Vayetzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3 )
Several Augusts ago, our house was somehow designated as a drop-off site for new school supplies that would ultimately be distributed to financially-strapped families whose budgets simply did not allow for the significant costs associated with outfitting one's children with brand new backpacks, binders, composition notebooks and glue sticks. Supplies of all sorts poured in.
To our surprise, one particular woman dropped off loads and loads of supplies. While we knew her to be a very generous soul, this particular display of generosity caught us somewhat off-guard because she did not boast such a robust income to be lavishly doling out gifts to others. After her third trip to the car, she mentioned how this particular cause struck such a soft-spot in her heart.
"Because I remember when my kids were young and we simply didn't have the money for school supplies. I remember the pain and disappointment of breaking the news to my kids that there would be no new marker sets this year. Even though the kids understood, for a parent it felt just awful. So now that our kids are grown and the situation has improved, I wanted to give a little bit more. Perhaps I can spare some mother somewhere the heartache of telling her child that she has to get by with last year's binder. For kids it's a big thing. Especially when all her classmates have new things."
At first glance, the apparent rivalry between Leah and Rachel appears to be (yet another) Torah depiction of sibling rivalry. The parsha is seemingly pre-occupied with each and every round of one-upsmanship associated with "who can mother the most tribes." Yet, for those not complacent with this superficial understanding, a look beneath the surface reveals a stunning display of Leah's sensitivity to others - a sensitivity borne from her own personal travails.
"God hearkened to Leah; and she conceived and bore Ya'akov a fifth son. And Leah said, "God has granted me s'chari [my reward] because I gave my maidservant [Zilpah] to my husband,' and she called his name Issachar." (Gen. 30:17)
Truth be told, there was no compelling reasons for Leah to invite yet another co-wife into the equation. True, from a precedential standpoint, Sarah gave Hagar to Avraham - but that was only because Sarah herself was incapable of having children. Here, however, Leah had already borne four sons to Ya'akov. So why complicate matters further by bringing Zilpah into the picture?
The Darchei Shleimus explains that this was not a strategy to simply garner more sons in the name of Team Leah. Quite the contrary, Leah's willingness to give her maidservant Zilpah to Ya'akov represented Leah's sincere desire to avoid any slighting to Zilpah's honor.
How so? Well, once Rachel gave her maidservant, Bilhah, to Ya'akov and Bilhah subsequently bore two sons to Ya'akov, it dawned on Leah that her maidservant, Zilpah, was now the odd man (or woman, to be more accurate) out. Lest that that sense of estrangement or dishonor fester, Leah selflessly and graciously suggested that Zilpah have an opportunity to mother sons to Ya'akov as well. Sure enough, Gad and Asher were born to Zilpah thereby putting her on "even footing "so-to-speak with Bilhah.
"Afterwards, [Leah] bore a daughter and she called her name Dinah." (30:21) Why the name Dinah? Rashi explains, "because Leah made a din [judgment] about herself and reasoned, 'If this one is a male, my sister Rachel will not even be like one of the maidservants [who each had two children.]' So, Leah davened with regards to the fetus and it was transformed into a female."
Here we find Leah (again) going to extraordinary lengths to spare her sister, Rachel, any "dishonor" associated with having fewer children than her either Zilpah or Bilhah - Ya'akov's maidservants.
Even though the Leah was surely not at fault for bearing so many of Ya'akov's sons.
Even though Leah would still, at the end of the day, be the mother to many more children than Rachel.
Even though this effort to preserve Rachel's honor would essentially require a genetic, in utero miracle (and we generally are cautioned against davening for the supernatural occurrences.)
Nevertheless, motivated by her heightened awareness for the honor of others (especially in the eyes of one's husband) Leah initiated (of her own volition) this strategy on behalf of Rachel.
Perhaps the root of Leah's "emotional antennae" in this department stems from the fact that she seemingly always played "second-fiddle" in her own home. It is apparent from several verses (both in this week's parsha and in the Book of Ruth), that Leah - despite being Ya'akov's first wife, despite having mothered the lion's share of the tribes and despite her greatness of character, would never achieve the esteem that her sister Rachel experienced in Ya'akov's eyes.
Our life's journeys are unique. Along the way we suffer "slings and arrows" and challenges that, if internalized properly, provide each of us with a refined "emotional vocabulary" to process life - not just our own, but others' lives as well. One person endures loneliness. Others struggle with regret and Monday-morning quarterbacking. Some confront "guilt" on a daily basis. Others experience low self-esteem. Others live through relationships that flounder or businesses that go bust.
Leah extracted emotional know-how from her own life's challenges and channeled that knowledge to enrich the lives of others. May she serve as a role model for our own paths towards greatness.