The Deception Unveiled by Zachary Greenberg


In Parashat VaYeitzei, Ya’akov must work seven years for Lavan in order to marry his daughter Rachel. At the wedding, Lavan tricks Ya’akov into marrying Leah by swapping Leah for Rachel – “VaYehi BaErev VaYikach Et Leah Bito VaYavei Otah Eilav VaYavo Eilehah,” “And it was in the evening that he [Lavan] took Leah his daughter and brought her to him; and he [Ya’akov] consorted with her” (BeReishit 29:23). Ya’akov protests to Lavan that he deserves to marry Rachel, the woman for whom he worked seven years (29:25). Lavan tells Ya’akov that if he works for another seven years, he could marry Rachel (29:27). Ya’akov agrees to work for seven years and marries Rachel (29:28); however, he remains married to Leah and has six children with her (29:32-35).

Upon reading this narrative, there are many questions to ask. For one, it is troubling that Ya’akov Avinu did not notice that his intended bribe was switched at his wedding night. Also, when Ya’akov found out that he married the unintended woman, why did he not divorce Leah? Rashi (29:25 s.v. VaYehi VaBoker VeHineih Hi Leah) explains that before the wedding, Ya’akov and Rachel prepared a secret signal that was known only to the two of them, not to Lavan. When Rachel saw that Leah was being brought to marry Ya’akov, she told Leah of the code, lest she be exposed in public and be mortified. Although this explanation answers how Ya’akov was immediately unaware of the deception, it does not answer how Ya’akov could have been fooled the entire night that he was with Rachel. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach explains that Leah and Rachel looked very similar, so underneath the veil there was no possible way for Ya’akov to discern between the two of them. Since it was nighttime when Ya’akov took Leah home, he thought that he was with Rachel.

We are still left unanswered as to why Ya’akov remained married to Leah when he easily could have divorced her. Using a psychological principle known as the two-factor theory, we can suggest that Ya’akov developed a love for Leah over time and therefore never divorced her. The two-factor theory states that when people work hard to achieve a goal, that hard work translates into love, often for a person who is seemingly unrelated to the goal. During Ya’akov’s seven years working for Rachel, he likely spent a great deal of time with Leah. Merely by being exposed to Leah while he worked hard for Rachel, Ya’akov developed a love for Leah. Ya’akov Avinu’s love for Leah was never as strong as his love for Rachel, since Ya’akov initially dedicated himself to work for Rachel, thereby making him fall in love with her. As a result, when Ya’akov found out that he was married to Leah and not Rachel, he admonished Lavan for withholding Rachel, but he did not complain for having been given Leah. Ya’akov was not angry that he was married to Leah, since he grew to love her and eventually even had children with her. Rav Aharon Kotler explains further that on the wedding night, Ya’akov’s spiritual radar recognized that the person under the veil was Leah, the woman with whom he would eventually be buried. This proves that Ya’akov recognized that Leah was destined to be his wife and cherished her as well.

We should learn from Rachel the importance of avoiding embarrassing somebody else, even if the embarrassment will not result directly from our actions. In addition, we should learn that although at first a person may not seem to have unique qualities, after given a chance, that person’s qualities may become apparent.

Gratitude for Gifts by Rabbi Joel Grossman

A Life of Deceit by Yehuda Koslowe