Parashat Vayetzei

וַיֶּאֱהַב גַּם-אֶת-רָחֵל מִלֵּאָה… וַיַּרְא ה׳ כִּי-שְׂנוּאָה לֵאָה

And he also loved Rachel more than Leah… And Gd saw that Leah was hated.

The Torah discusses Yaakov’s relationship with Leah in consecutive verses. In the first, on the occasion of his marriage to Rachel, we are told Rachel is also loved, more than Leah in fact. In the second, we are given Gd’s response. He sees that Leah was hated, and so he gives her a child. If Rachel was also loved, yet more than Leah, that implies that Leah was loved originally, and even after Yaakov married Rachel, he still loved Leah, albeit somewhat less. Yet, the Torah then proceeds with the very harsh statement that Leah was hated. How can Leah be both loved and hated? Did Yaakov love Leah at all?

Radak suggests that in truth Yaakov did love Leah, as the first verse suggests. But since he loved Rachel more, the Torah writes that he hated Leah by comparison. Any time there are two wives and one is loved, the other is hated by default. Leah knew she was loved, but felt hurt and abandoned, knowing she would always be second to her sister.

But there is another approach. Rather than saying the love was primary, and the word hate is only meant to indicate a comparison with Rachel, one can say that Yaakov did in truth hate Leah. Shockingly, several commentators and Bereshit Rabba do say our patriarch hated his wife. He blamed Leah for being complicit in Lavan’s chicanery and resented being married to her. But in that case, how could he be said to love her at all? The Netziv answers that he didn’t. But he tried to act like a loving husband, albeit a distant one. He rationalized to himself that he didn’t hate Leah. He just didn’t love her. He wasn’t close to her, but he still respected her as a wife and gave her honor. But Hashem saw the truth, and the Torah now says forever that Yaakov hated someone.

Ohr Hachaim points out that even Leah did not originally know that her husband hated her. In her righteousness, she charitably assumed that he just didn’t love her. It was only after Shimon was born that she looked back at her relationship and realized that indeed she had been hated. But Hashem knew immediately, and Hashem recorded it.

Last night, I found out that a friend I knew all the way back from Jewish scouting was on his way back from doing a mitzvah when he was accosted by a mob of other Jews over the color of his skin. They hated him and would not listen to reason that he had rights to the sefer Torah he was carrying. I can’t bring myself to think that if any of us reading this now had been there, we would join the mob. No one, I hope, would hate him inwardly and outwardly, simply because he was Black.

But we learn from our parasha, that one does not need to wholly act with hatred, nor even to hate someone at all for Hashem to see it that way. One only needs to treat someone with lesser honor and more suspicion than they would treat another. I have recently been hearing disturbing whispers, that perhaps the mob handled the matter badly, but didn’t they have the right to question him? Didn’t he look suspicious?

Our parasha tells us what those whispers and justifications really are. They are also an expression of hatred. Do we assume every Jew carrying a Torah is off to nefarious purposes? Are we willing to trust some Jews more than others, simply because they look closer to our conception of a Jew? Do we express unequal love towards different Jews? Then it could be written about us how we hate people. Do we perhaps rationalize away our prejudices, like the Netziv said Yaakov did?

Maybe we don’t notice our inner feelings. But Hashem knows them, and if we do hate in our hearts, eventually it will come out. We certainly don’t want future generations forever reading how we hated other Jews. So let us introspect and strive to learn from this moment to do better.