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The Story of Leah

Genesis 29, 30 & 31

By Joy Swartley Sawatzky

This story was written as an exercise during the session of The School of Sacred Storytelling on Hebrew Scriptures.

Maybe things will be different in this new land. Maybe after Jacob and his brother Esau make peace and we are finally settled here, Jacob will be able to shed this restlessness that has seemed to dog him of late. If I am honest, I am relieved to be away from Laban’s yard. Even though he is my father, I have little respect for him. He is so conniving, manipulative and lazy. He used Jacob’s labor and my labor as if we were his slaves – giving us nothing in our leaving.

All of this change makes one reflective. Is the life I had dreamed for myself when I imagined the future as a young girl? No. But does anyone get the life that they dream of? I don’t think so. Dreams are for the young. For those who have not yet tasted the realities of life and death, of suffering and lack of power. I don’t dream anymore. I accept.

Twenty years ago, when Jacob walked into the family yard, for just a moment my dreams came alive before my eyes. He was so handsome – tall, broad shoulders, a narrow waist, clear eyes. For an instant my dreams of love and family and prosperity were right there in front of me. But almost as quickly as they appeared, they were gone. Jacob’s eyes fell on Rachel, and I became invisible.

I was used to being invisible. I was the big daughter, the less attractive daughter, the daughter who was useful but not admired. Whenever Rachel was around no one had eyes for anyone but her. All my prayers to the goddesses were to no avail. I wanted a place to belong. Certainly, I became Jacob’s first wife, but I was not the cherished one. So I learned to work hard to be of value. I skillfully and competently looked after the affairs of the family. I made sure that the wool was washed, sorted, spun and woven. Our wool was the best to be had. Traders came from far and wide to trade for our wool. I made sure that the fields and gardens were planted and harvested so that there was grain for the beers, beers that made the heads of the men buzz with delight, grains that made good breads. The gardens provided a constant supply of food for the cooking pots, and the men were never disappointed when they came in from a hard days work. They always left the tent with their stomachs full.

Jacob was always polite and respectful of me. He came to value my wisdom and sought me out matters of the family enterprise. He never moved the flocks without consulting me first. Would the new area produce the wool I was looking for? And I sought him out on matters of planting. Would this field give me the full heads of grain and strong shafts that I had come to expect? We were soul mates of sorts. But I don’t think that he ever got over what happened to him on his wedding night. I remember it as if it were yesterday, being led into the bridal tent trembling with fear. What would happen when he found out about the switch? But also, there was a hint of anticipation. An ember of hope burned that Jacob would find a place for me in his heart.

That night was beyond anything I could have imagined. Jacob was so kind and gentle. He was wise in the ways of caressing my body, of making my body respond to his touch. He whispered his love for me (or Rachel, so he thought) into my ear. I found myself letting down my defenses. I had determined that I would not let myself love him – I would only be hurt. But as the night wore on and my body came alive with his attentions, and he to mine, I began to hope that maybe he could love us both.

When morning came, with its first rays of sunlight, my hope died with his cries of rage. When he realized that it was me that he had spent the night with and that he had been duped by Laban – it was more than he could stand. My heart shattered into a million pieces. His cries still ring in my ear as he realized that I was not the love of his life, and I realized that I would never have his love. I was so ashamed for what my father had done to him

Maybe that is why I worked so hard…to try and make it up to him – to Jacob, that is. I gave him all I had. I bore him his first four sons and I thought surely with each birth, that he would turn and see me for who I was and my place with him would be sealed. That never happened. His eyes were always for Rachel, he turned to me only with his seed. My loss made it all the harder to watch him with Rachel – the jewel of his heart.

So how can I keep this from happening to my daughter, Dinah? Dinah, the jewel of MY heart. If I had but the power to protect her from a loveless life of struggle.

Maybe things will be different in this new land – I wonder….

Copyright January, 2004 by Joy Swartley Sawatzky. All Rights Reserved.

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