A Gentle Spirit

And Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face.

Genesis 27:17

Much has been made of this verse in many ways. More, lots of folks skip over this one and land on the “romantic” verse where Jacob works for seven years and they seem like a day because of his love for Rachel. While I recognize the romance of the other verse (I’ve heard women give a swooning sigh over it more than once), I wanted to explore something that caught in my brain this morning.

The notion of Leah having “weak eyes” has been interpreted in lots of ways — mostly giving the impression that she was not an attractive woman. The words used and how Strong’s concordance gives their possible definitions left me with a different impression. The word “eyes” is the word `ayin (עַיִן) and could mean her literal eyes, but could also mean mental qualities or spiritual qualities (or fountain, which I do not want to get into at this hour of the day). So it could be that her physical eyes are missing a certain something that a guy would have found attractive and desirable back then, but it could also mean that her mental or spiritual qualities are what is referenced. The word “weak” is rak (רַךְ) and means tender, soft, delicate, or weak. With all of this in mind, two alternate notions of what Jacob found lacking in Leah present themselves.

First, Leah could have been feeble-minded. There are folks who are not the most mentally astute; not the sharpest knives in the drawer. This does not say anything about their physical attractiveness or anything else, just that they’re not PhD candidates. And there is not thing one wrong with that. This notion makes Jacob’s later confusion of Leah for Rachel a bit more understandable to me, since a weak mind would probably not be something on parade during the wedding night.

Second, this could refer to Leah being of a tender spirit. My wife is a bit like this. Her heart and soul are sensitive and tender and require a bit more care in terms of how I approach her. For the sake of clarity, I should mention that tact and I are not exactly on one another’s speed dial, so this is challenging for me. Would this manifest on the wedding night and give Jacob a hint that he had the wrong woman in his tent? Probably not. A tender spirit manifests in very loving ways. My wife is sensitive to my needs and desires and tries very hard to make sure she communicates her love in ways that I understand. I’m male and especially oblivious for my gender (ladies, you can commiserate with my wife later), so this is not always easy for her.

What would either of these imply about Rachel? See, the focus is so often on Leah and how sad it is for her that we forget to flip it around and see what the statement about Leah implies about her little sister. If the idea is that Leah was not mentally acute then the implication is that Rachel was. Or, at the very least, was moreso than her sister. If the idea is that Leah had a tender spirit then the implication is that Rachel was a ferocious spirit. Or, again, at least less tender than Leah. Among her sisters (my wife has two), my wife is the gentle and tender spirit. She can be ferocious when necessary, but she’s generally not. Something else about tender spirits: they’re not forward. To a guy like Jacob—or, you know, most guys—a forward woman is attractive in a very particular way. Rachel might have been the kind of woman who just came out and told anyone and everyone what she wanted (reference her later demand that Jacob give her children or she would die) whereas Leah might have been more the type who just let what she wanted fall by the wayside.

So…? The second idea is the one that really impacts me this morning. My wife is a gentle spirit and there is much to be said in favor of that type of woman. First, gentle spirits tend to encourage quietly and not stumble. Later on, Rachel will be the one stealing her father’s household idols and getting in arguments with Jacob. Leah will be a wife and mother and—more importantly—not mentioned as having anything to do with idols. Second, gentle spirits want to be loved. As the nation starts, Leah keeps hoping that this son will mean that Jacob is attached to her and loves her; that this will be the time she finally feels loved. The implication for spouses of these gentle spirits is that we need (I include my married-to-a-gentle-spirit self in the group) need to make sure our spouses know that they are loved. It encourages their heart and bolsters their spirit. Third, gentle spirits have a spiritual legacy. Ready for this? Rachel’s sons produce a type of Christ (Joseph) and the first king of Israel (Saul, tribe of Benjamin). Leah’s sons include Levi—the tribe that births Moses and the priesthood— and Judah—the tribe that leads to a Man from Nazareth named Jesus. Leah, in all her gentleness, is given a spiritual legacy that continues to bless us today.

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