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Tisha B'Av: The Power of Rachel's Tears
Video 4 of 5
But the truth is, it's not just a trivial story, it's actually a little bit upsetting. For example, look what Leah says after this little trade for these wildflowers. She's gotten a night with Yaakov. Vayavoh Yaakov min hasadeh ba'erev - Yaakov is coming back from the fields in the evening; Vateitzei Leah likrato - and Leah goes out to greet him. Vatomer eilai tavoh - you're going to be with me tonight; Ki sachor secharticha b'duda'eih beni - because I have rented you tonight in exchange for these wildflowers. Isn't that incredibly gauche? How do you talk so cavalierly about the business arrangements of intimacy? I have rented you! Rachel is not much better, she's the one who came up with this grand idea. It's just a very uncomfortable story, wouldn't you say? What's going on here?
Now, you might say, well there are these Duda'im, but what kind of wildflowers were they? What was their significance? Maybe if we could decipher that we'd understand the story. In fact, there's all sorts of debates about what the Duda'im were. Were these flowers so prized because maybe they were aphrodisiacs? Or maybe they were fertility-granting flowers? So it's this very strange story. It doesn't seem to be a lot of consensus about it. What do we make of it?
I want to suggest something that may sound a little bit radical here. That what the Duda'im were actually is a red herring. You will not decipher the mystery of the story of the Duda'im by figuring out exactly which wildflower it was and then theorizing about its supposed significance to these women. The reason I say this is because the Torah knows you don't know what the Duda'im were. The word Duda'im is a unique word in Scripture, it appears exactly once, right here. So let's just add up the evidence over here. If the Torah doesn't explain to you exactly what Duda'im are, and the Torah gives you no way of figuring out exactly what the Duda'im were, other than your own speculation, then what does that really mean the Torah is telling you? That it doesn't matter what the Duda'im were. For all you know they were worthless wildflowers. That, by the way, is exactly how Rashi understands what the Duda'im were, weeds, nobody cared about them.
Okay, so let's say we buy that interpretation. If we do, if we accept that the Duda'im really didn't matter for their intrinsic value, so now the question is how come Rachel and Leah seem to be so keenly interested in them? The answer must be the significance of the Duda'im doesn't lie in their own inherent value, in what they were, it lies in who brought them and why.
Who did bring the Duda'im? It was Reuven and he brought them from the fields to his mother. The text goes out of its way to emphasize that fact; Vayovei otam el Leah imo - he didn't just bring them to Leah, he brought them to Leah his mother. That's the point that really matters. Who was Reuven and why would these wildflowers have mattered so much to Leah? Here is little, six-year-old Reuven, Leah's firstborn child coming back from the fields with this little bouquet of dandelions in his hand. Vayovei otam el Leah imo - and he brings them to him mother. Why do these dandelions mean everything to her?
You know if you stand back and think about what it means to be a parent. Your kid spends the afternoon scribbling together a card and she barely knows how to draw, it's just a bunch of colored scribbles, but then with this big smile on her face she comes to you and says, here mom, this is for you. You take that card, you put it on the refrigerator, and years later, decades later, you never take it down, because these are the first fruits of your child's independence. You have been giving and giving to them and finally they've taken this very first, fledgling step, they've given something back to you.
It really is like first fruits. Indeed, if you think about the Torah's idea of first fruits, it's very, very similar. There's this command that a farmer is supposed to bring the first fruits of the season to a Kohen in the Temple. Now what if I was a cynic and said, first fruits? Ha. Everybody knows the first fruits aren't the best fruits of the season. Nobody wants to eat the strawberries from the beginning of the season. Why would G-d want the first fruits? The answer is because it's not about how the strawberries taste, it's that they were the first. G-d has done so much for us, He took us out of Egypt, led us through the desert, brought us into the land, G-d gave and gave and gave to his children, to Israel and they were never really in a position to give anything back. Until they finally got in the land and they started to farm the land and finally here's this farmer with the very first fruits of independence, something to give back and those fruits mean everything to G-d.
So it is with Reuven. Here is Leah's firstborn giving something back to her. It's that first wondrous moment in the life of a parent. Rachel sees this and what does she say? Do you think you could give me some of those wildflowers? We often mistake what it was that Rachel asked for here and we think oh yeah Rachel wanted the Duda'im, she wanted the wildflowers, she's even willing to buy the wildflowers. That wasn't what happened. Listen to the language of the text carefully. Vatomer Rachel el Leah - Rachel said to Leah; Teni nah li mi'duda'eih beneich - give me please some of the wildflowers of your child. Not all of them, some of them. And she seems to ask very nicely; give me please some of these wildflowers. What's happening here?
