Monday, December 08, 2008

einei Leah rakos -- the power of tefilah

Given that 1) Eliezer had travelled to Lavan's home to look for a bride and made clear that Avraham's family would marry only from his own stock; 2) It was known to Avraham (at least according to Rashi's interpretation) when Rivka was born depite the distance between the different family branches; 3) Avraham and Yitzchak were apparently well known figures; 4) Lavan was well known -- the shepherds Ya'akov encounters when he enters Charan all knew of him; I don't really see why Rabbi Avi Billet thinks it so improbable that the talk around town should have been that Ya'akov would marry Rachel and Eisav would marry Leah.

Be that as it may, I would like to argue that precisely this Midrash on "einei Leah rakos" is THE key to understanding the entire following parsha.

Isn't it amazing and ironic that right after being promised by Hashem en route that he will be protected and guarded from harm Ya'akov is tricked into marrying the wrong girl and ends up working seven extra years? What happened to the promise?

Rashi quotes half the Midrash, but leaves it to us to look up the other half. "Einei Leah rakos" leah's eyes were soft from from crying because the talk of the town was that she would marry Eisav. But, continues the Midrash, "kashe hi hatefilah shebitla es hagezeira" -- because of Leah's crying, because of the tears she shed, the decree that she would marry Eisav was annulled. Not only that, continue Chazal, but "v'lo od, elah shekadmah l'achosah" -- she was even married to Ya'akov before her sister.

The idea that Leah would marry Eisav was not just "talk of the town", but was a gezeirah min shamayim (which the Midrash, as it does elsewhere, places in the mouth of a third-party) and it was through the koach hatefilah, the power of her prayer, that Leah overcame it. "Einei Leah rakos" is the introduction to WHO Leah is -- she is the embodiment of the midah of tefilah. Tefilah is, in the language of this Midrash, "kashe", it is something difficult, because Leah's prayers which were so powerful that it gained her a union with Ya'akov at expense of her sister Rachel's place as the preferred bride.

In reality, Lavan had no power to harm Ya'akov, but because of the tefilah of Leah, because of "einei Leah rakos", he was able to succeed to bring about her marriage to Ya'akov. We need to "see" the entire continuation of the parsha through Leah's eyes (sorry for the pun).

As I wrote on the parsha sheet, it was not the 14 years of learning that led Ya'akov to experience the revelation of the ladder, but it was his heartfelt tefilah at the makom mikdash on the way to Charan. The parsha which begins with Ya'akov's realization of the power of tefilah continues by showing us how Leah's personality as the embodiment of tefilah, her "einei Leah rakos", made her the perfect match for him.

What Chazal are revealing is that the successful trickey of Lavan and the marriage of Ya'akov to Leah, which we might have thought to be just an "accident", were in fact just results brought about through koach hatefilah. This theme of the koach hatefilah continues through Leah's naming of her children (see the Ohr haChaim) and through the disagreement between Ya'akov and Rachel over his lack of davening for her. To ignore this Midrash may allow for a more literal or rational pshuto shel mikra on a particular pasuk, but comes at the tremendous expense of ignoring this beautiful theme which Chazal allow us to identify as underlying the entire parsha.


  1. Not to make light of your dvar torah buty I always thought that what you wrote was pashut pshat in the sugyah of Leah and Eisav.

  2. Anonymous7:58 AM

    The theme of tefilla is particularly meaningful when considering that Ya'akov leaving Eretz Yisrael is the prime example of a yosheiv ohalim leaving his enclave. His religious survival was a direct result of his emphasis on tefillah.

    I think there a medrash that says Ya'akov stayed up all night davening while staying at Lavan's, if I'm not mistaken.