Religion & Beliefs

Easy on the Eyes

Faithhacker is pleased to introduce Verse-per-Verse, a weekly drash by Storahtelling superstar Amichai Lau-Lavie. In their theatrical shows, Storahtelling melds ancient Jewish rituals with modern performance art. On the blog, they’ll do roughly the same thing, only with podcasting. Amichai … Read More

By / December 1, 2006
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Faithhacker is pleased to introduce Verse-per-Verse, a weekly drash by Storahtelling superstar Amichai Lau-Lavie. In their theatrical shows, Storahtelling melds ancient Jewish rituals with modern performance art. On the blog, they’ll do roughly the same thing, only with podcasting.

Amichai has been keeping a blog since October, and we’ll be posting those archives for your perusal all afternoon, starting with today’s post.

For the audio version, click here. To subscribe to this podcast, click here.

Last week Rebecca was pregnant and went to grok god, and in this week’s tale we are already told of her son Jacob’s marriage, twice in one week, to Leah and Racheltwo of his cousins who are also sisters. In this biblical mythology that which we call “family” is not exactly the classic nuclear model, nor is it very functional or well behaved. It is, instead, a complex family history.

But according to kabalistic interpretations, this ancestral history is symbolic, portraying patterns of personal and collective psycho-reality. The feminine Divine is represented via the four (actually, six) matriarchs, as the masculine is depicted via their counterparts, the three patriarchs, and their overall saga depicts our inner life of struggle and balance. In this episode Jacob meets his beloved Rachel at the well, which the Zohar identifies as a cosmic “hotspot,” a symbol for erotic and spiritual union where earth and heaven, below and above meet. But we’re more interested in checking out Leah, the older sister, as there is a particular adjective attributed to her, as intriguing as a wink in some old family photograph.

Genesis 29:17 tells us that

Rachel was beautiful, but that Leah had eyes that were — either ‘weak’, ‘pretty’, ‘dim’, ‘nearsighted’, ‘soft’, or ‘gentle’.

These different words, found in the various English translations, are clearly not synonyms. So what’s the story with Leah’s eyes? What does this one adjective teach us about her?

Many commentaries and interpreters analyze her eyes and what their condition may mean to her descendants, and since Leah became mother to some heavy hitters among Israel’s tribes, this is not a surprise.

What we are most interested in is how a single word is translated and understood out of context, becoming pregnant with meanings that may have had nothing to do with their original sense. Clearly, the way this word, RAKOT, is told, tells a bigger story about her, and about her legacy.

Leah is seen as the Feminine aspect of fertility, while Rachel is usually seen as the Feminine aspect erotic beauty. Not that you can’t be both, but the archetypes are demonstrated here as two rival sisters. The word “Leah” also means “tired” or “fatigued” and so the state of her eyes could simply mean “blurry,” a condition known to anyone traveling on a red eye flight. The Aramaic Pseudo Jonathan translation tells a larger story, depicting Leah as a role model for prayer, and her eyes, full of tears, as the model of pious faith, and the triumph of will:

And the eyes of Leah were moist from weeping, for she often prayed before God that as the firstborn daughter she would not be destined to marry her firstborn cousinEsau the wicked.

According to this version, Leah’s soft eyes speak of the human will to overcome obstacles. While Rachel may have been a total knock out, Leah was not and learnt how to survive, counting on her physical beauty, her eyes and her inner strength. We suspect her eyes, windows of soul, tell us volumes about who she really was and what her tale, as mother of tribes that will one day go to war with each other, really has to say.

Lauviticus would like to suggest a reading that hints at once and future conflict all too human: While Leah was easy on the eyes, Rachel was really gorgeous.

Is there more here than meets the eye? What do you think this focus on her eyes mean? When you close your eyes and imagine this verse – what do you see?

Let us know!

Shabbat shalom