I Struggled with my Sister and I Discovered Myself…

A Text Message to ALL my sisters on the TLC Weekend of 2012 From Pastor Moh @ TSH 
“With God-wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister and prevailed."(GENESIS 30:8)

WE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE STORIES WE TELL and for those we choose not to tell. Our silences speak volumes about whom, why and what we value. The Bible texts use both speech and silence to open a window into the spiritual quests of our spiritual ancestors. Most of their pilgrimages lead us up a mountain or to some secluded place.

For example:
• Abraham @ Mount Moriah
• Jacob @ Brook Jabbok
• Moses @ Wilderness of Midian
• David @ Negev
• Ruth @ Bethlehem
• Mary, the friend of Jesus @ Lazarus Tomb (John 11)
• Mary, the Mother of Jesus @ the Cross
• Apostle Paul @ Damascus after encountering the Lord Jesus

In this Text Message (Gen. 30:8), we look at the spiritual and familial struggle of Rachel. The story of Rachel and Leah is often told as a classic narrative of sibling rivalry between the unloved fertile wife and the loved and beautiful barren one. Most often, the story is told from Jacob's perspective. We barely get a glimpse of what Rachel and Leah thought or felt. What if they were to speak to us and to each other? What would they teach? Rachel and Leah's rivalry is not unlike that of Jacob and Esau. The brothers struggle for their father's blessing, the sisters for Jacob's love. The brothers fight for the rights of the firstborn, the sisters for the status of the fertile wife. But Jacob's long journey away from his brother's enmity leads him back. After Jacob's struggling with the angel, the two brothers meet. Esau embraces Jacob and they weep. Later they bury their father Isaac together.

BUT there is no narrative that tells of a similar struggle and reconciliation between the sisters. With each new birth Rachel and Leah appear to grow farther apart from each other; they never find one another's embrace. They die and are buried APART. Rachel is buried alone in Bethlehem, on the way to Ephratha, and Leah with Jacob in Mach- pelah. The text leaves Rachel and Leah separated by jealousy, and Jacob and Esau in each other's embrace. On this TLC Weekend of 2012, if we read the story through a woman's perspective… what if we allowed Rachel and Leah to speak for themselves… would they find reconciliation?

In Gen. 30:8, in the context of Rachel's jealousy over her sister's ability to bear children, we read, "With God-wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister and prevailed." The Hebrew is naftulei elohim, which means "great wrestlings," or more literally, "God wrestlings." Later, in describing Jacob's encounter, Gen. 32:25 reads, "Then Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled (va ye avek) with him until sunrise." While the Hebrew word for "wrestle" in this verse is not the one used for Rachel's struggle, the two contests are very similar. Jacob's struggle is with the Lord, an event marking not only a change of name but of character. However, historically in Christian traditions Rachel's wrestling is dismissed as nothing more than a fight with her sister. It is customary to view men's conflicts as serious confrontations and women's as nothing more than cat fights. But what if we imagine God in Rachel's struggle? Jacob does not let his adversary go until he blesses him. Does Rachel also demand and get a blessing from her adversary? Jacob's struggle tells us that before we can meet the other, reconcile with our enemy, find peace and acceptance, we must separate, find that space apart from others to come to know ourselves better.

Fearful of his brother's anger and jealousy, Jacob had to flee from Esau, build a life apart from him in Haran, while Rachel and Leah build their lives in the same tent space, alongside each other. Rachel's struggle teaches us that reconciliation is not a process apart from other people, but with them, and that we come to better know ourselves through the eyes of another human being.
Points to note about one’s spiritual formation journey…


  1. Jacob tells us that spiritual growth demands solitude.
  2. Rachel and Leah tell us that spiritual growth demands engagement with one another.
  3. A spiritual life is not always developed in isolation but engagement. In between solitude, in the encounters of one with the other, the soul is nourished, and Christ is found.

What Rachel sees reflected in Leah's soul are the unloved parts of herself??? We don't read of Rachel as the unloved one. Yet her father offers her older sister to her beloved Jacob, callous to the feelings of his youngest daughter. God has presumably blessed Rachel with beauty. She was "of beautiful form and fair to look upon" (Gen. 20:17). Yet God does not bless her with the children for whom she yearns. She can claim neither her father's love nor God's love. Her anger, her jealousy of Leah, is perhaps a self-hatred for the love she cannot find in herself. Rachel is fearful of recognizing that the unloved Leah is not only a sister but herself. And Leah is fearful of recognizing that the barren Rachel is not only her sister, but indeed herself. The fullness of her womb does not compensate for the emptiness of the soul.