You see Rachel has no child, years have passed and she still has no child. Leah has two more children, she names her last child for happiness and joy. Now, there Leah is finally experiencing the first joy of a child's first fruits and Rachel looks at this and she says, I don't know what life has in store for me, I don't know if I will ever have a child. But I'm asking you this; Teni nah li mi'duda'eih beneich - could you give me some of those wildflowers. If you could share some of those with me, if I could take some of those dandelions and put them in a vase above my window too, if I could share some of your joy in motherhood, then maybe it would be enough for me. I don't want to have to look at your children with resentment. When your child reaches milestone after milestone; his first softball game, his Bar Mitzvah, his wedding, I don't want to have to turn away seething in anger, I don't want to be that kind of person. I want to be able to share in your joy, I'm willing to do that, can you let me in? It was a kind of peace offering from Rachel.
But if that's what Rachel is asking for, look at the response that Leah gives to her. Vatomer lah - and Leah said to her; Hame'at kachteich et ishi - was it not enough that you took my husband from me; V'lakachat gam et duda'eih beni - that you also now want to take the dandelions of my son? Now if you were Rachel and you heard that at this moment from your sister, how would you react? I mean, I don't know about you, but if I were Rachel, you just want to scratch your sister's eyes out. I'm the one who talk YOUR husband? Are you for real? Weren't you the one who took MY husband? I was the one who was supposed to marry him for seven years, and then you stepped in and because you got it all backwards in your mind you can't share these dandelions? Who needs you?
But that's not what Rachel said to her. Vatomer Rachel - and Rachel said to her; Lachen - if that's the way it is; Yishkav imach halailah - let him be with you tonight. Lachen - therefore, it's like, oh my goodness, that's actually how you see it, that I was the one who took your husband. And in that moment Rachel begins to see a whole other way of seeing what happened, the history of this family, here's how things looked from Leah's point of view - and right now I'm actually giving you the perspective of Chizkuni and Seforno - how much choice did I really have?
Let's go back to the night of the switch. Father, suddenly convened this party, invited everybody, and then he points at me and says, you're up. What am I supposed to do? I don't get to say no in that situation. It was terrible that that happened, but it wasn't my choice. But you know after that happened, for good or for ill, I was his wife, so how come after that you agreed to marry him too? Look at the consequences of that. I'm hated, you're loved, couldn't you have left it well enough alone? I didn't have a choice, you had a choice. Hame'at kachteich et ishi v'lakachat gam et duda'eih beni - it's not enough for you that you take my husband, you need the dandelions too?
Rachel, her greatness is that at that moment she hears that and allows herself to understand. Allows herself to understand a whole different way of seeing this. You know there was a time that Rachel saw herself as locked in struggle and G-d Himself coming down and saying, your position is the correct one. But now, she says, there IS another way of seeing it, there's my sister's way of seeing it, and if my way is valid, then so is hers. All this time that I have seen it as so unfair that I haven't had these children, you've seen it as so unfair that you haven't had the loving companionship of your husband, and you think I've taken that from you. How could I ask you if you would share in the joy of your child with me without me sharing something with you; Lachen yishkav imach halailah - so let him be with you tonight, let me give you a gift of companionship with him, that which you crave.
And so it was, Rachel was given some of the dandelions, and Leah was given a night with Jacob. That night Leah conceives Yissachar. Yesh sachar l'pe'ulateich - in the words of Jeremiah, there is reward for what you've done, for your act, Rachel. The reward does not come immediately. In the short-term Rachel remains childless, Leah has yet another child, this child, Yissachar. He will go to a woman that you, Rachel, saw as a rival, he will go to Leah. But as for you, one day you will have children, hundreds of thousands, and you will see those children too in the domain of a rival. Not just a rival but an enemy. But you will get those children back because; Yesh Sachar, your children will come home.
We understand a great deal now but there is one thing that we still do not understand, the strange story that the Rabbis of the Midrash tell about these Simanim - these signs, that Rachel supposedly gave Leah on the night she was switched, the night of her wedding. Earlier we were puzzled by what the Sages were trying to say in that story, it didn't seem to fit with what the text of the Torah itself says. Now, having seen something of the meaning behind Jeremiah's remarkable words, we're in a position, I think, to unlock the secret of the Simanim. In the next video we'll come back to that and how this all relates to the grand themes of Tisha B'Av.
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