The Lost Matriarch: Finding Leah
in the Bible and Midrash
University of Nebraska Press 2014
264 Pages $22.95
Review by Barbara Andrews
This new treatment of the Biblical matriarch Leah is a well-researched and a refreshing new look at an old story. Leah and Rachel, the two daughters of Laban, will play pivotal roles in the Biblical narrative as the story moves from the family of Abraham to the building of the nation of Israel.
Mr. Rabow takes us step by step through the biblical text from the first encounter Jacob has with Rachel to the deaths of the sisters. As we, the readers, reconnect with the text, additional commentary is layered upon the verses to explain and interpret.
It is a common interpretation of Leah that she was less beautiful than Rachel because of her “tender eyes”. Tender eyes, or rakhot, in Hebrew, is translated as weak eyes, thus unattractive. But, this is highly interpretive and through additional Midrash we come to understand this physical quality of Leah’s may be signifying a deeper, moral virtue. Jacob prefers the more shapely and beautiful Rachel, but does he also come to love the inner beauty of the older sister Leah? The Midrash seems to hint that the relationship between Jacob and Leah is indeed more complex.
The book continues to explore the relationship of the sisters during the years they each sought Jacob’s love by providing him with children. The drama of Rachel’s infertility and Leah’s fecundity provide us with insights into a complex family dynamic that will play out for generations to come. The biblical text provides only bare facts of this sibling contest, but the Midrash is rich with questions and comments. The author also provides additional insight into the tragic and mysterious story of Leah’s daughter Dinah. While the interpretations of Dinah’s gender and birth may border on the magical, the Midrash does offer up some interesting commentary.
At the end of the story Leah is mourned and revered by her entire family. She has outlived her sister Rachel by eight years and perhaps during that time Jacob has come to love her. Or so says the Midrash.
This book, which is accessible to any student of the Bible, adds new color and texture to a character often overlooked.
[Jan. 7, 2015]