Vayishlach: Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, in the Afterlife by Rabbi David Hartley Mark


Vayishlach (וישלח)
Torah: Genesis 32:4 – 36:43
Haftarah: Obadiah 1:1 – 1:21

Scene: The Afterlife, known as Sheol. Spirits flit about aimlessly: this is no Talmudic or Kabbalistic Heaven; that came later in Jewish History. We cannot see any of these spirits, but we can hear them.

Rebecca: I was the most dynamic of the Matriarchs. Early on, I saw that my older boy, Esau, was a poor leader and a worse priest: he could neither shepherd our tribe nor follow our God. Perhaps I should not have gone against my husband Isaac, but he was weak; his father had broken his spirit by almost sacrificing him. Only my Jacob, the smooth-skinned, the clever, would be able to carry on the legacy of Grandfather Abraham.

Leah: Did you not fear your husband’s wrath? Did you not have to placate him, ignoring your own health to continually provide him with sons, and a legacy?

 

Rebecca: My Isaac was undemanding. He was the son of his parents’ old age, and was never trained to be a leader. I had to take over, for the future of the Tribe.

 

Leah: I, too, though ignored and derided, provided my Jacob with a goodly inheritance: many fine sons, and a daughter, Dena, whom her father kept safely hidden, but not safely enough. Woe to Shechem and his people!

 

Rachel: These men do what they like. Jacob loved me, but never understood me. I could have been a prophet, too, like him, but he was blind. “Give me sons!” he would demand, until all I could do was repeat, like the Greek nymph Echo, “Give him sons!”

 

Leah: Sister, can you not understand that having babies was not enough? I presented many children to our lord and master Jacob, and provided him a fertile concubine, as well: Zilpah. But he was never satisfied. “Build up our tiny tribe!” he would say. I had to submit. It was painful, and quickly made me old.

 

Rachel: At least you lived to old age. I died young, bearing him Ben-Oni, “Son of My Affliction.”

 

Leah: Jacob renamed him Benjamin, “Son of My Right Hand.”

 

Rachel: To this day, women with infertility issues worship at my tomb, near Bethlehem. They are desperate, and have grown tired of worshiping a silent male God; that is why they turn to me, who went through the same feelings and disappointments as they.

 

Leah: Do not believe, Sister, that being able to bear sons endeared me to our husband. He scorned me, for all of my life. He was shallow and vain, seeing only the outside appearance—and I cannot help having been plain, not beautiful, like you. Jacob never understood how much I loved him, though we were married through Father Laban’s stratagem.

 

Rachel: Woe to both of us!

 

Bilhah and Zilpah, the Concubines of Jacob: How much more so were we devalued, regarded by Master Jacob only as baby-producers! Woe!

 

Rebecca: My daughters, understand this well: though they believe themselves to be the lords of their families, we women can rule from behind the throne, whispering in their ears. Men are rarely able to carry out their plans themselves; they require the aid and cooperation of their wives. Most are highly tentative and insecure. Remember your Jacob plotting and scheming when he believed Esau would destroy him and his possessions? Yet God chose him to become the People Israel. Control your men.They are weak and superficial. That is my lesson to you.

 

All: Will you teach us, Mother? O help us!

 

Rebecca: I cannot help you, Daughters; your time is past. But there must be hope for the Jewish Women of the future. Let them come and learn!

 

 


Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance

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