Vayetzei: River of Tears

Inner Strength

What does it mean that Leah had “tender eyes”?

Table for Five: Vayetzei

In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles

 Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

Leah’s eyes were tender, but Rachel had beautiful features and a beautiful complexion.

Gen. 29:17


Rabbi Chaim Miller, Author “Practical Tanya, Gutnick Chumash.”

The Torah portrays Leah as having a certain depth, which is not immediately apparent in Rachel. Concerned about her future arranged marriage to Esau, Leah cries incessantly (Rashi). We are told nothing about Rachel’s inner world, only about her external beauty.

Perhaps it is this contrast that led the Zohar to identify Leah with the deep, subconscious of soul-power called binah and Rachel with malchut, the most superficial layer of consciousness concerned with physical reality. When we adopt the mindset of malchut, we think, “If I fight with reality, I will lose.” While retaining agency and free choice, we are careful to act within the constraints of societal convention and the pursuit of reasonable goals.

Binah is the part of our psyche that makes it possible for us to re-invent ourselves. Binah’s powers are deep and vast, accessible only through focused inner work and a defiant will.

Leah’s efforts produced results: her tears realigned her destiny. Not only did she become Jacob’s wife, she merited to rest alongside him for eternity in the Cave of Machpelah.

So as we re-read this verse in the Torah this year, we may ask ourselves: Am I going to accept the societal status-quo, or find the courage to defy it? Am I going to own all the parts of myself, or just the bits that other people find “beautiful”? Can I be strong, like Leah, and display my wounds and vulnerabilities to the world?


Judy Gruen, Author, “The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love with Faith.”

Rachel is not the first matriarch noted for her beauty. Both Sarah and Rebecca were also beautiful, but as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (z”tl) points out, their beauty was mentioned only when they and their husbands dwelled temporarily in the land of the Philistines because of the famine in Canaan. Abraham and Isaac realized that their wives’ beauty would far overshadow the average looks of the local women, making them vulnerable to kidnapping. That is why both Abraham and Isaac claimed that their wives were their sisters.

In contrast, the minute that Jacob lays eyes on Rachel at the well, he kisses her and weeps. It seems to be love at first sight, with the Torah suggesting that Rachel’s beauty dazzled Jacob, sweeping him off his feet. Jacob’s love for Rachel is profound and is mentioned repeatedly, including the explicit statement that he “loved Rachel more than Leah.” No wonder Leah’s eyes were “tender,” a reference to the river of tears she had cried throughout her life from believing she was destined to marry Esau, Jacob’s wild and undisciplined brother. Unable to compete with her better-loved and more attractive sister and rival wife undoubtedly kept the tears flowing.

We learn an important lesson here: The Torah refers to Leah’s “tender eyes,” not saying overtly that Rachel was more beautiful than she was. We need to build people up—especially children–by noting the qualities they do have and not mentioning what they lack.


Yehudit Wolffe, Founder Bais Chana of California and KosherSofer.com

As a people, Jews reached rock bottom, cried, and grieved over the pain of October 7.

Our mother Leah cried for a good reason, her tears were effective, but her beauty was diminished. Our mother Rachel did not cry and was beautiful. Crying is inevitable. However, will we act like victims? Or will we wipe away our tears and act corageously?

When I was a teenager, a day before Israel bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor, I remember the Lubavitcher Rebbe called for swift action: to drop everything and sell letters in a unity Torah. Since it “gives each soldier the power of 304,805 soldiers…the enemy will be frightened and will not come to the front lines.”

So, therefore, I decided now to bring this spiritual protection for soldiers. How? Avrohom Dovid, my husband, a scribe, is writing a Torah scroll dedicated to IDF soldiers, while we gather the names of soldiers to dedicate a letter, (304,805) for each soldier.

All Jews are emissaries to reveal G-d in this world (Lubavitcher Rebbe Shabbat ChayeSarah, 1992). We are battling truth & good against evil. All Jews are needed to energetically act to complete our mission, wiping our tears to make real change.

We are promised “G-d will wipe away tears from all faces”. Our good deeds will accomplish this and comfort us. Engaging in courageous kind good ventures is needed now to make good prevail over evil. And “Rachel’s children will return to their borders.” This expresses how: AM YISRAEL CHAI! 


Abe Mezrich, Author: Words for a Dazzling Firmament

Rachel is not the first Biblical character to have such beauty. As others have pointed out: Rebecca too, is described in a similar way. Indeed, Rebecca is said to have been “very beautiful” just as she rushes to help Abraham’s servant—someone come from a long way in need of water. Which might mean Rebecca’s beauty, and perhaps Rachel’s beauty too, is a kind of good strength. It reaches out and enacts change; it makes people better off for having encountered it.

Leah has something different from beauty. She has “tender eyes” – or, in another translation (JPS), “weak eyes.” The Midrash says Leah’s eyes are weak from crying because she fears she will be shuttled into a tragic marriage with Esau. In the literal text she is shuttled into a loveless marriage with Jacob. Either way she does not seem strong at all. Life happens to her, and all she can do is see her eyes go tender as she looks on. But God also looks on.

God “saw that Leah was hated;” so He gives Leah a son. And Leah sees God seeing her. Reu-ven, Leah names this boy: “See a son…because HaShem has seen my affliction.”

Maybe all of Judaism is encapsulated in these women. When life is thrust upon us before our eyes, God sees us and gives us what we need. And when He gives us strength, we have a responsibility to bear: we must turn around and give beauty to the world.


Rabbi Scott N. Bolton, Congregation Or Zarua, NY, NY

Today, both Leah and Rachel, among the Mothers of Israel, are praying for their children. While these two sisters are different women in the Book of Genesis they come to represent the motherly qualities of our ancestors and the strong women of the Jewish People in our time. Both Leah’s eyes and Rachel’s focus us on their trevails. God promised that their tears will turn from those of sorrow to those of jubilation. In the Book of Jeremiah (31:14-16) we learn Rachel’s eyes wept, “…weeping for her children, she refused to be comforted…” However the Children of Israel as one beautiful body, a united entity, would inherit their portion. “Thus says the Lord: ‘Refrain your voice from weeping, your eyes from tears, for your work shall be rewarded; And they shall come again from the land of your enemy…your children shall come again and return to their own borders.'”

In recent days, we have witnessed how beautiful thousands of Jews coming together look! Unity in Israel, masses in Los Angeles to NYC we have gathered waving Israeli flags and singing out for family, to comfort mourners, to pray for the safe return of hostages and to unite in support of the defense of our homeland. With tender eyes we remember the fallen beautiful sons and daughters and babies and grandparents of Israel. Leah and Rachel know what God promised: “For all the land which you see, to you and your offspring I give it forever.” (Gen. 13:15) I feel their hope.


Image: “Jacob, Rachel, and Leah at the Well” by Claude Lorrain, 1666

With thanks to Rabbi Chaim Miller, Judy Gruen, Yehudit Wolffe, Abe Mezrich, and Rabbi Scott Bolton

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