When I was growing up bespectacled people were few and far between. To us, they represented poshness, sophistication and brilliance. Having been a spectacle-wearer for over 20 years now, I know that’s not necessarily the case. While some spectacles in the market cost a pretty penny and fabulously accessorise the wearer’s dress, they really are a sign of weak eyes. I can’t help but remember the joy when I walked out of the optician’s with my first pair to a whole new world where I could recognize the face of the person waving at me and read the billboards and names on buildings all around me!
Leah did not have the advantage of spectacles. She was known for her weak eyes. But that was hardly the full extent of her problems. Her younger sister, belle of the ball, was well known for her lovely figure and beauty. Leah knew well how it is to grow up under someone else’s shadow. The insensitive comparisons, pitying glances and always the wonder; how could the two possibly be sisters. She simply was not enough. As if that was not enough, she ‘accidentally’ married her sister’s beau! “How?” You wonder.
Being young enough not to have been born when arranged marriages were a thing, it’s hard for me to find a modern equivalent. Maybe when your crush marries you, on the rebound, but his heart is still with the other woman? Well, Leah was delivered by her father, disguised as her sister, to Jacob who was expecting Rachel for their wedding night. That did not go well. Jacob loved Rachel and could not wait for the forced honeymoon with Leah to be over after which he promptly took beautiful Rachel as his wife.
However, apparently, not all the universe was against Leah because – guess what? She could bear children while her sister could not. Was there a higher aspiration for a woman? Surely this, if nothing else would make everything alright? Jacob would love her and she would have a place of honour in society. In the setting of yesteryears where polygamy was more acceptable, co-wives would sometimes name their babies in a way to pass on a message. You might hear the sneering “we’ll see who has the upper hand” in the name of a child. People living on the East African coast have their Khanga’s – that colourful cloth a woman wraps around herself with the message prominently displayed. Messages like, umekuja na lako, usichunguze la mwenzako, telling “To Whom it May Concern” to mind their own business.
And so it was, when baby number one arrived, Leah declared, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now” and accordingly named her son Reuben. Simeon arrived second, “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too… Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” She thought as she named the third one Levi.
It seems awfully primitive – right? All this fighting over a man, judging and ranking people by physical appearance and validating oneself with their children. Who does that any more? I am sure a woman who has miserably hopped from one diet to another hoping it will do the trick knows the answer. Or those in the race for the perfect family – make it a boy and a girl, make sure they are intelligent and wildly talented please! Throw in a ‘dark and handsome’ on whose hand to hang on and we are now worthy. Don’t forget the academic papers, and all those competencies one needs to develop – presence, public speaking, negotiating – opening the unending quest for self-improvement.
Sadly, it seems that the more things change the more they remain the same. We race to pile up and accumulate whatever our culture tells us is the ‘thing’ that will finally tip us over into ‘worth’. The quest to be worthy, enough, and acceptable haunts us, a teasing mirage never to be reached.
Leah seemed to realise there was no winning in this race. Like trying to quench thirst with salty water, it leaves one even more parched. She opted out. She stopped trying to get validation from the love of a man and so when she gave birth to her fourth son she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” So she named him Judah. The amazing thing is, though she never lived to see it, the promise to Abraham that all the people of the earth would be blessed through him, was fulfilled through her and her son Judah. They became ancestors of the great King David and the promised Messiah.
She of the weak eyes, the less beautiful sister, one not loved by her husband had a place after all in God’s plan. Therein lies our lesson – look beyond human validation to the greatest love of all and the ultimate validator.
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