Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 29 November 2014 / 7 Kislev 5775

Parshat Vayeitzei

by Rabbi Pinchas Kasnett
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

Although it is a minority opinion among the commentators, Abarbanel clearly holds that Leah was hated by Yaakov as a result of her having deceived him on the wedding night. Abarbanel supports this contention with his analysis of the language and circumstances of the births and naming of her first three sons.

Abarbanel states that Leah, like Rachel, was initially barren and required an act of Divine Providence in order to conceive. Seeing that she was hated by her husband, however, G-d “opened her womb” immediately in order to bring her closer to Yaakov. (The fact that all of the sons of Yaakov were conceived as a result of Divine Intervention is an indication that the formative stage of the creation of the Jewish nation should not be viewed as a natural historical development, but rather as a result of G-d’s direct intervention in the historical process to bring about His chosen nation — an intervention which continues throughout Jewish history.)

Abarbanel explains that hatred is expressed in three ways: actions, speech and inner thoughts. With the birth of each of her first three sons Leah hopes that another dimension of Yaakov’s hatred toward her would disappear. His hateful actions were exemplified by his unwillingness to have regular intimate relations with her. As a result, she names her first son Reuven, the root of which is ‘to see’. This is as the verse states, “Because G-d has seenmy humiliation.” She hopes that his actions will change, since she has fulfilled the purpose of marriage by providing Yaakov with offspring. However, Yaakov continues to speak to her with anger and reproach. As a result she names her second son Shimon, a reference to the word ‘shema’ or ‘hear’. As the verse states, “And she conceived again and bore a son and declared, ‘Because G-d has heard that I am hated, He has given me this one also’.” Even though Yaakov’s actions do not betray his hatred, the hateful words remain and G-d hears those words. She hopes that this second son will erase this second dimension of his hatred.

She names her third son Levi, rooted in the concept of loving attachment. The Torah states, “This time my husband will become attached to me for I have borne him three sons; therefore he called his name Levi.” She hopes that the third dimension of hatred, the dimension of inner thoughts, would be erased as well, thus allowing Yaakov to feel a true attachment to her. Leah also realizes that the elimination of hatred does not automatically result in a feeling of love, as she says “This time my husband will become attached to me.” She emphasizes the importance of this third child whom she hopes will both erase the hatred and replace it with love. The specific mention of three sons is another reason for Yaakov to change his attitude toward her. His grandfather Avraham had two sons from two wives; his father Yitzchak had two sons from one wife. He has surpassed them both with three sons from one wife.

Finally, Abarbanel demonstrates that Leah’s hopes have been fulfilled. Reuven and Shimon were named by her, but Levi is named by Yaakov, a clear indication that he agrees to a loving attachment as a result of the joy that she has brought him.

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