Friday, December 6, 2019 /8 Kislev, 5780
Parashat Vayetzei Genesis 28:10-32:3
Every time we gather for prayer, we offer the words of the Avot V’imahot, acknowledging the impact our matriarchs and patriarchs had on the ever-evolving Jewish people. We mention the names of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel. Without their courage, wisdom, sense of justice, mercy and generosity, we would not be the people we are today.
Originally the Avot V’imahot did not include the matriarchs at all. The Reform movement did not make this liturgical change until the early 1990’s. This Torah portion urges us to consider opening the tent wider still.
After receiving his brother’s birthright and blessing, Jacob flees from his brother Esau. He arrives at the home of his uncle, Laban. There he meets and instantly falls in love with his daughter, Rachel. Jacob agrees to work the land in exchange for having the privilege of living with Laban and marrying Rachel. After seven years of work, the wedding night is finally here. Jacob is more than a little upset when he discovers the next morning that he had been tricked into marrying Leah, Rachel’s older sister instead. Jacob agrees to work for seven more years in exchange for Rachel’s hand in marriage.
Rachel and Leah are set up as rivals from the start. Leah is jealous of the love that Rachel and Jacob share. Rachel is jealous that Leah has many of Jacob’s sons while she remains barren. After Leah gives birth to her fourth son, Rachel gives Jacob her maidservant, Bilhah. Bilhah has two sons. Leah responds by giving Jacob her maidservant, Zilpah, who also bears two sons. Leah gives birth to two sons and a daughter, and then Rachel at long last gives birth to two sons of her own. These twelve sons are the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel.
We often speak of Rachel and Leah as the matriarchs of the Jewish people, but this week’s portion begs us to consider the impact of Bilhah and Zilpah as well. These two women might have grown up in another culture, but they gave birth to, and helped raise Jewish children. Although the Torah does not tell us much about these two women, their values and their commitment undoubtedly had a huge impact on our people.
Today, we are fortunate to have many community members who come from different backgrounds. We have people from other faiths who have made the enormous sacrifice to raise their children in a tradition previously foreign to them.
Rachel and Leah are our matriarchs, and so are Bilhah and Zilpah. This week, let’s take a moment to acknowledge and to appreciate all of our non-Jewish community members. We are truly blessed by their presence.
Rabbi Cassi Kail