In this Midrashic Monologue, we reimagine the moments after Leah gave birth to her first child, Reuven.
In both the Torah and most of the subsequent textual tradition, the relationship between Leah and Rachel, who are both sisters and sister-wives, is depicted as contentious and filled with animosity. In fact, in Genesis, the majority of their story centers around their competition for the love of their husband, Jacob. Unfortunately, this narrative framing often reduces these women to mere caricatures.
In this Midrashic Monologue, we join Leah and Rachel at a critical and beautiful moment in the life of their family, and we allow them to interact with one another in human and realistic ways.
Rachel wept when she held her nephew for the first time.
Leah had made this being- carrying and protecting him for months, helping him to grow, even as her back bowed with his heavy weight.
His fingers, his toes- her sister had made them all. Rachel glanced over at Leah, propped up on her bedroll. She wondered if that's the way God had looked after creating the world.
Her nephew squirmed, and Rachel hurried to adjust her hold knowing that if he cried, she would have to relinquish him to his mother.
As he quieted, she studied his face.
She thought she saw a hint of Leah’s childhood talent for mischief around his eyes. And perhaps she glimpsed her sister’s kindheartedness in the way that his mouth shifted into what would someday be a smile.
As her nephew’s face blurred, she realized that she was crying again. “Don’t mind me,” she whispered to him, “I can’t seem to stop myself. It’s just that you’re our family’s past and future all wrapped up into one beautiful creature. When I look at you, I want to cry and laugh at the same time.”
He made a grunting noise, as if in reply, and Rachel laughed, “I know. I’ll stop eventually. Hopefully before you’re old enough to be embarrassed by your weepy aunt.”
Leah called to her, and Rachel brought her nephew to his mother.
“What will you call him?”
Leah smiled at the child in her arms and said, “We’ve chosen Reuven,* the first son of this generation.”
Rachel joined her sister on her bedroll and nodded, “A beautiful name.”
The women sat together for a time, watching the baby in front of them, marvelling at the fact that they had only known him for moments and already felt so much for him.
Noticing that the sun had begun to set, Rachel realized that she had been sitting in the tent for hours. She stretched and began to stand, knowing that it was time to prepare their family’s evening meal.
Leah grabbed her hand and pulled her back down beside her. “Rachel, do you remember the prayer that Ima** would say for us each night?”
Rachel smiled, “Of course.”
“Will you help me say it for Reuven tonight, his first night on this earth?”
Leah’s face became blurry as Rachel’s eyes filled once again, but she resolutely wiped away her tears and nodded.
Rachel moved closer to her sister, and Leah shifted Reuven so that both women could hold him.
Together, they blessed the next generation of their family with the words that they had inherited from their ancestors:
Mkor Chayeinu, Source of Our Lives,
Protect our children from all troubles and worries.
Let their sleep be deep and filled with dreams for their futures.
Guard them when they wake and run toward adventure.
Be a constant source of strength in their lives.
Ezrat Nafsheinu, Sustainer of Our Souls,
Be with us as we guide our children.
Ease our worries and help us to remember that we do not walk this path alone.
Give us the strength to triumph over the inevitable trials that we will face.
Imoteinu v’Avoteinu, Our Parent,
We hold a miracle in our arms.
Thank you for trusting us with the divine sparks in each of our children.
As one, the sisters leaned over and placed a kiss on the baby’s head.
Leah sighed sleepily and said, “Will you stay with us for a little while longer?”
Rachel looked at her sister’s soft eyes and then at her nephew’s curious stare. She smiled, “Where else would I go?”
The sisters leaned into one another, settling deeper into the blankets, content to spend the night watching over the newest leaf on their family’s tree, a precious miracle, their Reuven.
*Genesis 29 tells us that Leah believed the name Reuven meant, “Adonai has seen my affliction” and “Now my husband will love me.” In this MM, we use its more literal meaning (“See, a son”) in order to better reflect the way that we imagine the women’s relationship.
**Hebrew for mother