Beautiful Women in the Torah

Dear Rabbi

Before I say anything about Jacob, I will go back and ask again a question that has always escaped any real plausible explanation for me. How does one get chosen? 
You have been waiting for my thoughts on Jacob, well here they are. First and foremost, Jacob is a taker but I do not see what he gives in return. Last week we saw that he took his brother's birthright and his blessing. This week he starts out by taking something from G-d. The famous ladder scene shows us that he has the ability to dream and interpret these dreams. He is also shown as someone that can have some sort of dialogue with G-d. After experiencing this miracle, what does he do? Well he erects a monument to the event, but he does something else that displays his basic tendency. During the First Aliyah, the following takes place:
20. And Jacob uttered a vow, saying, “If G-d will be with me, and He will guard me on this way, upon which I am going, and He will give me bread to eat and a garment to wear;
21. And if I return in peace to my gather’s house, and the Lord will be my G-d;”
Talk about chutzpah. He is actually touched by the presence of G-d yet he will only go with the Supreme Being, if G-d does something for him first. Is this the example of a man of faith? And while I am analyzing the last sentence, does Jacob entertain thoughts about another G-d?
Moving on to the Second Aliyah the producer of the movie “Shallow Hal” must have gotten his thoughts from what transpires herein. In the movie “Hal” is fixated with physical beauty and cannot see the inner beauty of females until he is hypnotized into thinking this way. Well Jacob meets Rachel and is immediately taken in by her beauty. How do we know of her physical appearance? Well it is right in the text when we read:
16. Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.
17. Leah’s eyes were tender, but Rachel had beautiful features and a beautiful complexion.
Yes, Laban deceives Jacob into marrying Leah but unlike the movie, Jacob never sees Leah’s inner beauty because he must have Rachel and does Laban’s bidding in order to get her. What does this teach us?
And while we are on it, why is there this overriding theme in Genesis that beauty matters? Sarah and Rebecca are so beautiful that Abraham and Isaac have to tell them to go with kings and tell the king that they are the brothers of these women, lest they might die. Rachel’s inner qualities are never really mentioned but we do see Leah doing anything to please her husband and never even getting a thank you for producing six sons and a daughter from their nights together. In case you come back with a remark that Jacob does not hate Leah but only loves Rachel more, explain the Third Aliyah when it says the following:
31. And the Lord saw that Leah was hated, so He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.
And going back to my original thought of Jacob being a taker, he may not express any love for Leah, but he never throws her out of bed either.
While I am dissecting this parshah, I am also going to go back to another question that I posed, to wit, how does one become Jewish? I know that we discussed the maternal side as being a key but when does this take place? One of the reasons I ask again is the curious theft by Rachel, who in the Sixth Aliyah does the following:
19. Now Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and [meanwhile] Rachel stole her father's teraphim.
What if anything did Jacob explain to his wives about his lineage and the belief of his grandfather and father about one G-d? Why does Rachel take the idols? Is she hoping that this will give her some luck in her escape from her father with Jacob, because she thinks they have some power?
Given what you have asked me before about what I think of things, especially my repeated question about how one gets chosen, I will come back with this.
As a descendent of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs, I am one of the “Chosen People”. As my own history is a reflection of what my forefathers and mothers have shown us, Jews are far from perfect. Why we were “chosen” and for what purpose, is what we have to think about as we read the Torah for answers.


Dear Mordecai,

What you write about Jacob never throwing Leah out of bed in spite of not being in love with her is hilarious. I really like what you write about physical beauty. My whole adult – and young adult – life I have wrestled with the fact of women’s beauty and its hypnotizing quality. Leah is unmistakably a pious woman. We have no evidence in the text that she possesses a wicked instinct, though I do wonder if she was complicit in Laban’s ploy to switch her with Rachel. And by the way, the Jews – descendants of Judah – are from Leah, not Rachel.
I think the reason beauty is mentioned in the Book of Genesis – regarding Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel – is because it speaks to flesh and bone, not idealized persons who can ascertain inner qualities and bypass physical beauty. As I said, this has been tremendous internal struggle for me all my post puberty life, and I don’t know if I am any better for having done this wrestling.
Regarding Jacob’s hatred of Leah, I disapprove of it, but if you’re looking for a rational explanation, you can easily posit that he hated her because she was a constant reminder that 1) he had been duped 2) that he could not have the monogamous relationship with Rachel that he desired.
I have dedicated my sermon to Jacob’s conditional response to the divine promise in his dream that leads you to ask, “Is this the example of a man of faith?”
Your consistent return to the question How does one become Jewish? Is very important and could serve as a recurring theme in our correspondence over the course of this year and our reading of the Torah. To answer your question, the maternal side becomes paramount only during the rabbinic era, from about the year 200 CE on. Again, Shaye J. D. Cohen has written about this topic.
I think that you are right that Rachel steals the idols because she believes they have power and will help her, her sister, Jacob, and their kids escape from Laban. Rachel is – at this point – an idolater. A Biblical critic would point out that Rachel’s primary descendant, Ephraim, was the leading tribe of the Northern Kingdom after Solomon’s reign. The Northern Kingdom, as you know, submitted to idolatry, and was destroyed by the Assyrians, never to be reconstituted.
The second question you raise and have raised before is, How does one become chosen? This overlaps with how does one become Jewish? But it can be treated as a separate question. Being Jewish is ethnic. Being chosen is religious. In the modern world, we are forced to bifurcate the Jew into pieces that conform to Westerners’ understanding of the world. For Jews, ethnicity and religion are intrinsically bound together forming one entity. If we feel compelled to be analytic – modern and Western – then we can split them apart and explain each in its own terms.
You characterize Jacob as a taker, and I think this description can be textually supported, but I would point out that more than that, Jacob is a person in development. Watch his changes over time. Let me add that the fact that G-d communicates with him at this juncture through dreams is highly notable and speaks to his early stage of development – his taking stage.
Jews are far from perfect, and the character of Jewish people is a topic of extreme importance to any rabbi or any Jew for that matter concerned about his people. The question why were we chosen must be asked against the background of Why we were chosen instead of some other people being chosen. Who else could fulfill this role better than we have? Several midrashim address this issue. You may be familiar with this Midrash for starters.
What purpose we were chosen for has to do with G-d and His vision for humanity and takes the emphasis off of us and puts it on His plan. The Torah will illustrate this.