Updated: Sep 8
Rachel and Leah, the two sisters whom Yaakov Avinu married, represent two different spiritual realities. The Zohar calls Rachel the revealed world, while Leah is called the concealed world.Every single soul in the universe is rooted in either these two sources.
In order to better understand the two matriarchs, it’s important to take a step back and offer a little introduction on some concepts from Kabbalah.
In his main work Etz Chaim, Rabbi Chaim Vital writes that after the will of Hashem rose to build Creation, He contracted His Essence in order to create an incredibly complex and intricate system of filters to block His infinite Essence. This was done in order to both reveal Himself to the lower creatures as well as to hide his presence from those unworthy of beholding it. The main system of emanations is composed of the so-called Sefirot and they channel sustenance from one to another, and above to below so that Creation can exist.
As Rabbi Chaim Vital teaches throughout his writings, each and every character of the Tanach, word and letter has its source in a certain Sephirah (singular). Not only that, but the Sephirot are the forces behind every system in Creation, both from a microcosmical and macrocosmical point of view, from the individual to the community.
What we call the Shechinah, namely Hashem’s immanent presence, is actually the Sefirah of Malchut (Kingship), which rested inside the Tabernacle and nowadays, when 10 men pray together or someone studies or does a Mitzvah properly.
The Sechinah’s source is in the highest world of Atzilut (Emanation) and is actually divided into two parts, the higher one is called Leah and the lower one is called Rachel. As a rule, everything that is more concealed is of a higher nature.
So now all the pieces come together. Leah, as the archetype of the higher Shechina was too lofty for Yaakov to love. At that point in his life, he could only appreciate Rachel, the revealed world.
We derive a powerful lesson: Yaakov could not appreciate Leah (the Torah writes that he “hated” her) because he was not on the spiritual level necessary to do so. Only after he wrestled with the angel of Esav, when he acquired the title Yisrael, that he was able to love her. One cannot love what one doesn’t understand and each and every person has to go through the necessary Tikkunim (rectifications) in order to reach his full potential in life.
Rabbi Tzaddok HaKohen from Lublin writes that the Tikkun a person needs to do is exactly what is most difficult for him. For example, if someone is naturally an outspoken person, part of his Tikkun is to learn to be quiet. And vice-versa and for all character traits.
Rachel gave birth to Yosef and Binyamin. Because their mother symbolized the revealed world, each of these two tzaddikim had to focus on “guarding” themselves against the waves of impurities from outside.
The biggest test in Yosef’s life was to resist the temptation posed by Potifar’s wife. It turns out he succeeded for about one year even while, at the end of this period, he almost succumbed to it. For withstanding this overwhelming test, he was greatly rewarded having two tribes of his own.
Yosef, as the father of one of the 2 Kings Mashiach, teaches us how to guard ourselves against purifying the covenant, especially for men. In fact, Rebbe Nachman of Breslev teaches that it’s thanks to Yosef’s efforts that all men can derive strength to guard their covenant.
On the other hand, Leah gave birth to 6 tribes: Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, Yissachar and Zevulun. As the commentators state in many places, Yehuda was the most distinguished of them and merited to have King David and the final Mashiach as part of his progeny. David was charged with “going out” into the world, waging wars and leading the people. Even the other tribes had very “revealing” tasks, since their mother was of the concealed world.
There’s a Midrash that teaches us that Adam had a wife before Chava (Eve). While also called Chava, she was too severe for him, encompassing the attribute of unmitigated Judgment. They fought and Adam used one of the divine names to kill her, turning her into the queen of demons who tempt men in their sleep. We don’t pronounce her name because we don’t want to attract her.
Afterwards, Hashem gave him the second Chavawho’s mentioned in the Torah.
Nevertheless, the queen of demons demanded compensation, and the Arizal teaches that she was in fact reincarnated in Leah, in order to receive her rectification. For this reason, Leah was destined to marry the wicked Esav but, thanks to her prayers, she became the wife of Yaakov instead. Her eyes “were weak” because of her prayers to avert her fate. She was, however of a higher stature than her sister, just as the queen of demons was higher than Chava, and succeeded in reaching her full potential.
In summary, through Rachel and Leah, we learn that there’s much more than meets the eye in the Torah and we can only have little glimpse of Hashem’s awesome wisdom. Nevertheless, this should be enough meditation and inspiration for our lives to learn more about ourselves and reach our full potential as well.
This article was written and published in the zechut of all Emuna Builder Partners. May they have complete emuna and continue spreading emuna!