This story tells, perhaps, of the greatest act
of selflessness in Biblical lore.Rachel
is ready to marry Yaakov, a union they have been
pining for, for seven long years, Lavan has a
more sinister plan:
Lavan gathered all the local people and he
made a [wedding] feast. When it was evening, he
took Leah, his daughter, and brought her to him
it was morning, behold it was Leah!
On that last line, the midrash comments:
But, during the night she was not Leah? For
Yaakov had given Rachel [certain] signs and when
Rachel saw that Leah was being brought to him
she thought: "My sister may now be humiliated,"
[whereupon] she transmitted those signs to her.
A classic midrash teaches that Yaakov is to
marry Rachel but being aware of Lavan's
character, and perhaps suspecting that he might
swap Rachel for Leah, Yaakov developes a system
of signs for Rachel..
Rachel is horrified by the prospect of Leah's
humiliation, and sacrifices her own happiness by
giving Leah those signs. Remarkably, the midrash
doesn't portray even a whiff of Rachel's
internal dilemma; giving one the sense that this
moment was long in the planning. The magnitude
and reverberations of Rachel's personal heroism
are perhaps best reflected in the following
portrays Yirmiyahu, post the destruction of the
Temple, [at Hashem's behest] imploring the
giants of our past to do something. Yirmiyahu
wakes Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov and Moshe who
fight mightily, drawing on their personal
heroism in defense of the Jewish people. These
are valiant battles - but Hashem rejects them
all. Then, Mama Rachel speaks:
"If I, a mere mortal, was prepared not to
humiliate my sister and was willing to take a
rival into my home, how could You, the eternal,
compassionate God, be jealous of idols that were
brought into Your home, which have no true
existence Will You cause my children to be
exiled on this account?" ... Immediately Hashem
is imbued with mercy: for you Rachel I shall
return Yisrael to their place.
To understand the magnitude of Rachel's act,
consider that Rachel didn't passively spare Leah
shame. She actively handed signs that were given
exclusively for her use, to her sister, even
Rachel waited for seven
years for her Yaakov!
Rachel gave up her husband
without knowing at the time she would ever
Rachel gave up her portion
as the mother of Klal Yisrael [without ever
knowing she might get some back]
Rachel exposed herself to
the real possibility of having to marry
Incredible! But all is not well - for this grand
act of Rachel's mesiras hasimanin (giving
away the signs) narrative - an fact in Talmudic
and Midrashic literature - raises troubling
questions in light of the text:
1. First, the enigmatic story of the dudaim,
those unnamed flowers that (years later), Reuven
brings to his mother Leah. Rachel wants and asks
for some. Note Leah's reaction [Bereishis,
Leah said to her, "Isn't it enough that you
my husband? Would you also take my
son's dudaim flowers?"
Consider our midrash and then think about Leah's
reaction. Is it not unbelievably audacious? MY
HUSBAND! One is almost tempted to yell out,
but Leah - How dare you! And yet we see in
Rachel's reaction not even a hint of censure; a
reaction of heroic proportions.
Rachel said, "Therefore, he shall be with you
tonight in exchange for your son's dudaim
We shall return to this point.
2. Our midrash tells us what happened before the
wedding night, but what of the morning after?
Was Yaakov really bound to this marriage? Why
would Yaakov not simply divorce Leah? A midrash
has Yaakov castigating Leah for her deeds. Leah
responds that she learned deception from
Yaakov - the Rebbe of deception.
One aspect emerging from this difficult midrash
is Leah's moral role in the simanim
For even as Rachel heroically hands the signs
to Leah, we might rightfully ask how Leah could
have accepted them?!! Did she not know that she
was taking Yaakov from Rachel and Rachel from
It is unlikely that Leah was merely Lavan's
pawn. Nor is it fathomable that Leah, matriarch
of Klal Yisrael, would be so motivated by
self-interest (to avoid marrying Eisav) that she
would willingly go along with such deception
3. Further on, we find that Yaakov registers a
protest with Lavan: [29:25-26]
What have you done to me? Did I not work with
you for Rachel? Why did you deceive me?
