The Lost Matri­arch: Find­ing Leah in the Bible and the Midrash

Jer­ry Rabow
  • Review
By – January 6, 2015

This new treat­ment of the Bib­li­cal matri­arch Leah is a well researched and a refresh­ing new look at an old sto­ry. Leah and Rachel, the two daugh­ters of Laban, play piv­otal roles in the Bib­li­cal nar­ra­tive as the sto­ry moves from the fam­i­ly of Abra­ham to the build­ing of the nation of Israel.

Jer­ry Rabow takes us step-by-step through the bib­li­cal text from the first encounter Jacob has with Rachel to the deaths of the sis­ters. As read­ers recon­nect with the text, addi­tion­al com­men­tary is lay­ered upon the vers­es to explain and interpret. 

It is a com­mon inter­pre­ta­tion of Leah that she was less beau­ti­ful than Rachel because of her ten­der eyes”. Ten­der eyes, or rakhot, in Hebrew, is trans­lat­ed as weak eyes, thus unat­trac­tive. But this is high­ly inter­pre­tive, and through addi­tion­al Midrash we come to under­stand this phys­i­cal qual­i­ty of Leah’s may be sig­ni­fy­ing a deep­er, moral virtue. Jacob prefers the more shape­ly and beau­ti­ful Rachel, but does he also come to love the inner beau­ty of the old­er sis­ter Leah? The Midrash seems to hint that the rela­tion­ship between Jacob and Leah is indeed more complex.

The book con­tin­ues to explore the rela­tion­ship of the sis­ters dur­ing the years they each sought Jacob’s love by pro­vid­ing him with chil­dren. The dra­ma of Rachel’s infer­til­i­ty and Leah’s fecun­di­ty pro­vide us with insights into a com­plex fam­i­ly dynam­ic that will play out for gen­er­a­tions to come. The Bib­li­cal text pro­vides only bare facts of this sib­ling con­test, but the Midrash is rich with ques­tions and com­ments. Rabow also pro­vides addi­tion­al insight into the trag­ic and mys­te­ri­ous sto­ry of Leah’s daugh­ter Dinah. While the inter­pre­ta­tions of Dinah’s gen­der and birth may bor­der on the mag­i­cal, the Midrash does offer up some inter­est­ing commentary.

At the end of the sto­ry Leah is mourned and revered by her entire fam­i­ly. She has out­lived her sis­ter Rachel by eight years and per­haps dur­ing that time Jacob has come to love her — or so says the Midrash.

This book, which is acces­si­ble to any stu­dent of the Bible, adds new col­or and tex­ture to a char­ac­ter often overlooked.

Relat­ed content:

Bar­bara Andrews holds a Mas­ters in Jew­ish Stud­ies from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, has been an adult Jew­ish edu­ca­tion instruc­tor, and works in the cor­po­rate world as a pro­fes­sion­al adult educator.

Discussion Questions