Leah and Rachel were raised in "the land of the people of the east" according to Genesis 29. The exact location this refers to is unknown, but it was in the country that was then known as Mesopotamia, which corresponds mostly with modern-day Iraq. The girls were the daughters of Rebekah's brother Laban, so they would have been first cousins to Jacob.
|Dante's Leah & Rachel|
As Jacob fled from the wrath of his brother Esau, he sought out his uncle Laban, but he found his lovely cousin Rachel first. She was keeping her father's sheep and came to the well where Jacob was resting.
I wonder what Leah's reaction was when Rachel came running home one afternoon excitedly telling her father that she'd found a long-lost relative of theirs at the well. What might have been the sisters' thoughts as their father ran out to meet him and invited him to stay?
The Bible introduces the elder sister, Leah as being 'tender eyed'. Scholars have debated about the meaning of this phrase, however, it is commonly assumed that it suggests something unattractive about her eyes as it goes on to say "but Rachel was beautiful and well-favored."
I came across another explanation that suggested that since Laban had two daughters and his sister Rebekah had two sons, it was assumed that the four would make two couples. Leah would marry Esau, and Rachel would marry Jacob. Leah, knowing the character of the elder brother, spends most of her young life in prayerful tears begging God to change her destined fate. Thus her eyes were soft or weary from weeping.
Whatever the cause, Jacob favored Rachel and fell deeply in love with her. He was even willing to work seven years for her with apparently no other compensation.
The rest of the story, of course, is well known. But I have often wondered what Leah's feelings were throughout the drama. Later in the text we see her wishing for her husband to love her, trying to earn his favor by giving him many sons. Did she love him before? Was she a part of Laban's deception in marrying her off to Jacob first?
What we do know is that these two sisters changed the course of history. Leah gave birth to six of Jacob's sons which would come to be half of the tribes in the nation of Israel. A nation that would conquer much of the known world, and still exists today. Through Leah came the tribe of Judah, thus the great king David, Solomon (the wisest man to ever live) and Joseph and Mary, the couple that would raise the Messiah.
|Fresco of Rachel weeping for her children|
Through the tribe of Benjamin came Haddasah who became Queen Esther, yet another savior of Israel. King Saul, Gideon, and the apostle Paul were also her descendants. As for Rachel herself, she is remembered in history as a devout mother, thus the Scriptures describe "Rachel weeping for her children" in the day that Herod the great destroys the babies of Bethlehem.