The First Kiss

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Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

I personally find it difficult to imagine that a platonic kiss as insignificant as the commentaries suggest would be recorded by the Torahand, as the first occasion on which a man kissed a woman. It’s also difficult to imagine that Rachel – who was surely older then Rebecca had been when she married Isaac – was so young that there was no romance at all in Jacob’s kiss. Indeed, it is merely a month later that Jacob requests Rachel’s hand in marriage! Genesis, 29:14-18. Let’s get to that.

There is another interesting sequence of verses regarding how Rachel came to be Jacob’s betrothed:

And Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you work for me gratis? Tell me what your wages shall be.” Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel had beautiful features and a beautiful complexion. And Jacob loved Rachel, and he said, “I will work for you seven years for Rachel, your younger daughter.” Genesis, 29:15-18.

To me, the Torah clearly intends to articulate Jacob’s desire for and infatuation with Rachel. It stops in the middle of its narrative to tell us of Rachel’s beauty, and immediately follows that immediately by announcing Jacob’s love for Rachel. And Jacob doesn’t undersell it, either. With unmistakable male bravado and gallantry, he immediately pledges seven years of labor in exchange for Rachel’s hand. When I read this passage, I was heartened by our forefather Jacob’s clear passion for her.

But again, Rashi says nothing. Rabbeinu Bachye offers only that Rachel was five years old at the time, and Jacob did want to marry her until she was twelve and sexually mature, which is why he offered to first work for seven years (despite the fact that his father Isaac married his mother when she was but a three-year-old – see link). And the Or Hachayim goes out of his way to say that the juxtaposition of Rachel’s beauty followed immediately by a statement of Jacob’s love actually teaches us that he did not love her because of her beauty, but rather because he knew that she was to be his wife. Huh? But wasn’t Leah to be his wife as well? What’s wrong with Jacob just finding Rachel hot?


So Jacob worked for Rachel seven years, but they appeared to him like a few days because of his love for her. And Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my days are completed, that I may come to her.”Genesis, 29:20-21.

Here the commentaries are abuzz. The statement “that I may come to her” is apparently a fairly sexually explicit expression, biblically speaking. And how could our patriarch Jacob have spoken that way? Rashi excuses Jacob’s usage of that coarse expression by assuring us that Jacob’s mind was on the twelve tribes that he knew he needed to bear. Rabbeinu Bachye also takes pains to explain (at length) that neither Jacob, Rachel or Leah were ever driven by sexual lust; that to those great people, sex was simply a bodily function capable of producing the next generation of great souls.

And yet –

When Jacob wakes up the morning after his wedding night, and discovers that it is not his beloved Rachel in his bed, but her older sister Leah, the Or Hachayim explains how it is possible that Jacob did not see who it was that he was about to lay down with. He explains that Jacob was concerned that seeing Rachel before intimacy would be so arousing that it might cause an involuntary seminal emission before actual sexual intercourse. Thus, he avoided looking at her so that not a single drop would be wasted. In the morning, the Or Hachayim continues, Jacob was deeply pained at the fact that Rachel had been withheld from him. See Genesis, 29: 23-25.

This version of Jacob is clearly not of one who is above such mundane things as sexual arousal, or who is indifferent to his wives’ beauty or identity, caring only for the children that his marriage will beget. This is a man with deep love and desire for a particular woman, and who is quite capable of sexual arousal.

Indeed, the commentaries have a very interesting explanation for why, after Jacob finally marries Rachel as his second wife, the Torah states: “And he came also to Rachel, and he also loved Rachel more than Leah.” Genesis, 29:30 (by the way, this is the third time the Torah mentions Jacob’s love for Rachel!) Both Rabbeinu Bachye and Ramban explain that, naturally, “you always remember your first.” A person will therefore tend to favor the one with whom he has lost his virginity. Thus, one might have expected that Jacob, despite the dishonesty that resulted in Leah sharing his wedding bed, would have developed a bond with Leah that would at least have matched his love for Rachel. It is for this reason that the Torah goes out of its way to make sure that we know that, despite being his second, Rachel was still Jacob’s true love. The Or Hachayim explains further that, since familiarity breeds contempt – or at least reduces passion – and since Jacob spent most of his nights in Rachel’s tent, one might have expected his infatuation with Rachel to wear off. Torah therefore assures us that this is not the case, but rather that his love for her did not diminish at all.

Are these mixed messages? Was Jacob truly aloof from such mortal things as infatuation, love, romance and sexual desire? Or did he in fact experience the exquisite sensations and pangs of those very human traits. A bare reading of the texts suggest the latter; however, the commentaries seem very uncomfortable ascribing such “flaws” to our forefather Jacob. And I am left wondering: maybe he had them nonetheless? Or perhaps, since Jacobhe had them, they are not flaws at all?

Remember, Jacob got the first kiss.

What do you think?

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