2 Daughters, 12 Tribes
We kicked off our yearlong study today, the breeze wafting through the cool meeting room in Encino as we gathered and checked in. Behold how good and nice to sit together as brothers and sisters to study our ancient roots! There were 13 of us present as we started – perfect for the study of the 12 Tribes, which will be our topic for the next 9-10 months - as we know that 12 = 13 when it comes to counting tribes (12 sons of Yaakov + 1 daughter = 13; OR; Tribe of Joseph splits into 2, Ephraim + Menashe, yielding 13 tribes, the 12 who held territory plus the Levites).
An offered kavannah of our kavannah: that we study the tribes with the mindset that separateness and wholeness are one, that the disparate parts of each of us makes up the whole of us, that this is the way of all things. This is a concept front and center in Judaism, though not present in some other spiritual traditions. YHWH = Eloheinu IS the tradition’s statement of the unity consisting of both the many pieces and the whole simultaneously. So we will look at the 12 tribes of Israel as their individual separate parts, but also as a piece of the totality that is all of them together making up the Children of Israel.
After determining that the study of the tribes must start at the point of the birth of their namesakes, the sons of Yaakov, and so we began.
Genesis 29:16: “Laban had 2 daughters . . . Leah’s eyes were tender . . . while Rachel was beautiful of form and appearance.”
What does it mean “tender eyes”? That Leah’s eyes were gentle, kind, not demanding? Or that they held a vulnerability, perhaps even a pain of hurt and suffering for years at the hands of her difficult father, Laban? Think of the innocent eyes of a beautiful child who holds the secret of past abuses within her. Leah is described with reference to something intrinsic to her that radiates outward, her eyes, while Rachel is described in terms of how others see her. We feel a certain sadness for each of these women, given the history they each carry, the conflicts they will soon be facing both between themselves and within themselves, and the circumstances in which they find themselves culturally. These 2 sisters are the mothers of our people, of the 12 children that would form the basis of the tribes. The inner struggles of these women, their own intrinsic makeup, the nature of their relationship to Yaakov, to each other, and each to herself, would be passed on, as these things are from mother to child, into the character and energetic makeup of their offspring and beyond into the generations to follow.
Genesis 29:25: “Why have you deceived me?”
Laban has tricked Yaakov into marrying Leah, in place of his beloved Rachel, and Yaakov is furious. Laban gives him a dressing down: this is how we do it here. In our place, the firstborn is always married first (never mind that I told you it would be Rachel and that I also gave Zilpah, the younger of the 2 handmaidens, to Leah to make you think she was Rachel). How could Yaakov have been so naïve, and how could he not have recognized that it was not Rachel in his marriage bed, but her older sister? We recall that Jacob was a mama’s boy of sorts, growing up protected behind his mother Rivkah, living always in tents and yeshivas, studying. He really had no understanding of the politics of the world of chieftains, which is rife with manipulation and deception. But he was no stranger to deception himself, having stolen his brother Esau’s birthright from him only 7 years before these events. So Laban gives Jacob a hard knock lesson in the ways of the world, and Jacob promises to serve him for another seven years to also gain the hand of his beloved Rachel. Why does he love Rachel so much? One teaching: Laban was brother to Jacob’s mother Rivkah, and Rachel’s appearance greatly resembled that of his mother, leading to the love at first sight when Jacob saw her at the well (Gen 29:11). Finally we realize that our spiritual inheritance from these ancestral tzadikim of ours includes much “deception” energy. We are blessed that our holy books do not hide the humanity of our ancestors from us, but rather emphasize their foibles and shadows. Our Torah teaches us the delicacy of the human drama, leading us to a place of compassion for all, knowing that we too, after all, are only human.
Genesis 29:31: “Leah was hated, so He opened her womb . . . “
Torah minces no words. But it does use the passive verb form – Leah “was hated”. By whom? By Jacob because of Laban’s deception - did he project his anger and frustration onto poor tender-eyed Leah? By herself? Was she an abused child, taught to self-hate by her abuser? Yet she carries so much potential for creativity and new beginnings, the open womb that beyond creating sons for her husband (and for her people as a whole) will be her path to her own growth and birth of Self.
Genesis 32-35: “Leah conceived . . .and she conceived again . . . and again . . .”
Leah gives birth to 4 sons in rapid succession, giving each one a name that on reflection is a “psycho-spiritual Xray” of her sense of self at the time of their birth:
· Reuven – “see, a son”. You can almost here her screaming in joy to Yaakov – “see what I have done for you, I have given you a son! Will you love me now!?”;
· Shimon – because God “heard” how I am hated, maybe now Jacob will love me?
· Levi – this time my husband will be “attached” to me
Seeing herself only as an extension of Jacob, desperately seeking his love, Leah runs through each of the senses – “see me, hear me, touch me” (did Peter Townsend write those lyrics, or did he take them from Torah!?). Finally, with the fourth son, Leah leaves the desperation of her condition, and connects directly to the divine flow:
· Judah – this time, I am “grateful” to YHVH. She grows beyond a point of view of herself in which she can only be substantiated by her husband, to one that establishes a direct connection with the flowing Presence that is hers to have in her own right.
Genesis 30:5: “Here is my maid Bilhah . . . that I may be built up through her. . . Bilhah conceived”
Rachel, envious of her sister’s fruitfulness and finding herself still barren, offers her handmaid to Jacob for wife, much as Sarah did with Hagar 2 generations earlier. This was the custom of the day, that the handmaiden would give birth, “bear upon my knee” as Rachel puts it, to children that would be adopted as the children of their mistress. Commentary from the Plaut chumash confirms this practice: "Rachel performs the ancient custom of establishing the child's legitimacy or of adopting him by placing him on her knee. Henceforth she speaks of Bilhah's children as 'mine.' This procedure is attested to in Babylonian, Hittite, Hurrian, and Greek laws." Thus, the next 2 sons could be viewed as children of Rachel, albeit indirectly through Bilhah:
· Dan: “he has judged”
· Naftali: “my maneuvering” (or struggle, scheming, manipulating) – through her “sacred scheming” Rachel sees herself prevailing in her attempt to equal her sister. Rachel seems to have a “mean girl” side to her that would make her a star in a tele-novella.
Genesis 30:10: “Zilpah, Leah’s maidservant, bore Jacob a son”.
Not to be outdone by her sister, Leah gives Jacob wife number 4, the younger of the 2 handmaidens, and Zilpah responds by quickly giving birth to 2 sons:
· Gad: “luck”
· Asher: “good fortune”
Genesis 30:17: “God hearkened to Leah and she conceived . .. “
Wait a minute, Leah’s not done herself yet, coming back for Round 2. Can you feel Rachel fuming?
· Issachar: “reward”. Leah saw Issachar as a reward for having given Zilpah to Jacob.
· Zevulun: “home/abode”. Now at last, Leah thought, Jacob must make his permanent home with me, who has given him 6 sons.
· Dinah. Torah gives no further description regarding her name, typical when it comes to the women of Torah. But Dinah comes from the same root as Dan, having to do with judgment and judging. Perhaps Leah now hopes the final judgment will be in her favor, having given Jacob so many children (up to this point 8 sons and 1 daughter, to Rachel’s 2 adopted sons through Bilhah). Interestingly, though Dinah is Jacob’s only daughter mentioned in Torah, there is a trippy Midrash that says each of Jacob’s sons was born with a twin sister, and that the twins later each married one another. Hmmm . . .
Genesis 30:22: “God remembered Rachel . . . she conceived”
Rachel is remembered, as was Sarah in her day, and bore her first biological son.
· Yosef: “adding on”. It is interesting that his name still indicates her competitiveness with Leah, as she either is glad to have added on another son (to the 2 she already indirectly has), or some commentators suggest this name is her prayer to add on yet another.
We finished with some final thoughts about the power and energy of names. The names, coming as intentional prayers from the mouths of our ancestral prophetesses, are a reflection of what they bring to the world. And what they bring is all possible faces to the intention of the name: thus Dan and Dinah may bring the benefits of justice, as well as the discomfort of being judged; Naphtali may bring both the positive and negative faces of maneuvering and manipulation; Yosef can mean both adding on and subtracting. It is curious that on balance, the names of the children of Leah, the most outwardly troubled of the 2 sisters, are the most optimistic of the names, while Rachel’s names reflect a subtle degree of dissatisfaction or struggle. The various “energies” of each of these names are all simultaneously brought into the character of these children, and the future tribes that will result from them, and are carried through the collective unconscious of the Jewish people from generation to generation, even to this day.
Next Gathering: Saturday, July 7
Location: Santa Monica or West LA, exact location TBD