Something is not right. This week we read how Lavan cheats Yaakov, giving him Leah instead of Rachel. We understand Yaakov and Lavan. But how could Leah, one of the four righteous mothers of our people, cheat her own sister? Moreover, what did she have to gain? Her marriage would place her in a terrible situation: married to a man who loves her sister, not her.One answer is that her father forces her, and out of fear, she remains passive and allows it to happen. Our sages, however, see her as active (Talmud Bavli Bava Batra 123a). The sages ask: why are Leah’s eyes described as tender, why do we need this detail? The Midrash explains: Yitzchak (Yaakov’s father) had two sons and Lavan his brother-in-law, had two daughters. It was expected that the elder would marry the elder, Esav and Leah and the younger would marry the younger, Yaakov and Rachel. Leah was not passive; she decided to go and find out about this Esav.
What does she hear? Esav is evil, a killer, stingy, all the things that are despicable in the eyes of G-d. Leah cries, saying, Rachel and I came from the same mother. How can it be that she marries a righteous person, and I marry such an evil one? She cried so much that her eyes became tender. It is that crying to which the Torah is hinting. She prays so hard that somehow this will not happen, hoping against hope. She wants to change what seems to be written in stone. Her hope is realized. G-d listens to her tears and prayers and she marries Yaakov.
According to this, Leah enters into this marriage with Yaakov because she wishes to cleave to the good. She knows that Yaakov prefers another. She knows the situation will not be easy, but life as a second fiddle to a righteous man is better than life with an evil man. But the Midrash (Bereishit Rabah parsha 71) shows the sacrifice to be deeper. We find people saying that Leah just pretends to be righteous. If she was really righteous she would not have cheated her own sister. Leah has to suffer being seen as a cheat. Moreover, she really does have to cheat. She has to do something that is against her values. She also had to do something that would make the person she does marry, Yaakov, dislike her (as we see in Genesis 29:31 “G-d saw that Leah was unloved and He opened her womb”). The father of her children does not love her. But for Leah it is all worthwhile, for she wishes to be with the good.
Leah is rewarded not only in marrying Yaakov but also in securing a closeness to him. As her children are born, we see through the names that her connection to her husband gradually increases until she names her fourth son Yehudah, thank you to G-d. Our Sages tell us that Leah on naming Yehudah became the first person to thank G-d. It is Leah who teaches us that we should thank G-d for all He does.
Leah put her future as a mother of the Jewish people above every personal comfort.
She serves us as an example of unswerving faith even in a difficult situation, of determination even if the options presented to us are not pretty.