Leah was the oldest daughter of Laban the Aramean. When Jacob fled the wrath of his brother Esau, he first encountered the beautiful Rachel, Leah’s younger sister, at the well.
Smitten by her beauty, Jacob set his mind on her and worked for seven years. On the wedding night, Laban exchanged Rachel for Leah.
The morning after, Jacob discovered that deceit. Furious, he demanded to know why Laban had done this. Laban replied that Leah must be married off before her younger sister, according to local custom.
However, he was happy for Jacob to wed Rachel, too. One week later, Rachel married Jacob. Thus, from day one, Leah was hated, and the object of suspicion and envy in that unhappy home.
Jacob was resentful for having his virginity taken by a woman he had no feelings for and over whom he had been cheated.
Rachel eventually blamed Jacob when Leah bore Jacob sons, while she remained barren for several years. Leah tried all she could to win Jacob’s favour. On one occasion, her eldest son Reuben brought her mandrakes, the root of which was used in an ancient medicine for fertility.
Leah exchanged the mandrakes for a night with Jacob. Ironically, on the night that Rachel prepared her love potion, Leah became pregnant with a fifth son, Issachar.
The tryst between the wives and their husband spilled over to the children. Reuben zealously defended his mother, to the extent that he slept with Rachel’s concubine, Bilhah, thereby forcing him to accept that he had wronged Leah in his conjugal duties.
Later, Joseph, Rachel’s first child, was sold off to the Egyptian slave trade by his jealous half-brothers.
Thus, the misery of our ancestor’s slavery originates in a history of family strife, the result of hatred and vengeance for an unrequited love.
Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation