Learning to Pray Like Leah
On Friday nights, we bless our daughters in honor of the Matriarchs: Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah. When I ask people what they know about the Matriarch Leah, they usually give me a blank stare, or ask me, “Didn’t she cry a lot? Wasn’t her sister prettier than she was?” Or, “I don’t think I know anything about Leah.”
If this is the Matriarch whom we want our daughters to emulate, we should probably know the true meaning of her story – so let’s revisit it. Rivka had twin boys, Eisav and Yaakov, while Lavan had two daughters, Rachel and Leah. Leah was originally meant to marry Eisav. The matchmakers of the time said, “Oh, look! The older boy will marry the older girl, and the younger boy will marry the younger girl!” The Midrash Tanchuma explains that Leah would go to the crossroads and ask about this fellow, Eisav. Leah was devastated when she discovered that Eisav was a thief, a cheat, and a murderer. How was it that she was destined to marry such a man? How could Eisav be her soul mate? This was clearly not an equal match. Leah was good, and Eisav was evil. What was G-d thinking? And so Leah broke down in tears.
I’m sure you’re thinking, Why would anyone want to bless their children to be like Leah? This is a curse! The Torah describes Leah as having “tender eyes,” which many interpret to be criticism. Usually when the Torah describes someone in a way that seems to be negative, it is to teach the reader a lesson. Perhaps the term “tender eyes” is deeper than we think.
At first glance, it appears as though Leah is reacting with tears of anger and sadness. However, in actuality, she was turning to G-d with prayer. And thus, something profound happened. Leah refused to accept her fate. This reaction was exactly what Hashem wanted from her. It took real chutzpah to resist G-d’s plan for her. Sometimes, Hashem presents us with challenges, and we have a choice to accept them or turn to Him, asking Him to change our situation. Leah brought G-d close to her. She didn’t speak to Him as a distant deity, out in some unreachable place. She spoke to G-d as though He were there with her, ready to hear her whispers and tender tears.
When my son was two years old, I started to get very bad headaches. So bad, they were debilitating. Initially, I thought they were just migraines, but they would linger for days. It got to the point that my mother had to fly in from out of town to care for my son, as I was bedridden. Shortly after, I decided to get an MRI. It was nerve-wracking. I tried to remain calm and cool after the first scan, but when the technician came into the room and asked if it would be okay to inject fluid into my arm to take another look, I asked him if this was standard procedure. He gulped, nervously, and said, “No, Mrs. Pachter, this is not standard. We think we might see something on the left side of your brain.”
“Okay, I responded. “Go ahead.”
He injected the fluid, and there I was again being scanned, trapped inside this machine that reminded me of a coffin. My body began to tremble, and I tried to keep still as tears began streaming down my face. I started to pray. I prayed like I have never prayed before. I started talking to G-d out loud, and not as though He was somewhere far away, but like He was right there with me, inside of that MRI machine. I said, “Hashem, if this is truly Your will for me, I accept it. But Hashem, it can’t be! Please. Who is going to take care of my son? How will I be a good mommy to him? Please do not give me this challenge.” All I kept thinking was about how my husband and son and family would be without me.
I soon found out that by the grace of G-d, it was nothing to be concerned about. It was simply scar tissue left over from a previous illness. But the intensity of that moment, I will never forget. Although no one was in the machine with me, I was not alone. Hashem was with me all along.
Leah shows us the power of prayer through her tender eyes. The Torah is praising her for her ability to turn to G-d in her time of pain. So how did G-d answer Leah?
He gave her Yaakov to marry.
Sometimes, G-d wants us to say “no” to Him. He wants those special, brokenhearted tefillos. By speaking to Him with fervor, we can draw Him close.