Did Yaakov Truly Hate Leah?
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In the Torah portion of Vayetzei we learn about how Yaakov was tricked into marrying Leah and how he married Rochel afterwards. After marrying Rochel, the verse (Gen. 29:30) says, “וַיֶּאֱהַב גַּם אֶת רָחֵל מִלֵּאָה Indeed, he loved Rachel more than Leah,” which indicates that Yaakov loved both of them but had a greater love for Rochel.
The next verse says, “וַיַּרְא ה׳ כִּי שְׂנוּאָה לֵאָה וַיִּפְתַּח אֶת רַחְמָהּ וְרָחֵל עֲקָרָה G-d saw that Leah was hated, and He opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.” This verse seems to imply that Yaakov hated Leah, as opposed to simply not loving her as much as Rochel.
Another difficulty with the second verse is that we know the patriarchs observed the entire Torah (see Vayikrah Rabbah 2:10 and in many places). If so, how could Yaakov have hated Leah if it is forbidden to hate any person, much less one’s wife, as the Torah says (Levit 19:17) “You shall not hate your fellow in your heart?” (See the Ramban there that one may not hate another Jew at all, but the Torah speaks about hidden hatred as this is more common.)
In addition, the Talmud says (Nedarim 20b), it is forbidden for a husband to have relations with his wife if he hates her. The Talmud says that rebellious children will be born if they are conceived from any one of nine improper relationships (see here). One of these improper relationships is if one hates their partner (spouse) at the time of procreation. The children born from that relationship are called בני שנואה – the children of a hated partner.
Certainly, the children of Leah were not rebellious children (although they were not without fault). So the relationship of their parents could not have been a hateful one. Which leaves us with the question as to the meaning of the words, “Leah was hated.”
Children of a Hated Partner
There are several reasons why one may not have relations with a partner (spouse) whom one hates (quoted in the Yalkut Biurim of the Metivta Shas).
- The Ran writes that due to this hate the husband is likely to think about another woman at the time of intimacy.
- The Raavad writes that such an act is considered an act of promiscuity as it is purely for pleasure without any deeper love, which is what would characterize a marital act.
- According to Rabbi Eliezer of Metz, the issue is that the husband is transgressing on the prohibition against hating one’s fellow in one’s heart. (Since, presumably he professes his love to her at that time.)
A Mutual Feeling
Rabbi Akiva Eiger writes (Gilyonei HaShas citing the Responsa of Mahari Vail 186) that intimacy is also forbidden if the wife hates the husband as this will ultimately cause the husband to hate his wife.
According to the reason for this prohibition given by the Ran, that it could lead to thinking about another woman at the time of intimacy, one can say that Yaakov was careful not to do this despite the fact that he (temporarily) disliked Leah. But the question remains unanswered according to the other opinions quoted above. In addition, even according to the Ran, we must understand how Yaakov could have hated Leah in general.
Thank Your Parents
When the Ten Commandments are repeated in the Torah portion of Va’etchanan, the verse (Deut. 5:16) says, “כַּבֵּד אֶת אָבִיךָ וְאֶת אִמֶּךָ… וּלְמַעַן יִיטַב לָךְ – Honor your father and you mother… so that it be good for you…” The Ba’al HaTurim writes that the crowns (tagim) on the letter “tet” (in the word יִיטַב) allude to the nine improper relationships between spouses which can produce rebellious children (see Nedarim cited above). Thus the verse is instructing us to honor our parents out of appreciation that they did not have any of these issues when conceiving us and that we are therefore not inclined towards rebelliousness.
So far, I have found 12 answers to the question as to why the relationship of Yaakov and Leah was not considered to be a hateful one. Some of them only explain how the intimacy of Yaakov and Leah was not considered to be hateful while some say that Yaakov did not hate Leah at all.
Here they are:
1. Hate Turned to Love
The Ramban says that Yaakov was going to divorce Leah because he was upset that she had tricked him. G-d had mercy on her and made her conceive which made Yaakov decide to stay with her. Presumably he learned to love her and forgave her for the deception. This answer is also found in the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 71.2).
The Ohr Hachaim adds that G-d made Rachel barren in order to increase Yaakov’s love for Leah, seeing that she was the only wife who was bearing children for him (at that time).
This is similar to the interpretation of the Abarbanel who says that naturally Rachel was able to have children while Leah was naturally barren. But Hashem saw Leah’s pain and healed her. And He saw that Rachel did not try to assist Leah in her pain, so he punished her and made her barren.
The Maharsha (on Bava Batra 123a) adds to this explanation and says that Yaakov and Leah were only intimate when they felt love for each other. This is because on the first night of their marriage, Yaakov thought that Leah was Rochel (whom he loved). Subsequently he refrained from intimacy (thinking that he would divorce Leah) and only resumed after he knew she was pregnant at which time he forgave her.
2. Less Loved
Radak says that Yaakov didn’t hate Leah but he simply didn’t love her as much as he loved Rachel, as the verse says וַיֶּאֱהַב גַּם אֶת רָחֵל מִלֵּאָה. Since Leah felt rejected, Hashem compensated her for that by blessing her with a child.
3. Hated the Barrenness
The Seforno says that Yaakov realized that Leah was unable to have children (see the Abarbanel above that Leah was naturally unable to bear children), and he thought that she agreed to Lavan’s trick for this reason as she might not have another chance to get married. (There were certain things about her physical body that alerted him to this fact.)
