Sep 27 2009

12- LEAH and RACHEL: GENESIS Ch. 29 – 35, Part 2

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The Woman at the Well

The Wise Virgins

B- Leah and Rachel (part 2 of 2)

(For Part 1 click here)

“Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and wept aloud” (Gen. 29:11)

“ Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for your love is better than wine”     (Song of Solomon 1:2)

The mystical interpretation: “Between the life of action and that of contemplation”

The spiritual interpretation of the story of Leah and Rachel does not stop at likening one to the Synagogue and the other to the Church since both in fact personify one church that has one groom.  The analogy should not be confined to the level of the church as a whole, because every believer is a church and a temple where God’s spirit dwells (1Co. 3:16), and every faithful person is a bride to Christ and therefore should have the traits of both Leah and Rachel (symbols of the Church).

St. Augustine elucidates this as follows: “Two lives are held out to us in the body of Christ – the one temporal, in which we labor, the other eternal, in which we shall contemplate the delights of God.  The case of Jacob’s two wives provides a clear understanding of the issue.  Jacob accepted Leah against his desire in the hope of getting Rachel whom he loved.  Our toil in life and our active work, which we exercise in faith, is performed in the hope of achieving a life of eternal contemplation of God, being certain that we will receive the delights of Truth.” (6)

St. Augustine adds: “So the one life is loved, the other is endured.  But the one that is endured is more abundantly fertile, so that it becomes beloved, if not for its own sake, at any rate for its offspring.”  “When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren. And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Raeuben, for she said, ‘because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; surely now my husband will love me’ (Gen. 29: 31-32).  “For the labor of the just bears great fruit in those they beget for the kingdom of God by preaching the gospel.  But the life given up to the pursuit of contemplation desires to be free from all business, and therefore is sterile. For by striving after leisure, whereby the pursuit of contemplation is enkindled, it is not brought into touch with men’s infirmities, who desire to be helped in their needs.  But the contemplative life also is aflame with the love of generating, for it desires to teach what it knows.” (6)

St. Augustine stresses the need for every faithful to have the two kinds of life: “It is incumbent on every person to have a portion of the love of Truth and a portion of ministry and charity even at the expense of one’s own interest.  For no one should be so at leisure as in his leisure not to think of his neighbor’s welfare, nor so busied as not to seek after the contemplation of God”.

St Gregory The Great sees the need to lead both types of life: “Though each life is by the gift of grace, yet so long as we live among our neighbors, one is by necessity the other by choice.  The active life must be accompanied by a life of contemplation so that the ministry would be perfect”.  “We ascend to the heights of contemplation by the steps of the active life”.  St. Gregory is of the opinion that the contemplative life is the basis of every ministry, and so he says, “Those who are not familiar with contemplation should not guide or lead others”.  He also says, “Who is the blind man who leads another but him who knows not the light of divine  contemplation.”

St. Gregory finds the superiority of contemplative life in the  Lord’s talk with Martha: “Even though the life of contemplation is reached after toil and ministry, it is more sublime and greater.  If what Martha chose was not criticized, Mary’s part was praised.  If the reward of active work and ministry is glorious, that of the contemplation of God is more glorious”.

Moreover, the life of contemplation is not the domain of saints alone, or hermits alone, neither is it confined to those consecrated to the ministry, or those who are engaged with the study of theology. The door of contemplation is wide open for every one. In this regard, St. Gregory the Great writes: “It is not the case that the grace of contemplation is given to the highest and not given to the lowest; it is received by the simple monk and by the married person … It is not the high and pre-eminent members of holy Church only who have the grace of contemplation; but many members have already mounted to its heights although their position in the Church still seems low.”

In his book “Orthodox Prayer life” , Father Matta el-Meskeen concludes the chapter on ‘the contemplative vs. the active life’ by saying,

“It is no joy for the church to have many active members of varied services who lack the spiritual proficiency for renewing souls and regenerating them in a genuine spiritual rebirth to win them for the Kingdom of Heaven.  The true joy of the Church lies in leaders who possess spiritual insight, who walk ahead of their flocks so that the flocks can follow a sure path. It is not possible to obtain spiritual insight by action or study, spiritual insight is attained by silence, retreat and long prayers in their various stages.” (7)

Rachel steals Laban’s idols (household gods, statues)  (Gen. 31:19, 34, 35)

One incident remains to be discussed, which is Rachel’s stealing her father’s household gods.  The question here relates to why such detailed account is given in the Scriptures of this incident.  The literal meaning of the story seems to be going in one direction, and the moral lesson in another, while the spiritual goes in a completely different direction, and for our spiritual life this last one is the most important of the three.  Morally speaking, what happened is looked upon as a theft (according to the Ten Commandments which had not  yet been  received, as more than 400 years separate  Jacob and Moses).  In order for us to grasp the literal meaning, we have to find out the motive for Rachel to do such a deed.  During recent excavations in Palestine, a number of small statues were discovered; it was customary in those days to use such statues in witchcraft, and people called them ’teraphim’.  These were also used as legal inheritance documents.  The presence of such statues with Jacob would make him the legitimate heir of Laban.(8) St. Gregory The Theologian does not find fault with Rachel’s stealing of the statues, particularly considering that Laban “had sold us, and devoured the money given for us” (Gen. 31:15).

St. Gregory finds resemblance between Rachel’s deed and the act of the Israelites (upon God’s order) of looting the Egyptians; the Israelites were to ask their neighbors for jewelry of silver and gold, and clothing the night they were about to leave Egypt (Ex. 11:2-3, 12:35-36).  St. Gregory mentioned this in one of his homilies on the feast of the Resurrection: “Let us follow the example of Rachel and Leah in their sublime behavior.  Do not hesitate to steal any statue you might find belonging to your father.  But do not keep them – smash them.  And if you are a wise Israelite, carry the statues with you to the land of promise until the oppressors wails for their loss, and learns that it is in vain to dominate and enslave people who might be much better than them.  If you did that and got out of Egypt, you would be guided by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night; the wilderness would be harnessed for your sake, the sea torn apart, Pharaoh would be drowned  and the sky would rain bread.”(9)


(6)– C. Faust, xxii 52, 58, in “Western Mysticism” pp. 230-231.

(7) –  “Orthodox Prayer Life” by Fr. Matthew The Poor has been published in English By St. Vladimir Press, NY, USA, in 2003. However, this was an abridged edition and the Chapter on “The Contemplative Life vs. The Active Life” was not included in it. It is available only in the Arabic version (Published by St. Makarios Monastery, Egypt). Most of the quotations in this section has been taken from the Arabic Edition. The stages of spiritual prayer are explained in detail in the English edition.

(8) – Isaac and Jacob: God’s chosen Ones by H. Gaubert (Hastings House), pp. 66,67.

(9) – St. Gregory the theologian, second homily on Resurrection, (“Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers”, second series Vol. 7, pages 430,431).

Saint Mark’s Orthodox Fellowship urges you to study the Bible and encourage others to do the same. Please feel free to make any copies from these notes and distribute them to your relatives and friends.  The Fellowship welcomes any questions or comments.

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