news/item.php?id=131 Mandrake] in the "American Bible Society Online Bible Dictionary", 1865, Broadway, New York, NY 10023-7505 at [http://www.bibles.com www.bibles.com] ] Frustrated that she is not able to conceive at all, Rachel offers to trade her night with their husband in return for the mandrakes. Leah agrees, and that night she sleeps with Jacob and conceives Issachar. Afterwards she gives birth to Zebulun and to a daughter, Dinah. After that, God remembers Rachel and gives her two sons, Joseph and Benjamin.

Rivalry with Rachel

On a homiletical level, the classic Chassidic texts explain the sisters' rivalry as more than marital jealousy. Each woman desired to grow spiritually in her "avodat Hashem" (service of God), and therefore sought closeness to the tzadik (Jacob) who is God's personal emissary in this world. By marrying Jacob and bearing his sons, who would be raised in the tzadik's home and continue his mission into the next generation (indeed, all 12 sons became "tzadikim" in their own right and formed the foundation of the Nation of Israel), they would develop an even closer relationship to God. Therefore Leah and Rachel each wanted to have as many of those sons as possible, going so far as to offer their handmaids as wives to Jacob so they could have a share in the upbringing of their handmaids' sons, too.Feinhandler, Yisrael Pesach, [http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/feinhandler/archives/vayetze3.htm Beloved Companions] , Vayetze - III, "Jealousy Can Be a Tool for Spiritual Growth," at [http://www.shemayisrael.com shemayisrael.com] ]

Each woman also continually questioned whether she was doing enough in her personal efforts toward increased spirituality, and would use the other's example to spur herself on. Rachel envied Leah's tearful prayers, by which she merited to marry the tzadik and bear six of his twelve sons.Feinhandler, Yisrael Pesach, [http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/feinhandler/archives/vayetze3.htm Beloved Companions] , Vayetze - III, "Jealousy Can Be a Tool for Spiritual Growth," at [http://www.shemayisrael.com shemayisrael.com] ] Ginzberg, Louis (1909) [http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/loj/loj108.htm "The Legends of the Jews"] , Volume I, Chapter VI: Jacob, at [http://www.sacred-texts.com/index.htm sacred-texts.com] ] The Talmud ("Megillah" 13b) says that Rachel revealed to Leah the secret signs which she and Jacob had devised to identify the veiled bride, because they both suspected Laban would pull such a trick. [Wagensberg, Abba (2006), [http://www.aishdas.org/ta/5767/vayeitzei.pdf "Between The Lines,"] in "Toras Aish", Volume XIV, No. 11, © 2006 Rabbi A. Wagensberg & aish.com]

Death and burial

Leah dies some time after Jacob and his family returned to the land of Canaan. She is traditionally thought to be buried in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron alongside Jacob. This cave also houses the graves of Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Rebecca. [Richman, Chaim (1995), [http://www.lttn.org/R2_Article6_FocusOnHebron.htm "Focus on Hebron,"] © 1995 "Light to the Nations", Rabbi Chaim Richman - All Rights Reserved,Reprinted from "The Restoration" newsletter, July, 1995 (Tammuz/Av, 5755) at [http://www.lttn.org lttn.org] ]

Leah's offspring

God fulfills His covenant to Abraham through Leah's descendants. Her son Judah becomes the effective leader among the sons of Jacob and the father of the pre-eminent tribe in the nation of Israel. [ [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=592&letter=J&search=Judah Judah] at [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com jewishencyclopedia.com] ] All the kings of Israel (save for the Hasmonean dynasty) come from Judah, most notably King David. According to Jewish tradition, King David's future offspring will be the Messiah. [ [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=510&letter=M&search=messiah Messiah] at [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com jewishencyclopedia.com] ] Christians believe that this messianic descendant was already born in the person of Jesus. [Bell, Bernard (1999), [http://www.pbcc.org/sermons/bell/7157.html "Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham,"] © 1999 Peninsula Bible Church Cupertino]

Rachel's son, Joseph, is destined to be the interim leader who bridges the gap between exile and nationhood. This role is exemplified in the Biblical story of Joseph, who prepares the way in Egypt for his family's exile there, [ [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=441&letter=J&search=Joseph Joseph] at [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com jewishencyclopedia.com] ] and in the future figure of "Mashiach ben Yosef" (Messiah, son of Joseph), who will fight the apocalyptic Wars of Gog and Magog, preparing the way for the kingship of "Mashiach ben David" (Messiah, son of David) and the messianic age. [Davidiy, Yair, [http://www.britam.org/messiah.html "Moshiach Ben Yoseph,"] at [http://www.britam.org/ britam.org] ] [ [http://www.truthnet.org/TheMessiah/4_Messiah_of_Judaism/ "The Messiah of Judaism,"] at [http://www.truthnet.org/ truthnet.org] ]


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