2.23 The Patriarchal Family
The heritage of family strife experienced by Jacob as a child, and by Leah and Rachel, passed, along with the covenant blessing, into their menage-a-trois marriage. Jacob, with the cluelessness inherent in the men of his family, inccreased rather than resolved the problem:
Jacob lay with Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years. When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren (Gen 29:30-31).
The relationship of Leah and Rachel mirrored that of Esau and Jacob. The sisters were at loggerheads, striving for primacy over one another. Their children became counters in an unending competition for status.
When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, "Give me children, or I'll die!" (Gen 30:1).
Then Leah said, "God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons" (Gen 30:20).
In order to boost production of heirs, each sister offered her maid as her surrogate to increase the headcount of children and so augment the relative power of the sponsoring wife. Rachel's maid Bilhah bore Dan and Naphtali, Leah's maid Zilpah bore Gad and Asher. Jacob's role was the studmuffin, a purely passive pawn in the wives' struggle for possession of the Promise. This internecine struggle went on for years, and it must have colored the atmosphere of the entire household. The boys grew up with an incredible sense of factionalism. It was not enough to be identified as a son of Jacob, one was also aligned as either a son of Rachel or of Leah, and (an even further delineation), as either a full-blooded son, or just a son of the surrogate.
"Jacob's sons, who are to become the fathers of the chosen people, are conceived in passionate rivalry and bitterness, born of preferred and despised wives and concubines, in startling fulfillment of God's promise to make of Abraham a great nation" (Interpreters, p.22).
This situation was a duplicate of Abraham's original household, but with the tensions magnified. And they later bore fruit in the favoritism shown Joseph, and his subsequent rejection, expulsion and enslavement. Can we not also see in these events the dynamics of racial hatred? In each case, a random mark of distinction overpowered and defeated a bond of common identity. In Jacob's family the mark of distinction was the son's mother, which outweighed the fact that all the sons had Jacob as their father. In racism, the mark of distinction may be skin-color, caste or country of origin, which outweighs common citizenship.