It is not done so in our place, to give the
younger [daughter in marriage] before the
In this dialogue. Lavan's attitude is
outrageously cynical.Hey Yaakov, in our part
of town, we let the older go first, not like
people from YOUR home.
Lavan sounds [like his name], white, na´ve,
pristine - even as he is so incredibly
deceitful. Yaakov is timid and one wonders why.
Perhaps even more significantly, at the end of
twenty years heavy with Lavan's abuse of power,
Yaakov finally, in front of his family, lets
Yaakov was angry and he argued with Lavan.
Yaakov replied and said to Lavan, "What is my
crime? What sin did I commit that you were in
such hot pursuit of me? ... These twenty years
that I was with you, your ewes and she-goats
never miscarried, .. You demanded compensation
from my hand whether [an animal] was stolen from
me by day or whether it was stolen from me by
night. I was consumed by the burning heat by day
and ice at night. My sleep was taken from my
eyes. These twenty years that I have been in
your house, I served you fourteen years for your
two daughters, and six years for your sheep, but
you changed my wages ten times.
And yet, he doesn't mention the greatest
injustice of them all. Lavan's Rachel-Leah swap
is omitted! Again one wonders why.
4. Years later, the siblings get into the
picture. Reuven disrespects Yaakov [according to
the midrash] by moving his bed from Bilhah's
[Rachel's maidservant] to Leah's. Of course this
act pales in comparison with the incredible
resentment and attacks, that Leah's children
have showered on Yosef. Where is the regard for
Rachel's incredible mesirus nefesh, that
had opened the door to Leah in the first place?
And why don't Leah's children show any gratitude
to Rachel and her children?
5. One last question is based on a beautiful
piece of Talmud
Because of Rachels tznius [transmitting the
signs], Shaul HaMelech was descended from her.
And because of Shaul's tznius, Esther and
Mordechai were descended from him.
The Talmudic language is troubling. Shaul and
Esther were modest insofar as they kept
important secrets [Shaul did not immediately
divulge his anointment as King(,) while Esther
was renowned for not revealing her Jewish
identity.] Rachel's grand act of giving away the
signs was in fact a revelation! Would it not
have been more correct to label Rachel's actions
as chesed or sacrifice?
In sum we have posed seven basic questions:
How could Leah have accused
Rachel of taking her husband?
How could Leah have allowed
Rachel to give her Yaakov?
Why did Yaakov not protest
to Leah or divorce her?
Why did Yaakov not protest
to Lavan more vigorously?
Why did Yaakov omit the
colossal wrong he suffered by having been
given the wrong wife, in his recap with
Why do Leah's children not
act deferentially to Rachel?
Why does the gemara call
Rachel's grand act tznius as opposed to
chessed or mesirut nefesh?
Rav Shalom Schwadron records a remarkable single
sentence answer that resolves all our questions:
Leah never knew!
Rabbi Avraham Willig's approach is based upon
Consider the notion that only three people knew
of the impending Yaakov-Rachel marriage: Lavan,
Yaakov and Rachel.
Follow the thread: Lavan negotiated privately
with Yaakov. He then celebrated publicly with
the townspeople at the Leah-Yaakov wedding. Were
he to reveal his duplicity, it would make him
look like the cheater he really was. Yaakov and
Rachel of course anticipated Lavan's wily ways -
a point the midrash makes; this was after all,
the whole basis for establishing the sign
system. Now follow the logic: As surely as
Rachel considered that Lavan would dupe Yaakov,
she also contemplated how unbelievably
embarrassing this would be for Leah [to be
substituted for the real bride in front of a
whole town!]. Leah is, innocent of all knowledge
of this, -- most likely being told by Lavan that
she is the intended bride.
Given these realities, Rachel responds.
But first a word from a classic Rambam
which speaks of eight levels among tzedaka
givers; we skip to the top two:
There are eight levels in charity, each level
surpassing the other.
