Thursday, November 11, 2010

Did Rachel and Leah switch bodies overnight?

Summary: Of course not. If so, what does  וַיְהִי בַבֹּקֶר וְהִנֵּה הִוא לֵאָה imply? A midrashic approach and a peshat approach.

Post: In Vayeitzei, the pasuk and Rashi, based on a midrash:

25. And it came to pass in the morning, and behold she was Leah! So he said to Laban, "What is this that you have done to me? Did I not work with you for Rachel? Why have you deceived me?"כה. וַיְהִי בַבֹּקֶר וְהִנֵּה הִוא לֵאָה וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל לָבָן מַה זֹּאת עָשִׂיתָ לִּי הֲלֹא בְרָחֵל עָבַדְתִּי עִמָּךְ וְלָמָּה רִמִּיתָנִי:
And it came to pass in the morning, and behold she was Leah: But at night, she was not Leah, because Jacob had given signs to Rachel, but when she saw that they were bringing Leah, she (Rachel) said,“Now, my sister will be put to shame. So she readily transmitted those signs to her.” - [from Meg. 13b]ויהי בבקר והנה היא לאה: אבל בלילה לא היתה לאה, לפי שמסר יעקב לרחל סימנים, וכשראתה רחל שמכניסין לו לאה אמרה עכשיו תכלם אחותי, עמדה ומסרה לה אותן סימנים:

This could be taken as explaining just how Yaakov had been fooled. But it is more than that. It is a hyper-literal reading of the words in the pasuk. Specifically, it came to pass in the morning that behold she was Leah. Michlal hen ata shomea lav. Thus, in the night, she was not Leah, but Rachel! Does this mean that they switched bodies somehow? Obviously not. Rather, there was some aspect of Leah during that night such that during the night she was Rachel. How was this? By giving over the signs which Rachel had given her, she was convincing as a Rachel.

Meanwhile, Ibn Caspi rejects this close reading. Thus:

"וַיְהִי בַבֹּקֶר וְהִנֵּה הִוא לֵאָה -- this does not exclude her bring Leah during the nighttime. Rather, she was not so to him according to his beliefs. And so too in {Yehoshua 2:7}:

ה  וַיְהִי הַשַּׁעַר לִסְגּוֹר, בַּחֹשֶׁךְ וְהָאֲנָשִׁים יָצָאוּ--לֹא יָדַעְתִּי, אָנָה הָלְכוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים; רִדְפוּ מַהֵר אַחֲרֵיהֶם, כִּי תַשִּׂיגוּם.5 and it came to pass about the time of the shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out; whither the men went I know not; pursue after them quickly; for ye shall overtake them.'
ו  וְהִיא, הֶעֱלָתַם הַגָּגָה; וַתִּטְמְנֵם בְּפִשְׁתֵּי הָעֵץ, הָעֲרֻכוֹת לָהּ עַל-הַגָּג.6 But she had brought them up to the roof, and hid them with the stalks of flax, which she had spread out upon the roof.
ז  וְהָאֲנָשִׁים, רָדְפוּ אַחֲרֵיהֶם דֶּרֶךְ הַיַּרְדֵּן, עַל, הַמַּעְבְּרוֹת; וְהַשַּׁעַר סָגָרוּ--אַחֲרֵי, כַּאֲשֶׁר יָצְאוּ הָרֹדְפִים אַחֲרֵיהֶם.7 And the men pursued after them the way to the Jordan unto the fords; and as soon as they that pursued after them were gone out, the gate was shut.

{where they believed that they were running after the spies.} And all of this is in the realm of dibra Torah kilshon benei Adam, that the Torah speaks in the language of people."

This is also a useful source for understanding Ibn Caspi's understanding of this principle, where the Torah can state something false as true according to people's perceptions.


S. said...

Someone told me what I had to admit what a beautiful derash. The idea was the the so-called simanim which Rachel divulged to Leah was as follows.

Yaakov and Rachel had the following conversation in which he instructed her this way:

"Lavan will try to fool me by giving me Leah. He will tell Leah to tell me she's Rachel. So what I want you to do is when I ask you who you are, you tell me that it's Leah."

So Yaakov was expecting to hear that it was Leah. Thus, all Rachel had to do was tell Leah that she should tell Yaakov who she really was, Leah. But Rachel was such a tzadekes that she told it to her in a nice way. She convinced Leah that Yaakov really wanted her, telling her that there's no need for pretenses. Just tell him you are Leah, and he'll be happy because he really wants you. Leah was convinced, so she told him - and since Yaakov expected Rachel to announce herself as Leah, he fell for it.

This makes Rachel's subsequent behavior even more amazing - she was so nice to Leah, that Leah was really convinced that Yaakov preferred her, and never realized that she had fooled him (after all, the pasuk says he complained the next day to Lavan, not to Leah). This makes Leah's haughty attitude toward Rachel understandable (if not nice). She thought she was the most beloved wife. Rachel was so overly righteous that she never told Leah what the real deal was.

joshwaxman said...

very nice. i agree that it is beautiful, even if it isn't peshat in the pasuk or (likely) peshat in the original midrash. on the other hand, perhaps it captures a (sometimes) general goal of midrash, which is homiletic and inspirational.


S. said...

It's also unconvincing because Leah realized subsequently she was "hated" whatever that means. I guess it's a nice way of puffing up Rachel.


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