The ancient Jewish rabbis imagine that Jacob's struggle with the angel is in fact a struggle with his brother, Esau. So we imagine that Rachel's wrestling with her sister Leah is also a Divine struggle. In the end, the angel blesses Jacob. In the end, Leah and the Lord bless Rachel. After the sisters' encounter, Leah gives Rachel mandrakes (Gen. 30:15), which seem to be either aphrodisiacs or fertility plants, and not long after that, Rachel bears a son, Joseph. A medieval Midrash (a Jewish commentary through the oral traditions of Israel) provides us with another striking statement of reconciliation among all the wives of Jacob – the matriarchs of Israel:
“Now all the wives of Jacob, Leah, Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah, united their prayers with the prayer of Jacob, and together they besought God to remove the curse of barrenness from Rachel. On New Year's Day, the day whereon God sits in judgment upon the inhabitants of the earth, God remembered Rachel and granted her a son.” ---- From the Midrash IlaCadol, cited in Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1968), 1:197

The women are not competitors, but sisters. The result of their solidarity is new life, God's blessing. Just as Jacob's struggle is transforming, allowing him to emerge as Israel, Rachel's wrestling allows her to become a mother in Israel, a matriarch of Israel. At the end of Jacob's struggle, it appears that Jacob and Esau have resolved their differences. Yet tradition records their descendants as eternal enemies. Rachel reminds us that reconciliation is ongoing, a healing process that continues even after death, for generations. Rachel bears a second son and names him Ben Oni, "son of my sorrow," and she dies and is buried in Bethlehem, "on the way" to Ephratha (Gen. 35:19). Could her sorrow be regret over the rivalry with her sister? Could her burial "on the way" mean "on the way to reconciliation"? Jacob and Esau's children are enemies; Rachel and Leah's are not. Despite internal bickering and jealousies, they are still FAMILY!!!
In fact, it is Rachel who greets Leah's children as they return from exile, and according to the Midrash, Rachel prays to God for their return. Her prayer is extraordinary:
“If I, a creature of flesh and blood, formed of dust and ashes, was not envious of my rival and did not expose her to shame and contempt, why should you, Ruler who lives eternally and are merciful, be jealous of idolatry and exile my children? Forthwith the mercy of the Holy One, the Blessed One, was stirred, and God said, "For your sake, Rachel, I will restore Israel to their place." ---- From Eikha Rabbah P'tikhta, .Midrash Rabbah (New York: Soncino, 1983), 7:49.

Jewish tradition notes that it is because of Rachel's prayer that God and the children of Israel are reconciled with each other. Reconciliation is not a one-time accomplishment, but a process that continues. We transfer ourselves to our children…our children carry with them our enmities, and our loves.

The story of Rachel and Leah ends with Rachel's tears. Jacob and Esau's story also ends in tears. The two brothers weep out of relief. For the moment, the battle they anticipated does not ensue. Yet their descendants do battle, and the conflict between them continues for generations. But Rachel's tears are different. In Jer. 3I:I5 Rachel is pictured as weeping for her children, "who are not." The Jewish people read this passage on Rosh Hashanah (New Year), a time of turning and repentance, and see Rachel as a model for reconciliation. Rachel's tears, unlike Jacob's and Esau's, are vessels of forgiveness and healing. These tears bring her children home. In an age where our primary battles are within the family, we have much to learn from the struggle between two sisters. Rachel and Leah teach us that reconciliation involves struggle, not only with the external enemy but also with ourselves. It asks that we see what we hate in the other as part of us. Jacob teaches us about the need for solitude, for detachment from the encumbrance of relationships and responsibilities in order to nourish the soul. Rachel reminds us that we also embark on the spiritual journey with others, that our character is formed in the midst of the demands and trials of daily life. She teaches us to find within all encounters the presence of God, and to wrestle from that presence a blessing. We need both sides of the river after all. How good it is to abide for a while at TLC with Rachel and Leah, across the river Jabbok.


  • Adapted from The Women's Torah Commentary: New Insights from Women Rabbis on the 54Weekly Torah Portions (p. 84): “Wrestling on the other side of the river” by Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso