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The Lost Matriarch

Finding Leah in the Bible and Midrash

Jerry Rabow

Publication Year: 2014

The Lost Matriarch offers a unique response to the sparse and puzzling biblical treatment of the matriarch Leah. Although Leah is a major figure in the book of Genesis, the biblical text allows her only a single word of physical description and two lines of direct dialogue. The Bible tells us little about the effects of her lifelong struggles in an apparently loveless marriage to Jacob, the husband she shares with three other wives, including her beautiful younger sister, Rachel. Fortunately, two thousand years of traditional and modern commentators have produced many fascinating interpretations (midrash) that reveal the far richer story of Leah hidden within the text.

Through Jerry Rabow’s weaving of biblical text and midrash, readers learn the lessons of the remarkable Leah, who triumphed over adversity and hardship by living a life of moral heroism. The Lost Matriarch reveals Leah’s full story and invites readers into the delightful, provocative world of creative rabbinic and literary commentary. By experiencing these midrashic insights and techniques for reading “between the lines,” readers are introduced to what for many will be an exciting new method of personal Bible interpretation.

Published by: Jewish Publication Society

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

Why a book about Leah? Other biblical heroines perform more impressive deeds and deliver more memorable speeches than Leah. After Deborah leads the Israelites in a grand battle against the Canaanites, she commemorates her victory in a song of praise to God (Judg. 4:4– 5:31). Hannah resolutely corrects the mistaken accusations of the priest and later expresses her thanks for the birth of Samuel in a song of prayer (1 Sam. 1:1– 2:10). ...

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Note on the Sources

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pp. xv-xvi

The classical or “biblical” Hebrew originally used for the Bible is an ancient language. As a result, the Bible presents several special problems for reading in translation. The language of the time possessed only limited grammar and vocabulary. And the Bible in its original Hebrew text lacks capitalization, vowels, and punctuation (no commas or periods). There isn’t even a...

The Family of Jacob and Leah (chart)

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pp. 18-21

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Introduction: We Meet Leah

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pp. 1-12

Ordinarily, we expect that the relative amount of text devoted to a character in a book gives us an indication of the character’s importance in the story being told. But the Bible doesn’t work that way with Leah. Her life story receives only skimpy treatment, while if we consider Leah’s role in the Bible’s grand story of the Jewish people, she surely qualifies as one of its major figures....

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1. Waiting for Leah

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pp. 13-44

As we view Leah’s life unfolding in the Bible, we will observe various expressions of the powerful theme of how she struggles with being unloved. We might naturally expect that the most important aspect of her story about the consequences of love or the lack of love would relate to romantic love. After all, our contemporary culture is steeped in it, driving much of what ...

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2. What Really Happened on Leah’s Wedding Night?

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pp. 45-66

Jacob’s wedding is the signal event of Leah’s lifetime; it will shape the lives of Jacob’s family and launch Leah’s fierce rivalry with her younger sister. But we’re told only that Laban gathers together all his neighbors and makes a feast. Of course, every reader who is familiar with the rest of the wedding story knows this will be no ordinary wedding feast. (Indeed, it seems that...

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3. Leah Begins Married Life in Conflict

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pp. 67-100

According to midrash, Leah and Rachel have just concluded an unprecedented act of cooperation to execute their father’s plan. Leah spent the entire wedding night posing as Rachel and engaging in marital intimacy with Jacob. This, in turn, depended on Rachel selflessly giving the secret identification signs to Leah, and even hiding under the wedding bed to answer...

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4. Leah Continues the Conflict

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pp. 101-118

Surely the involvement of Bilhah and Zilpah must have produced a further intensification of the rivalry between the sisters, or perhaps new vectors of dissention among the four wives. We might even anticipate conflicts or varying alliances among the eight young sons of Jacob from three different mothers. But biblical style often does not detail events, dialogue, or descriptions...

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5. Leah and the Family Leave Haran

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pp. 119-136

The birth of Dinah does not mark the end of Leah’s story, but it does inaugurate a significantly different role for Leah in the balance of the story. It is true that up to this point in the family saga, Leah has been frustrated in her efforts to become the focus of Jacob’s love, or even his attention. Nevertheless, Leah’s position as his first and most fertile wife has at least kept her...

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6. Leah Comes to the Promised Land

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pp. 137-164

Although Leah’s already limited presence in the text becomes even further diminished with the family’s journey from Haran, the Bible is not finished with her just yet. We can still learn more about her life and her character from several indirect references to her in the remaining narrative. To view those references, however, we must try to catch a glimpse of Leah...

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7. The Deaths of Rachel, Leah, and Jacob

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pp. 165-186

Soon after devoting an entire chapter (the thirty- one verses of Gen. 34) to the dramatic story of Dinah and Shechem, the Bible turns to a new tragedy: the death of Rachel....

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Conclusion: Learning from Leah’s Story

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pp. 187-190

The Bible made Leah a Matriarch, but it took midrash to make her a heroine. Our examination of Leah’s story with the help of the traditional rabbinic midrash and modern commentary has also rewarded us with a bonus: appreciation for the workings of the midrashic process that is so central to understanding and appreciating the richness of the Bible....

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pp. 191-194

We often presume that writing a book is a solitary task, and for much of the time it does feel like that. But this book owes its existence to the generous sharing of talents and wisdom by many people....

Glossary of Names and Definitions

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pp. 195-202


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pp. 203-228


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pp. 229-234


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pp. 235-243

Other works

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p. 244-244

E-ISBN-13: 9780827611795
E-ISBN-10: 082761179X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780827612075

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2014