Lavan had two daughters…
The Zohar, commenting on the verse, Who is this that looks
forth as the morning…, makes the following statement:
Who and This (mee and zohs) denote
two worlds. Who symbolizes the most supernal sphere, the unknowable
beginning of all things. This, is a lower sphere, the so-called
…Yaakov, “the complete one,” united the two worlds as one. He united
them above, and he united them below, and from him issued the twelve holy
tribes after the supernal pattern. Yaakov, who was “a man of completeness,” brought harmony to the two worlds. Other and lesser
men, who follow Yaakov’s example merely uncover nakedness both above and
below…as it is written, You shall not marry a woman and her sister….
Yaakov’s two wives, Leah and Rochel, are embodiments of two worlds: “the
unknowable” world of thought, and the “lower world,” the world of speech.
Leah embodies the world of thought, the hidden world, known as alma di’iskasya. Rochel embodies the world of
speech, the revealed world, known as alma di’iskasya.
(Similarly, Rabbi Chaim Vital writes that the generation of the exodus
stem from the world of thought. They therefore did not wish to enter the
land of Israel, the world of speech, but rather wished to live in the
desert where they lived a spiritual existence and experienced Torah and
mitzvos in the realm of thought alone.)
Leah is the older one, ha’gedolah. This can also be read as hey
gedolah, “the great hey,” referring to the first hey
of G-d’s Name, which embodies Binah, understanding. Rochel is the younger
one, ha’ktanah, which can be read as hey k’tanah,
“the small hey,” referring to the second hey of G-d’s Name,
which embodies Malchus, the lowest sefirah.
[Leah therefore gives birth to seven children, six boys and one girl,
just as Binah gives birth to the seven emotions—six masculine (Chessed
through Yesod), and one feminine, Malchus.)
The difference between Rochel and Leah is seen in their children as well.
Leah’s children were shepherds. They lived in the world of thought, apart
from society and the mundane world. Rochel’s child, Yosef, lived within
the world. He remained a tzadik even in the most degraded land,
even while immersed in the role of its governance.
(Similarly, Binyamin, “son of my right,” was originally called ben
oni, “son of my pain,” symbolizing the fact that Binyamim embodies
the concept of teshuvah, turning pain and death (the “left side”)
into “right,” beauty and life. The sons of Leah, by contrast, are stones
of natural beauty that begin and end in the realm of holiness, the world
While the Beis Hamikdosh stood, the Land of Israel was permeated primarily with the world of Rochel, speech
and revelation. G-d, as it were, “spoke” to His world. Divinity was revealed.
Consequently, the land was filled with wisdom, Divine inspiration and
This revelation was most intense in the Holy Temple and in the Holy of
Holies. Daily miracles were seen, such as the heavenly fire that descended
and consumed the offerings.
(That prophecy was possible only in the Land can be seen from the story
of Yonah. When Yonah was told by G-d to rebuke Ninveh, he “ran away” from
G-d. Rashi explains that he left the land of Israel thinking
that he would no longer have prophetic vision, since prophetic vision
was granted only in the Land of Israel. [He did not wish to carry
out G-d’s command because he feared that the inhabitants of Ninveh would
repent and thereby bring judgment upon the Jews (who had failed to repent
despite the repeated rebuke spoken by their prophets.)])
After the destruction of the Temple, Israel was exiled and with them
the Shechinah, the Divine Presence. Rochel was no longer the world of
speech and revelation but was “like a sheep (rochel) muted before
Leah, however, does not go into exile. She is called the “closed mem,”
a letter that is closed on all sides, symbolizing its invulnerability
to darkness. (Rochel, on the other hand, is called the “open mem,”
open on one side, and vulnerable to the forces of exile.)
The Land of Israel was now permeated with the world of Leah, thought,
which is in truth loftier than the world of Rochel, just as thought, in
contrast to speech, is a more spiritual and refined facet.
This created a paradox. On the one hand, Divinity was now less revealed.
On the other hand, the great tzadikim in the Land are now capable
of grasping loftier dimensions of the Divine than those perceived by their
equals in Temple days. For they can now perceive matters as they exist
in the world of thought before their descent into the world of speech.
Thus Arizal, for example, perceived matters of the greatest profundity
that eluded the great tzadikim of earlier generations.
A Scorned Wife
Yaakov shows a preference for Rochel. Leah is “scorned.” This is not
because Yaakov has no appreciation for the lofty world of thought. Rather,
this was because Yaakov’s primary focus in life was to bring Divinity
into the farthest place.
In the Zohar, Yaakov is compared to the middle pole (briach hatichon)
that went through the walls of the Tabernacle from end to another. It is his task to draw the light of the highest spheres
to the other end, the lower worlds.
Thus we read in the Amidah prayer: …G-d of Avraham, G-d of
Yitzchak and G-d of Yaakov…. The Hebrew equivalent of and
is the letter vov. Yaakov’s life of drawing down the supernal light
from the highest levels to the lowest resembles the letter vov,
a straight, vertical line.
He therefore loves Rochel more than Leah, since his passion and desire
is to bring the highest light of Kesser into the lowest sefirah,
Malchus, the world of revelation, so that Divinity is apparent to all.
Yet, as the Zohar writes, Yaakov unites both Rochel and Leah.
Although his primary focus was the world of Rochel, he was married to
the world of Leah as well. His life was a synthesis of descent and ascent,
Speech and Thought. His focus, however, was Speech.
[He is, as the Zohar calls him, a man of completeness. In the sefiriotic
scheme he is Tiferes, harmony, the unifier of his predecessors, Avraham
and Yitzchak, Chessed and Gevurah, shov and ratzo, Return
and Yearning. Although Tiferes is the balance between kindness and restraint,
kindness is the more powerful element. Similarly, Yaakov combines the
shov of his grandfather with the ratzo of his father, but
places a greater emphasis on the shov.]
After the birth of Levi, Leah declares: “this time my husband shall cleave
to me.” It was certainly not her intention to negate the need for the
world of actuality, i.e., the fulfillment of Torah in speech and deed.
Leah understood the need for Yaakov to descend to the world of Rochel.
Her argument was that Yaakov’s primary focus should be the world
Her argument is reflected in the behavior of the “early pious ones” (chassidim
harishonim) who would spend nine hours of their day in prayer.
But Yaakov knew that this was the path of only a select few. Most of
Israel is primarily involved in the world of speech and deed. He therefore
made his tent with Rochel. &
[Adapted and summarized by Rabbi Yosef
Marcus from Torah Ohr, Vayeitzei.]
In man's service to his Creator,
Leah corresponds to the study of Torah, which must be understood with
one’s Binah (understanding), and Rachel to the mitzvot that are
accomplished through speech and action (Sefer Hamamarim Melukat,
a discourse of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, "the Alter Rebbe."