Leah is a figure found in the Book of Genesis. She was the older sister of Rachel and the daughter of Laban, who was the brother of Rebecca. The sisters had a tumultuous relationship fraught with rivalry over the love of Jacob, Rebecca’s son.
As the oldest daughter of Laban, it was traditional for Leah to be married off before the younger Rachel. However, Jacob loved Rachel. Laban became worried that he would be left with his eldest daughter unmarried. As was the custom of that time, Jacob worked for Laban for seven years in return for the hand of his daughter.
When the time came for Jacob to marry Rachel as agreed, Laban devised a scheme to fool Jacob into marrying Leah instead. When Jacob woke up after the wedding night, he realized what had occurred. Laban said to him, “It is not our custom here to marry off the younger before the elder … I will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years work.” (Gen 29:26) Jacob agreed, as it was the custom of the time for a man to have more than one wife.
Leah was well aware of Jacob’s undying love for her younger sister, yet she followed her father’s instructions and was lawfully married to Jacob. She bore him six sons and one daughter, and lived in hope of winning his love. With each birth came her plea to God to lead Jacob to her heart. Although Jacob did not come to love Leah, he impregnated her with the seed that led to the future of Israel. The line of Leah is traced down through Moses and King David, among many others. Her sons became the leaders of ten of the twelve tribes of Israel.
In the meantime, Jacob had also married Rachel, his favorite, who remained childless. Rachel bore two sons late, and they became the source of the remaining two tribes.
Leah is known as the first person of the Hebrew Bible to thank God for his provision. Leah named her fourth son ‘Judah’, meaning ‘Thank God’. The story of Leah is one of quiet determination and unseen power, which led to her being one of those who shaped the fate of the nation of Israel.
Leah is described as embodying inward beauty, symbolic of the concealed Divine presence. In contrast to her magnificent sister, Leah possessed an internal energy: “Leah was weak-eyed, but Rachel was beautiful and shapely” (Gen 29:16) It is said that Leah represented the hidden soul. As the third of the Four Mothers of the Hebrew Bible, Leah is symbolic of the concealed divine force said to be at the core of every Jewish soul.