Vayeitzei – R’vi’i

Mandrakes and the Magician

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Reuven went for a walk during the wheat harvest, when he found some mandrakes. He brought some back to his mother, Leah. (The mandrake was used as an aphrodisiac and Reuven was aware that his mother wanted to have more children.) Rachel saw this and asked Leah to share. Leah’s response was defensive. “It’s not enough that you’ve taken my husband?” Rachel offered a deal: it was her turn for Yaakov to sleep in her tent. She would trade that turn for the mandrakes. This arrangement was agreeable to all parties, so Leah went out to meet Yaakov and to inform him of the change in plans.

That night, Leah conceived a son, whom she named Yisachar (Issachar), since G-d had rewarded her. She later bore her sixth (and final) son, whom she named Zevulun (Zebulon), indicating her hope that Yaakov reside with her permanently. After that, Leah had a daughter, whom she named Dinah, from the word for judgment. (There is an opinion that each of Yaakov’s sons had a twin sister – see, for example, Genesis 37:35. If so, Dinah may be the only one named because she’s the only one who figures into the narrative.)

G-d paid special attention to Rachel and permitted her to conceive. She had a son, whom she named Yosef (Joseph), indicating her desire that G-d should increase her offspring.

After Yosef’s birth, Yaakov told Lavan that he wanted to settle up their tab and return to the land of Israel. Lavan told Yaakov that he was well aware – by means of sorcery – that his prosperity was due to Yaakov. Therefore, he told Yaakov to name his own wages for all his work. (As was the case with Efron the Hittite, we will see that this offer is not quite so magnanimous as it first seems.)

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