The Weary Tears of a Wild Cow: The Story of Leah, Part I

Insufficient: (adj.) deficient; not enough; lacking

As a working wife and mother, I am well acquainted with “not enough.”  We all have moments of feeling as though we have insufficient time, insufficient energy, insufficient patience, and insufficient resources.  To feel lacking in our abilities to meet all our obligations is normal.  That’s something we as human beings can deal with.

What about when you feel like YOU are not enough?

Imagine a wife that, after years of faithful companionship and dutiful marriage, finds herself alone – left by her spouse of so many years for a younger, more beautiful woman.   She was not enough.

HowProveInfidelity_Dec_340Imagine a mother who worked her entire life to raise her children uprightly, in the knowledge of God – now visiting her child on a telephone and peering at him through prison glass.  She was not enough.

Imagine a woman who works hard every day, doing her best at her job and doing it gladly – only to be passed over for promotion, again, for the sycophant in the designer shoes.  She was not enough.

How do you spend your entire life playing second fiddle to everyone else – never being enough.  Not a good enough daughter, woman, wife, or mother.  Insufficiency like that breeds a deep longing, and terrible pain that, left untreated, turns into bitterness and loathing.

In most of our studies on women of the Bible, we are told about the greatness of each daughter of God.  We discuss how she was chosen from the beginning for God’s purpose and found favor and honor among her family, friends and people.

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We, as women of faith, like those stories.  They remind us that we are treasured and destined for great things in God’s Kingdom if we just hold on to His promise.  Yet, while all of those things are true, we rarely take the time to see those great Bible women who were insufficient – who were never bestowed with that great honor during their lifetimes.   We don’t like those stories.  They remind us of the times we have felt neglected, forgotten and worthless.  Yet, those are the very reasons we should hear about those women!

One of the best examples of a woman who dealt daily with feelings of inadequacy, with being “not enough”, was Leah.

Oh, everybody knows about the great love story of Jacob and Rachel, but the story of Jacob’s first wife, Leah, is often mentioned as an aside to the story of his favorite wife.

When I think of Leah, my heart breaks for her.  Immediately I think about how it must have felt to know that, as she entered the bedchamber to consummate the covenant of marriage, Jacob was thinking of her sister Rachel the entire time.  Those tender moments of newly minted marital intimacy were not real.  They were a facade.  Leah knew she was not Rachel, but Jacob did not.  Leah knew that all of the tender kisses and treasured words of love whispered in her ear were not really for her. They were meant for her sister.  I tear up at the thought of how Leah’s heart and worth must have been shattered the next morning when Jacob awoke, discovered the treachery of Laban, and – without thought for Leah – demanded the wife he wanted be given to him.

Laban had given his oldest daughter to Jacob in deceit because he knew that no one wanted her.  Laban didn’t want her in his house any longer.  No man would have her willingly, he determined, so he shrouded her, and gave her to Jacob, effectively pawning her off with “no take backs.”

From the very beginning, Leah was unwanted.  Leah was unloved.  Leah was unacceptable.

And, from the very beginning, Leah knew it.

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As I read the story of Leah, I searched for reasons why she was unwanted.  What was wrong with her that Laban had to trick Jacob into taking her for a wife?  As I read, I found only one indicator of purported inadequacy: her eyes.  Depending on the translation you choose, Genesis 29:17 identifies Leah’s eyes as “tender, weak, bleary, without sparkle.”  Other commentaries describe her as being ordinary looking with delicate eyes.blue-eyes-37

Often, the Bible, when presenting a character with a flaw, discuss something that is changeable within that person.  Sarah’s jealousy of Hagar and Rebekah’s favoritism toward Jacob, for example.  In this story, however, the “flaw” is something that Leah cannot control; something, in fact, that was God-given.  Furthermore, why would “tender” eyes be considered a flaw?  In modern society, we often herald a look of tenderness as a virtue.  Yet, it is speculated that “tender-eyed” means something else entirely when it comes to the times of Leah.  Some of the many explanations I’ve read in various lessons, commentaries, and Midrash references include:

1. Leah had pale eyes, most likely blue, considered a defect.

2. Leah’s eyes were weak, meaning light-sensitive, or she may have had a vision impairment.

3. Leah’s eyes were bleary from crying. Her eyes were tender from tears.

4. Leah was called “tender-eyed” because of her gentle, and timid nature, often mistaken as weakness.

As I pondered the reason that Leah’s “defect” was her tender eyes, my mind wandered to the meaning of her name, and it lended some insight into Leah’s tender, weak eyes.  Leah’s name is often associated with the Arabic translation, meaning “wild cow.”  This would seem to be in direct contrast with the “ewe” meaning of her sister’s (the favored wife) name.   However, the Hebrew for Leah is identical to the Hebrew verb meaning “weary, grieved.”  Knowing the significance of names, not only in Biblical and Torah history, but with God himself, the reason for Leah’s weak, tender eyes became clear.  From the meaning of her name, to the grief she carried with her all her life, Leah’s eyes were full of tears.  Her heart was broken and tender – and it showed in her eyes.  Leah was unloved, and profoundly sad.
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There is a large area of speculation about the reason for Leah’s sadness.  The Torah suggests that custom dictates she was destined to marry Esau, while Jacob was destined to marry Rachel.  However, knowing that Esau was married to Canaanite women, & was not interested in marrying her, Leah knew she’d be excluded from the promise to help build the nation of Israel.  It’s suggested by Midrash, that Leah was inconsolable over what she saw would be an empty marriage to Esau.

Perhaps Leah, tired of being the “plain” sister, was saddened over the fact that, yet again, she’d been overlooked in favor of her more beautiful sister, Rachel.

The speculation about the cause for her tears isn’t important.  The “why” for her tears is trumped by the “what happened” because of them.

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Categories: Bible, Christian living, faith, Hope, joy, Love, Women of faith, Women of the Bible | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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