The highest level is a person who supports a
Jew who has fallen into poverty [by] giving him
a present or a loan, entering into partnership
with him or finding him work so that his hand
will be fortified so that he will not have to
ask others ...
A lower [level] ... this is one who gives
charity to the poor without knowing to whom he
gave and without the poor person knowing from
whom he received. For this is an observance of
the mitzvah for its sake alone. This [type of
giving was] exemplified by the secret chamber
that existed in the Temple. The righteous would
make donations there in secret and poor people
... would derive their livelihood from it in
What is the highest of the high? To find
someone a job without the recipient even knowing
that it was a gift. The recipient achieves
self sufficiency without losing honor. This was
Rachel's goal: to transmit the signs without
divulging the plan - to get Leah in the know
without her really knowing the whole story.
And what were those signs? To Da'as Zekeinim,
they were the 3 classic mitzvos of the home:
nidah, challah and candlelighting. Thus Rachel
taught Leah [perhaps in explicit preparation for
her upcoming marriage] the three primary mitzvos
of the home. Some time later, Yaakov, in the
yichud room, gave his wife-to-be a bechina
[test] - which of course Leah passes with flying
colors - not even knowing that these were the
The next morning, Yaakov realizes what has
transpired. He too does not want to embarrass
Leah. Thus, he cannot vigorously protest Lavan's
assertion. Privately, he raises the issue. Lavan
responds smugly and self righteously. For
Yaakov, there is no use continuing. Too much
protestation may publicize the matter and bring
Leah the unending embarrassment of forever being
the unwanted wife. Of what purpose is protest, -
as the matter is a fait accompli(?)
Years later, when Yaakov finally unloads on
Lavan in the presence of his wives and
children, he certainly cannot raise the matter.
For Yaakov, it is now a matter of acceptance.
Since Leah does not know the background, she
only sees Rachel - the 'second wife' - gaining
favored status, a situation that culminates in
her dudaim comment [you already took MY
husband]. Leah's children of course see the same
thing; hence their response.
Far from being a one-time act of sacrifice.
Rachel's greatness is her ongoing refusal to
divulge- a grand act of continuous hidden love.
That ongoing every-waking-moment-of-her-life
hidden love that Rachel demonstrates for her
sister is all the more remarkable in light of
the bizyonos (shame), of Leah's upset and
the insults given her by Leah's children.
Rachel's claim is the ultimate winner when
appealing to Hashem on behalf of Jews in need of
mercy. Why? Whereas Avraham evoked the ten
tests, and Yitzchak cited his willingness to be
bound, and Moshe embodied his unbelievable
tenacity and faithfulness, these grand acts were
all manifest .
Rachel however says to Hashem: my act of hidden
love for my sister came even as I suffered
disgrace. Hashem - can't you do the same for
May Hashem reveal his infinite acts of hidden
love to all His people who wait faithfully for a
world of open love and an end to all evil.
[Note: What follows is a beautiful piece
of Torah I heard from my chaver Rabbi
Avraham Willig of Ramat Beit Shemesh
 based on Yirmiyahu [31:15-16] -
Thus says Hashem, A voice is heard in
Ramah, Lamentation and bitter weeping
Rachel is weeping for her children;
refusing to be comforted for her
children .. Thus says Hashem, Restrain
your voice from weeping and your eyes
from tears; For your work will be
rewarded," declares Hashem, And they
will return from the land of the enemy.
 Pesichta Eicha Rabah 24
Although it is not completely in synch
with this startling comment.
 Especially according to the
midrash that indicates that Lavan would
redirect all of Yaakov's presents that
he sent during the seven years to Leah!
The midrash praises Rachel's and her son
Binyamin's silence [the latter for not
revealing mechiras Yosef]
 Matnos Aniyim, 10:7-8
 Two questions still need to be
addressed: If Rachel knew that Leah
would be embarrassed, and she would have
to transmit the signs - why did she
accept the signs from Yaakov in the
first place? Once Rachel agreed to
Yaakov's sign system - how could she
violate Yaakov's will?
 Additionally, Yaakov certainly
saw the hashgacha in the whole