Is it hypocritical that my brain uttered a mild oath when it realised that I had forgotten to post the next Bible-story retelling in here yesterday? Maybe. Anyway, here it is. (I should say I don’t think it’s as well-written as some–maybe because I never really resonated with Rachel.)
Genesis 29-30 (NRSV–link is CJB)
I had not seen that shepherd before, but somehow he seemed to think he knew me. He watered all the sheep and then fell to kissing me and crying. It was a moist business. Upon reflection, however, I decided it wasn’t all that unpleasant.
After he recovered himself enough to be coherent, he told me he was Jacob and we were cousins. He was the son of Rebekah, my father’s sister. Before we knew it, he was working for father, which meant he could water the sheep every day and I no longer had to water them at all. That was nice, but the way he looked at me was better.
Father, not being a romantic himself, knew one when he saw one. He needed to marry my sister and me off anyway, before we became liabilities. What better way was there to both get rid of a daughter and appear to pay a farm hand without actually doing so? Father saw Jacob looking at me, and he asked him, “Because you are my kinsman, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?”
I guess Jacob answered more or less the way Father had been hoping. “I will serve you seven years for your daughter Rachel,” he sighed, moonstruck.
Father allowed himself to look pleased, saying, “It is better that I give her to you than to any other man; stay with me.”
Jacob stayed. He said he loved me so much that the seven years seemed like a day. I think for me they would have dragged, if it had not been for Leah.
Leah is my older sister. She was tall and clumsy and thin as a rail, even having passed the age when some girls, growing, might expect to be that way. Her only physical assets were her eyes, which were striking, but not striking enough. Men never looked at her as they looked at me.
Tradition says the oldest must be given in marriage before the youngest, but we did not think at first that this would be any trouble. Seven years is a long time to make a woman presentable. Most women may have many offers of marriage in that time. But not Leah. As Jacob said, the years flew, and no man had given Leah so much as a glance.
However strangely, as the time for Jacob’s and my wedding drew nearer, Father seemed less and less worried about Leah’s own nuptials. When I asked him, he only smiled and said that everything was arranged. But I had seen no suitors, and I found his good humor cause to become more and more worried, myself.
I did not know for certain what his scheme was until the night of the wedding feast, when Leah was sent in to Jacob’s tent and I was kept back. They had a job of keeping me back, too, but even I am no match for that many shepherds.
Jacob, drunk as he was, did not find his outrage until the next morning, seeing Leah, instead of me, in his bed. “What is this you have done to me?” he raged at Father, so that I’m sure the shepherds off in the fields heard him. “Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?”
“This is not done in our country,” Father answered smoothly, “giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also, in return for serving another seven years.” Seven more years of free labor for Father, then, trading off his daughters like prized sheep.
But Jacob agreed. I don’t suppose, however, that the next seven years went so quickly for him as the first seven. It’s hard to say where the fault of that lay.
Jacob loved me, that was clear enough, so at first I had little to make me envious. But he still had a duty to Leah, and it seemed that every time he performed this duty, she became pregnant. Soon she had four sons, and I, the loved one, had none.
It was after the fourth one, Judah, that Leah must have realized Jacob would never love her, in spite of all her sons. So she took her joy at the boy elsewhere, and said, “Now I will praise the Lord.”
That was the last straw, because she had finally said what I had suspected. Jacob loved me best. Everyone loved me best. But God, contrary to all reason, seemed to love Leah. Enough of God!
“Give me children or I shall die!” I screamed at my husband then. But Jacob blamed God, too, and he shouted at me. He had never shouted at me before. “Am I in the place of God,” he bellowed, “who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?”
I would not be bested by Jacob, or Leah, or God, so I gave Jacob my maid. Let her have children for me. And Leah gave Jacob her maid. Let her have children for her. We fought and we bargained for our husband with mandrake root and Jacob grew haggard and withdrawn from me, and the babies cried. And then finally God heard me.
At long last, I carried a baby, too—a baby of my own. When he was born, he was a son, and I named him Joseph. “God has taken away my reproach,” I sighed, but it was a glad sigh. A restful sigh. “May the Lord add to me another son!”
I would have loved another son. But meanwhile, I loved Joseph. Jacob loved him, too, because he was mine. After Joseph, the fighting and bargaining all seemed stupid. After Joseph, I learned to forgive my sister all her children. After Joseph, I could see my husband’s love for what it was—still mine—and I could understand my sister’s sorrow in having known so little of it.