This led Yaakov to hate her. Hashem remedied this by healing her from her barrenness, at which point Yaakov no longer hated her. The verse can thus be understood as follows “וַיַּרְא ה׳ כִּי שְׂנוּאָה לֵאָה וַיִּפְתַּח אֶת רַחְמָהּ” G-d saw that Leah was (barren and therefore) hated, so He (cured her and) opened her womb.
It is possible that Yaakov did not have relations with Leah during the time he thought she was barren. It is also possible that since he didn’t hate her as a person but was only upset that she was barren (and had tricked him) that this would not be considered a hateful relationship.
4. Kept it a Secret
The Ohr HaChaim says that Yaakov succeeded in concealing his hate for Leah in his heart, and only G-d knew of this hatred, as it says וַיַּרְא ה׳ כִּי שְׂנוּאָה לֵאָה – i.e., Only G-d saw that Leah was hated.
Perhaps Yaakov was therefore not transgressing the sin of hating a person in one’s heart which may not apply if that hate does not affect the other person in any way. (Although this is not clear in the text of Levit. 19:17. the verse can be interpreted this way.)
According to the Ohr HaChaim, the previous verse וַיֶּאֱהַב גַּם אֶת רָחֵל מִלֵּאָה means that he “loved Rochel rather than Leah” instead of “he loved Rachel more than Leah.”
This does not explain how Yaakov could be intimate with Leah in light of the issue of בני שנואה as explained above. It is possible that the Ohr HaChaim understands this as the Ran does. (See above.)
5. Was Supposed to Marry the Hated Eisav
The Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 71) says that Leah was supposed to marry the hated brother, Eisav. Although she was now married to Yaakov, if she would not bear him children, Yaakov might divorce her, and she might end up having to marry Eisav.
As such, the verse וַיַּרְא ה׳ כִּי שְׂנוּאָה לֵאָה can be understood to mean that Hashem saw that Leah was destined to marry the hated brother Eisav. In order to prevent this, G-d caused Leah to become pregnant (וַיִּפְתַּח אֶת רַחְמָהּ) which in turn caused Yaakov to keep her as his wife.
According to this interpretation, Yaakov did not hate Leah at all, so there was no issue of intimacy at a time of hatred.
6. Almost Hated
The Chatam Sofer explains that Hashem recognized that Yaakov might turn towards hating Leah due to her having tricked him. But Yaakov didn’t actually hate her. The proof of this is that Reuven did not exhibit any of the bad traits that are associated with one who is born from a hateful relationship (as explained above).
As in the last explanation, since there was no actual hatred, there was no intimacy that was accompanied by hatred.
7. Leah Hated Eisav
The Talmud (Bava Batra 123a) says the verse means that Leah hated the behavior of Eisav and was therefore praying that she would not end up having to marry him. G-d therefore made her conceive so that she would remain with Yaakov. The verse וַיַּרְא ה׳ כִּי שְׂנוּאָה לֵאָה וַיִּפְתַּח אֶת רַחְמָהּ should be translated to mean, “And G-d saw that Leah hated (Eisav’s behavior), and He opened her womb.”
(This is similar to the interpretation of the Midrash, see above.)
8. Not Hated at That Time
Although Yaakov hated Leah, he “got over it” at the time they had relations and felt love for her. So that, at least for that time, she was not hated (Bait Yosef O.C. 240quoting the Raavad in Ba’alei HaNefesh, Sha’ar HaKedusha).
9. Behaved as if Hated
As the verse indicates, Yaakov favored Rochel more than Leah, but he still felt love for Leah. When it says that Leah was “hated,” it means that she felt hated and rejected because her husband did not show her the same love he showed her sister (ibid). (This is similar to the interpretation of the Seforno, above.)
10. Hated for a Week
The Ben Ish Chai (in Rav Pa’alim vol. 3 O.C. 10) writes that Yaakov only hated Leah for the first week of their marriage as Leah had tricked him out of marrying Rochel, and he wasn’t sure if Lavan would ever give him Rochel in marriage. It is about that week that the Torah writes that Leah was hated. After that week, however, when Lavan gave Rochel to Yaakov as a wife, he was no longer upset (although he did favor Rochel more than Leah). Concerning the second week and on, the Torah says, “And he loved Rochel more than Leah,” i.e., he loved them both though he loved Rochel more.
11. Could not Fathom
According to the Zohar (Bereishit 154a), when the verse says that Leah was hated, it means that Yaakov simply didn’t bond with her (so she felt hated). The reason for this is that the spiritual level of Leah (the Supernal level of Binah – Divine wisdom) was very exalted and beyond the level of Yaakov who embodied the Divine attribute of Tiferet, compassion. Rochel, on the other hand, represented the level of Malchut (kingship), the lowest of the Ten Divine Attributes and Yaakov was able to connect and have a more meaningful relationship with her. (See Torat Chaim by the Mitteler Rebbe – Rabbi Dov Ber Schneuri vol 1 page 336:b who expounds on this subject.)
12. Hated by Rochel
The father of the Pardes Yosef explains (cited in the Pardes Yosef) that when the verse says that Leah was hated, it means that she was hated by Rochel (who was upset that her sister had taken her husband). In this respect their relationship was similar to that of Chana and Peninah (see Shmuel I 1:6). As such, G-d compensated Leah by having her give birth to the same number of children as all of Yaakov’s other wifes put together.
May we merit to have loving relationships and righteous children!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!