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Vayetze ~ Nov. 12, 2021

Were you treated differently by your parents than another of your siblings? Were you the “special” one?  Our Torah reading for this Shabbat reminds us that sibling rivalry does not just take place between the boys in the house vying for the “power” and the love of a parent.

As our story begins, it seems that both of Laban’s daughters appear to be quite respectful of each other. How many sisters would yield her place under the wedding canopy to the other, just to ensure that the older and less desired sister would be married? How many sisters would trade with the other “nights” with the same husband?

What I find most interesting is that the narrative makes it clear that, even at the beginning of marriage, in no circumstance was Rachel ever jealous of her elder sister Leah. She understood her father’s wishes quite well. And as a woman, back in that period of time, it is clear that she had no choice when it came to the marriage. Some commentaries actually suggest that Rachel coached Leah so that Jacob would not have suspected anything. Some even add that she lay under the wedding bed coaching on the first night of marriage.

I wonder if Jacob actually knew that Leah was under the wedding canopy, and not Rachel. Was he that naïve? Did he suffer from the same “blindness” that his father experienced?  Having duped his own father, or so he thought he had, perhaps Jacob understood. Even though the narrative speaks of Jacob demanding answers from Laban as to the switch of sisters that night, perhaps it was part of a ruse that Jacob understood well. If we follow the stories in Jacob’s life, one story relates to the other. One simply needs to read between the lines.

Then a fourth son is born, Yehuda.  In this name she is declaring her joy.  She is staking her claim of a found love with her husband. She is now offering her praise to God who has heard her and she is now offering a prayer to God. It is only at this moment that we finally are made aware of Rachel’s unhappiness. She turns to Jacob and expresses her frustration both with him and with the fact that she is without a child.

Why at this juncture does Rachel seem quite frustrated with life itself and jealous with her sister? If we dig deeper into the story, we sense that the frustration is born out of the fact that Leah is now offering a prayer of praise to God. And with that Rachel senses that her sister now has the affection of her Jacob. Perhaps then, Rachel now senses that she is no longer the most loved and favorite wife. Or, might it be, that Rachel was always jealous. However, as long as her sister was emotionally distraught, she need not express her own frustrations and jealousy.

My father had one rule in the house, with regard to driving his car. You had to have one year of driving experience before he gave you the keys. My sister, who is three years older, received her own pair of keys to the car on her seventeenth birthday. I remember her joy. 

Not too long after I received my learning permit, my dad and I were visiting with my aunt Rose. At the end of the stay, my dad turned to me and said that he was too tired to drive home. He handed me the keys and I sat in the driver’s seat. Needless to say, my sister was not too pleased when we returned home, and saw me in the driver’s seat. But my sister was a class act. She did not share her disappointment at that moment.  Years later, she verbalized how she felt. I’m sure she must have had a discussion with my mother about it in private. But she never expressed anything in front of me. 

You might ask “why not?” And the answer has always been quite clear to me. My sister was always my advocate. She always was there to help me, waking up in the wee hours of the morning to test me on vocabulary quizzes in four languages, reviewing facts for science and history exams. She even went to JTS in New York for her graduate studies in Jewish education, to be near to me, rather than her first choice of what was then the Seminary’s west coast branch in Los Angeles. I have always been proud of my sister and her accomplishments in life. As a director of a Schechter school for almost three decades, she certainly instilled a great love of Judaism into so many generations that our parents inspired within both of us. And while she retired several years ago, I am quite certain that she has left a true legacy within the Jewish souls of many.

I hope that you might have similar stories of an appreciation of a sibling.

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782