Anyone who deals with matchmaking will eventually have to tackle this question: Is it a better idea to make a match between a girl and a boy who are similar in character or do matches between sharply contrasting characters— who complement one another and are drawn to one another like opposite poles of a magnet—have a greater chance of being successful?
In practice, the answer to this question depends on who makes the match: In places where the match is managed mostly by the couple’s parents, the inclination is to make every effort to match like with like. In places where the younger generation initiates their own relationships and decides whom they will marry, we find many instances of opposites being attracted to one another.
These two types of matches are also characterized by different customs related to writing wedding invitations. On the one hand, there are those who write, “You are cordially invited to the wedding of our children… [name of the groom] with the girl of his age (עִם בַּת גִּילוֹ), [name of the bride],” which refers not only to the groom and bride’s age in years, but also to the general similarity between them; like grafting one grapevine to another. On the other hand, there are those who write, “We are happy to invite you… [name of groom] with his heart’s choice (עִם בְּחִירַת לִבּוֹ), [name of bride].” Whereas the former type refers to a marriage between similars, the latter refers to a type of marriage in which the two partners may be very different from one another. Nonetheless, this is exactly what bonds them together.
Jacob Chooses a Wife
Jacob received a farewell blessing from his parents, but he left home entirely alone. It is he who chooses a wife for himself, without even one phone call from his worried parents (apparently there was no reception in Charan). Jacob’s choice of Rachel as a wife was entirely “his heart’s choice.” As the verse states, even before they were married, “And Jacob loved Rachel.” Their relationship began literally with love at first sight. But Jacob’s parents, Isaac and Rebecca, had never set eyes on Rachel before they married, and Jacob’s father-in-law, Laban, was not happy with his choice at all. Instead, Laban exchanged Rachel for Leah, against Jacob’s will and without any prior notification.
Let’s think for a moment, which sister is more similar to Jacob? Rachel is “beautiful of form, with beautiful looks.” She is an active character, who goes out alone to shepherd the flocks. Leah, by contrast, is an introverted, somewhat isolated character. Although she is the older sister, she does not go out to shepherd the flocks but stays at home. Instead, she has time for her thoughtful reflections and tears, as the Torah states, “And Leah’s eyes were soft [with tears].” There is something about Leah that is more similar to Jacob, the “sincere man who sits in tents.” Even when we look at the generation of Jacob’s sons, we see that most of the spiritual significance that we associate with Jacob appears in Leah’s sons throughout the generations: the Levites and the Kohanim (Priests) descend from Levi; the Torah was given via Moses, who was also a Levite; and the royal family descends from Judah. In contrast, Rachel’s sons receive secondary importance, so much so that a significant portion of them were even detached for a prolonged period of time from the Jewish Nation (during the exile of the ten tribes).
Two Worlds Meet
According to Kabbalah, the match between Jacob and Leah is higher than that of Jacob and Rachel. Leah is called “the Concealed World” and Rachel is called “the Revealed World.” Leah represents the realm of thought, while Rachel represents the realm of speech. Jacob’s soul had a very profound hidden root that was identical to Leah’s, which he highlighted and reinforced on his way from Canaan to Charan. In the middle of this journey, he spent fourteen years studying Torah in the study hall of Shem and Ever. But, after the time spent there, he left to continue to Charan. There in Charan he came into contact with the harsh reality of the outside world, and had to cope with swindlers and enemies. As a result of needing to confront outer reality, Jacob was also outside his inner core or element. This is why he did not find anything particularly attractive about Leah.
But, just as Jacob was a “sincere man who dwells in tents,” Leah also dwelled in the “tent” of her own home. She was the one more likely to be considered as his sister, or his chevruta (study partner), and there was nothing exciting about her he could write home about. If his parents had been in the picture, they might well have made the match between Jacob and Leah, but now he followed his heart, which was naturally attracted towards Rachel. She had something about her that he found attractive, something that he could become enthusiastic about and fall in love with; marriage to her is an adventure into a new domain.
Nonetheless, Jacob still needs to marry Leah, as well as Rachel. One might say that instead of his parents, Divine Providence takes advantage of Laban’s devious scheming to effect Jacob’s marriage to Leah. Retroactively, Jacob understands―and we also realize―that Leah is also his perfect match, because she is a “girl of his age.” The source of Jacob’s connection with Leah is not from the heart; rather, it is a profound intellectual relationship that needs to be acknowledged, nurtured and appreciated, even if the natural flow of things does not initially lead to Jacob wanting to marry her.
Quite the contrary, it seems that the novel idea here is in the Torah’s approval of Jacob following his heart. Usually, the Torah’s attitude is to be suspicious of the heart’s natural tendencies, “The inclination of a man’s heart is evil from his youth,” “his heart’s thoughts are directed to evil all day.” Indeed, if we let an evil person follow his heart, we’re in deep trouble! But, Jacob is a tzadik, a righteous man whose heart desires only good things, “the desire of the righteous is only good.”Therefore Jacob could rely on his heart, to decide with complete certainty that Rachel should be the mainstay and more prominent figure of his home. This approach holds fast even after Leah gives birth to more sons than Rachel. Throughout it all, Rachel remained Jacob’s most esteemed wife.
Yet, matchmaking is not the only issue here. In a broader sense, Jacob’s marriages to Leah and Rachel constitute the entire story of the Jewish People—the Children of Israel (Jacob’s other name)—and also how we relate to the Almighty.
Jacob’s relationship with Leah is what we might call a normal religious lifestyle. Most of us don’t study Torah and perform mitzvot because we have a natural instinct to do so. However, we do understand intellectually that this is the lifestyle that suits us as Jews, and this is the golden path that our forefathers trod. Religious Jews also know that they need to subdue their attraction to foreign paths and to annul their will to serve God’s will. In Chassidic terminology, this is the service that belongs to “Leah’s persona” (פַּרְצוּף לֵאָה).
In contrast, the relationship between Jacob and Rachel is a natural lifestyle. At first glance, we might think that a natural lifestyle does not express any connection with God. One can eat, drink, sleep, love or hike naturally, but all this is part of our secular life. But, the moment we touch on the realm of sanctity, it appears that those natural instincts just don’t want to cooperate; we can only hope that they don’t interfere too much with our endeavors towards the Divine! Nonetheless, we are convinced that we also have an innate Jewish nature that goes beyond our natural instincts. That profound level of our Jewish nature is simply and naturally in love with the Almighty. This is despite the infinite distance there is between us, as the verse states “God is in the heavens, and you are on earth.” In fact, it is this very same chasm that causes the attractive pull between two complete opposites who ultimately complement each other. This is one reason why Chassidut explains that the main part of the redemption is “reconstructing Rachel’s persona” (בִּנְיָן פַּרְצוּף רָחֵל), which ultimately refers to the revelation of a natural Jewish consciousness. This level of consciousness not only observes the Torah and performs mitzvot—because “that’s what we should do”—but because that is what our heart genuinely desires.
So we can follow our hearts if we are righteous, and in fact, the entire Jewish nation are called a “nation of tzadikim (righteous people),” and in the future we will all merit to act according to our rectified natural Jewish consciousness.
Adapted from Rabbi Ginsburgh’s books in Hebrew, Rucho Shel Mashiach and Mechol Hakeramim