Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why did Yaakov prefer Rachel?

Summary: Because she was the more attractive of the two sisters. The avos were also human, after all. But see the reaction of two rishonim, and consider.

Post: In the middle of parashat Vayeitzei, we are introduced to the two daughters of Lavan, and the difference between them:

17. Leah's eyes were tender, but Rachel had beautiful features and a beautiful complexion.יז. וְעֵינֵי לֵאָה רַכּוֹת וְרָחֵל הָיְתָה יְפַת תֹּאַר וִיפַת מַרְאֶה:
18. And Jacob loved Rachel, and he said, "I will work for you seven years for Rachel, your younger daughter."יח. וַיֶּאֱהַב יַעֲקֹב אֶת רָחֵל וַיֹּאמֶר אֶעֱבָדְךָ שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים בְּרָחֵל בִּתְּךָ הַקְּטַנָּה:

It seems as if pasuk 17 is the basis for Yaakov's preference, and love, for Rachel.

Ibn Caspi is appalled:
"וְעֵינֵי לֵאָה רַכּוֹת וְרָחֵל הָיְתָה -- this is an introduction of the knowledge, and reason, for what is close to it, namely  וַיֶּאֱהַב יַעֲקֹב אֶת רָחֵל, and everything which is drawn out after this in the matter of Rachel and Leah. And this is closer in order {/proximity} and time than that which we mentioned regarding its stating "And Sarai was barren" {Bereishit 11:30}, as well as "And the names of the two sons of Eli..." {I Shmuel 2:7}. Howbeit, it is no wonder that the Giver of the Torah did not spell out for us the cause of Leah's degraded features and the beauty of Rachel, and there is no Fashioner like our God. Howbeit, that which is greatly astonishing from our perspective, and from that of every chasid, how Yaakov Avinu was choosing pretty girls."

I must admit that I am not so astonished, or appalled. From a 21st century perspective, this is entirely normal, and natural. One thing which often drives male humans to seek a particular mate is physical attractiveness. Leah might have been "full of cheyn", but if Rachel was a pretty girl, it would make sense that Yaakov would be attracted to her. Of course, physical attractiveness is not the only thing a semi-sophisticated person looks for, but it is a component.

Perhaps this is astonishing because Yaakov Avinu has already been placed on a pedestal. There is a traditional tendency to make the avos into super-human spiritual beings. And from the perspective of a medieval Jewish rationalist, if Yaakov Avinu was worthy of receiving prophecy, then he must have elevated himself spiritually to lofty heights. If so, this going after pretty girls would seem to run counter to this. (Perhaps see Ibn Ezra on 27:9, and specifically ויש אומרים:  חלילה לכזב הנביא, רק הוא כן.)

There is also the position of Ralbag on this pasuk:

And behold, {29:16}, "there were to Lavan two daughters", and Yaakov did not choose the older one, because her eyes were tender and dripping trears, and this is some type of disease. And he chose the younger one so that the children he would have from her would be stronger and more complete. And combine to this that she {=Rachel} was  יְפַת תֹּאַר וִיפַת מַרְאֶה."

I would read these introduced "practical" considerations as simple discomfort with a great such as Yaakov placing his affections with the pretty girl, instead of, say, the more righteous. In other words, Ralbag might be having a bit of the same reaction as Ibn Caspi. Therefore, it is practical, righteous considerations of having sturdy, complete children which drives him. And Leah is not merely less pretty, but is diseased and thus sickly. Despite all this, he does admit in combination with all this that Rachel's beautiful features and complexion was an influence.

Personally, I would argue with Ralbag, in that I don't see the fact that Rachel was somewhat younger as influencing Yaakov's choice. Rather, I would regard it as identification, and more than that, setup for what occurs later:

26. And Laban said, "It is not done so in our place to give the younger one before the firstborn.כו. וַיֹּאמֶר לָבָן לֹא יֵעָשֶׂה כֵן בִּמְקוֹמֵנוּ לָתֵת הַצְּעִירָה לִפְנֵי הַבְּכִירָה:

This is (false) justification for Lavan's trickery. Also, possibly, turnabout for Yaakov preempting his own older brother.


Garnel Ironheart said...

