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Rachel and Leah - a conversation

Gender and Sexuality
Deepening Spirituality
World of Diversity
Image of two women side by side


Emma Percy

This dialogue was originally presented at a CRC event in 2015: Re-imagining Church - No Longer Male and Female but One in Christ which was facilitated by Kathy Galloway, Jenny Morgans and Emma Percy.



How much is a woman worth? Well my father thinks I am worth 7 years of labouring and Jacob agreed. So I wait for my man. Seven years of stolen moments and anticipation. How could I imagine the devious decision of my father?  How could he think that Leah and I were interchangeable? How could he rob me of my marriage day? Why did Leah agree? Was she so weak? Was she so jealous? Her behaviour was unforgivable. Hidden from view, kept away from the festivities I wept and listened as my sister married my beloved.


I guess I always knew that to our father we were simply commodities. We were there to be married off in a way that would prove advantageous to him, our needs hardly mattered. So when I was ordered to put on the marriage clothes prepared for my sister what was I supposed to do? And at some level it offered me an escape. Jacob seemed a good man. My father and mother assured me that he would accept the decision, after all one woman was as good as another.

Well it seems that for Jacob one woman is not as good as another. His rage at my father’s deception allowed no kindness towards me. Yet, I was a woman and I was his wife. He took me in his anger. The marriage was consummated without love. And then within a week Rachel is installed in our household, also a wife. I may have had the grander wedding but she elicited the love and devotion of our husband. The substitute bride was not wanted.


How much is a woman worth? It seems I am worth another 7 years of labouring. For that I thank Jacob, for that I despise my father for selling me twice. And how can I let go of the enmity for my sister who took my place. Do not judge my lack of sisterly solidarity. It might have healed if only children had come to me as they were given to her. Leah would bear his first child. I waited and watched and hoped for the signs that my own body would be fruitful but month by month the flow of blood punctured my hopes. I stayed slim and attractive to Jacob while Leah’s body grew large.


God alone did not forget me. I held my son, my first born the fruit of my womb and the son and heir of my reluctant husband Jacob. A son was not to be ignored. The slight flat figure of my sister showed no signs that she would provide a child. Love might take Jacob to her bed but the longing for heirs would bring him to mine.  I prayed that as God had blessed me so Jacob might love me. Yet it doesn’t work like that.

And so it continued. Rachel had the love and I had the children. God made me fruitful. Jacob’s visits may have been rare but the results were there for all to see four healthy sons.


Four healthy sons, of course Jacob was proud. I vented my frustration on Jacob and he simply became angry. God did not bless me. So I gave Jacob my maid Bilhah. She was my property, the one thing my father had given me and any child she bore would be mine. Do not judge my lack of female solidarity unless you have shared and understood my pain.

Jacob did not complain. I did not know whether to weep or rejoice when she told me she was with child. Why was I barren, what was wrong with my body? It seemed Jacob had merely to look at another woman and her womb bore fruit. The child was delivered into my arms and I could hold a son. Dan.

Jacob was easily controlled by me and if Bilhah could provide the sons what need had he of visiting Leah. I delighted in my victory over my sister in Bilhah’s second son.


What is a woman worth? She is valued for the children she can produce. I was not to be bettered. My body may have lost its first vigour but I too had a maid servant whose body I could requisition. So Jacob lay with my maid and two more sons were added to my brood. My sense of status my sense of God’s value my role in life was as a mother of sons.

I knew the pain in my sister’s heart. I saw her superstition, her searching after any possible cures for her barrenness. And I knew that the only chance I had of getting Jacob back into my bed was through her influence. I still longed for recognition for affection for a sense of being a wanted wife.

I sent my Reuben out to gather mandrakes – mysterious mandrakes long held to be a cure for the barren. I made sure she knew and then struck a deal. She must send Jacob to lie with me in exchange for the mandrake roots.

And so he came and God heard my prayers, Issacher was born and visiting me became enough of a habit for Jacob so that I was blessed with two more children another son and then a daughter. Pity her, what future lay in store for a young woman in this household.


I enjoyed the sons of my surrogate but I continued to hope. I tried whatever I could, listened to the tales of any in the desperate desire to bear a child. I took mandrakes from Leah but they seemed to work for her not me. Jacob loved me. He came to me despite my barrenness and he told me the tales of his fore fathers and mothers including Sarah who longed like me for a child and how in the end God had blessed her. So I prayed to his God and when hope seemed dead new life was kindled in my body. At last I could rejoice and at last I could see the pride of my husband’s face as I gave him the son of my body, the fruit of my womb. Joseph.


And Jacob loved Joseph above all his other sons. The time came for Jacob to suggest that we leave my father’s house. And in this my sister and I were of one mind. We owed him nothing. He had created this sisterly rift, pitted our bodies against each other. To him we were merely goods to be traded.


Gladly I left the destructive manipulation of my father. We trusted in the God of Jacob but I did not want to disrespect the old gods so I took the statues from the household. It was a joy to deceive my father using the blood whose monthly flow had proclaimed my lack of fruit.


What is a woman worth? Defined by who we are in relation to the men to whom we belong. Unloved daughter, unwanted wife yet blessed by God as the mother of many sons.


What is a woman worth? Defined by who we are in relation to the men to whom we belong. Deceived daughter, loved wife, knowing the pain of barrenness yet eventually remembered by God and blessed with Joseph.

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