Vayetzei: Humility of Knowledge

Copyright 2014 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Vayetzei

Leah had weak eyes . . . (Bereshit/ Genesis 29:17)

Good afternoon!

This week’s Torah portion is really the beginning of the story of the Jewish people: Yaakov flees to his uncle Lavan, marries two of his cousins (Rakhel and Leah), has lots of children with his wives and their maidservants (!), and by the end of the portion is headed back to the Land of Israel. Among the most famous stories in Vayetzei is Lavan’s trickery in getting Yaakov to marry his older daughter, Leah, before her younger sister, Rakhel, whom Yaakov loved and desired.

Rakhel is described as beautiful, but we only learn that einai Leah rakot, “Leah’s eyes were weak,” [alternatively “soft,” or “tender”]. A famous midrash quoted by Rashi explains that Leah’s eyes were weak or soft because she had been crying, assuming along with other folks that if Yaakov were going to marry her younger sister Rahkel, then she’d have to marry his older brother Esav, who was not thought of as a particularly admirable character by the ancient rabbis.

On the one hand, the midrash has a certain logic to it- two sisters for two brothers, and the Torah itself mentions that the elder should be married before the younger- but on the other hand, what a great example of the human tendency to create great imaginary dramas before all the facts are in. Taking this interpretation at face value, Leah was crying over something that not only didn’t happen, but might not have been planned by anybody!

We so often think we know what others are thinking, and sometimes react to something that is purely an assumption or projection. We so often make up our minds that disaster looms ahead- and it might, but it might not, or might not be as bad as we think, or we might be much stronger that we assume. What is so poignant about the image of Leah crying over her marriage to Esav is that the text gives us so little reason to assume this was her fate; I wish she had at least asked her father about his plans before crying her eyes out!

An aspect of the virtue of humility is knowing what we don’t know- and knowing that there is much that we don’t know can leave us much more open to what is, rather than what we want, fear, assume, project or imagine. If there is much I don’t know, then there is much to learn, and many questions to ask, and the possibilities are endless.

Shabbat Shalom,


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