Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. — Genesis 29:17
The Torah portion for this week, Vayeitzei, which means “and he left,” is from Genesis 28:10–32:3, and the Haftorah is from Hosea 11:7–12:14.
In this week’s Torah portion, we meet the final two matriarchs — Rachel and Leah. Scripture teaches us that “Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel . . . was beautiful.” Many people have been puzzled by the inclusion of this information in the Bible. What does it mean that Leah had “weak eyes” and why do we need to know that?
The Jewish sages explain that Leah’s eyes were weak in the sense that they were puffy, red, and sensitive from all the crying that she did. From the time that Leah was small, people used to say it was perfect that Laban had two girls while Rebekah, his sister, had two boys. The elder daughter, Leah, would marry the elder son, Esau, while the younger daughter, Rachel, would marry the younger son, Jacob.
Leah was also a prophetess, and she understood that these remarks were not just empty words. They were her destiny. Leah saw that God’s plan for her life was that she would marry Esau and produce six of the 12 tribes, while Rachel and Jacob would produce the other six. There was just one problem: Leah did not want to marry Esau. She understood that he was a wicked man who was not fit to be a patriarch of the nation of Israel. This is why Leah cried. While she cried, she also prayed.
Leah’s tears and prayers changed history and her destiny. God saw Leah’s tears and He heard her prayers. God, not Laban, was behind the switching of the brides that caused Leah to become Jacob’s first wife, although Rachel was more beautiful and more loved. In addition, God made it so Leah would bear more sons than any of Jacob’s wives.
This is the astounding power of tears. Leah’s “weak eyes” were actually a sign of great strength. Through them, she was able to alter history and change her destiny.
According to tradition, after the destruction of the Holy Temple, all gates to heaven were locked, except for the Gates of Tears. Even today, we possess the same immense power that Leah harnessed in her own life. We, too, can cry out to God with tears in prayer and change the course of our lives.
Interestingly, the Hebrew word for “crying” is numerically equivalent to the Hebrew word for “heart.” This equivalency teaches us that true tears come directly from the deepest recesses of our hearts. When our prayers, via our tears, come straight from our hearts, they go straight to heaven.
Friends, never underestimate the power of tears. As one rabbi once put it, “The Gates of Tears were never locked. What a shame if no one bothers to walk through them!”
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President