Another consideration: although the Torah does not tell us, the Midrash does mention the physical features of the Avos and notes that they were all handsome, strong, etc. This is especially emphasized as Yaakov whips that giant rock off the well.
What's more, recall that cohanim couldn't serve if they had physical defects, nor could animals be sacrificed if they were defective.
It would therefore seem the Torah does place a value on physical appearance in certain cases.

joshwaxman said...

it is a possibility, though one can read all sorts of motivations into mumin. for example, that one should not give Hashem the dregs, and by giving a baal mum as a korban, it is likely that from the perspective of the person offering the korban, it is not heartfelt. similar for appointing someone to offer the sacrifices to Hashem.

however, i would relate to all this Ibn Caspi's earlier statement:
וירץ העבד לקראתה. בעבור שראה אותה טובת מראה מאד:

it is certainly possible that the Torah regards physical beauty as a positive trait. indeed, i would say that it is a positive trait.

kol tuv,

Anonymous said...

Even if looks were a consideration bear in mind he had Ruach Hakodesh and he was one of the Avos, he is coming from learning and being Meshamesh in Yeshivas Shem vEiver for 14 years where he never slept in a bed! He is not a "materialistic" person, he was the Yoishev Ahalim.

Whatever interest he had in her looks is likely extremely minor at best and is quite insulting to say the least to the Avos to say the least in trying to make a comparison to what goes on today.

He knew with Ruach Hakodesh that she was his intended wife.
I agree though that looks are a positive trait. Maybe that is the message that if 2 great girls are presented but one is prettier one should go for the prettier one and not feel "guilty" about it.
The Gra says sheker hachein vehevel Hayofi is only when she is not an Isha Yiras Hashem, but if she is then the looks are a positive trait as well.

joshwaxman said...


that he learned in yeshivat shem veEiver is midrash, and might well not be historical fact, but rather to teach us an important lesson. so too 14 years with no bed. so too knowing with ruach hakodesh. that Rachel was prettier tha Leah juxtaposed to his loving Rachel is a pasuk. whether that is insulting may well be, like beauty, in the eyes of the beholder.

kol tuv,

Yankel said...

Only partly tongue in cheek:

Would you say that the division of aliyot as we have it, where a new aliyah begins at Vayeehav Yaakov et Rachel, has the effect of downplaying the connection between Rachel's beauty and Yaakov's love for her?

LazerA said...

It's not possible that a spiritual person might chose a beautiful wife for spiritual reasons? I could think of several such reasons.

I suspect that the inability to recognize this possibility may be a reflection of the influence of non-Jewish thought on Ralbag and ibn Caspi. See the second perek of Igeres HaKodesh on sexuality (attributed to Ramban) who blames Aristotle for the negative view of sexuality held by Rambam (and presumably others).

joshwaxman said...

interesting idea. and good eye. it certainly seems like a good possibility. either that or they read it straightforwardly as simple setup, and did not believe there was a connection.


joshwaxman said...

a nice idea. i don't personally see the spiritual reason as peshat, but i can see how it might work into a unified spiritual theory.

iirc, rav herschel schachter has a nice and humorous piece in that just as it is a mitzvah to choose a beautiful esrog, so is it a mitzvah to choose a beautiful wife...


Anonymous said...

After Lavan tricked Yaakov and gave him Leah, he justified his action by saying that in Charan the oldest daughter gets married first. Surely Yaakov knew this, so why did he insist on Rochel instead of Leah in the first place? True, Rochel was the prettier one, but Chazal tell us that the pasuk, Sheker HaCHein V'Hevel HaYofi could be attributed to Leah, and Yaakov Avinu did not choose his wives based on appearance.

Rav Yehonoson Eibshitz answers that Leah's eyes were swollen from tears, since she was supposed to marry the older Eisav while her younger sister Rochel was supposed to marry Yaakov. However, Eisav did not seem too interested in Leah, as she was not pretty because of all her crying, which she did intentionally to sabotage the shidduch.

Yaakov planned on marrying both Rochel and Leah. However Yaakov knew that if he stepped in and married Leah first, Eisav will no doubt come calling for the pretty Rochel. He, therefore, wanted to marry Rochel first and then with Eisav out of the picture, marry the abandoned Leah after that.


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