Tuesday, December 1, 2020

All four of Jacob's wives: Mama Rochel video and 13 facts about Leah and Who Were Bilhah and Zilpah? By Leibel Gniwisch and New study: Lockdown has no significant impact on COVID mortality

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Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher, and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money, and spiritual engagement.

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The Three Musketeers at the Kotel
New study: Lockdown has no significant impact on COVID mortality

Study based on data from 160 countries, recommends "increasing population resilience with better physical fitness."

A new study published last week in Frontiers, a peer-reviewed journal, has concluded that government measures designed to contain the spread of the coronavirus are not linked to reduced levels of mortality.

The study was conducted by a number of scientists from French universities and biomedicine and epidemiological research institutes, and based on an analysis of data from 160 countries, accounting for a total of 846,395 deaths over the first eight months of 2020. The authors of the study collected data on: life expectancy and its change over time; public health context (metabolic and non-communicable diseases as well as infectious diseases); GDP and government financial support; and government measures designed to fight the pandemic.

Government measures were assessed using data from the Oxford Covid-19 Government Response Tracker, which "systematically collects information on several different common policy responses that governments have taken to respond to the pandemic on 17 indicators," such as lockdown and partial closures, testing policies, and contact tracing.

The study's authors made a number of conclusions, some of which were already known and unsurprising, such as the connection between obesity and coronavirus mortality, which has been known and documented for months. Other findings were more unexpected and potentially controversial.

The study's authors noted that humans seem to have a certain plateau of development (in matters such as life expectancy, height etc.) that once attained, exposes populations to threats more easily combated by less developed societies, as more developed societies have "reduced margins of adaptability" and "become more susceptible to new constraints."

This was apparent in the high mortality rates from coronavirus where life expectancy is relatively high and relatively stable (either slightly increasing or decreasing). These countries tend to have higher GDP and a high rate of non-communicable diseases (such as heart disease, diabetes, and degenerative illness) – and of course, the two are often linked. These countries "had the highest price to pay" in terms of coronavirus losses.

These countries have "older and frailer populations [which are] susceptible to increased mortality rates when facing physical or biological aggressors," and are more likely to die of "chronic diseases: mainly cardio-vascular diseases (CVD), metabolic (diabetes, high blood pressure), and neuro-degenerative diseases or cancers," the study found.

The study also pinpointed the "metabolic and CVD risk factors associated with high death rates, such as sedentary lifestyle, poor nutrition quality, or obesity" which "have a large prevalence in high income countries and rise in developing ones. Such comorbidities were early associated with a higher risk of death from Covid-19."

In contrast, countries with a lower death rate had a "low GDP, lower life expectancy but greater progression of LE, and a higher death rate from infectious diseases."

None of this is particularly surprising, of course, but the study also showed that, "The death rate appears not to be linked with the responses of governments … stringency of the measures settled to fight pandemia, including lockdown, did not appear to be linked with death rate."

The study's authors also noted that the correlation between frailty and mortality has previously been observed, such as in the "2003 heatwave, which killed 30,000 to 50,000 people in Europe … 80% of them being elderly people."

They concluded that: "An advisable strategy may be to increase populations immunity and resilience and prevent sedentary behaviors through higher physical activity and better physical fitness. Hence, political strategies restricting physical activity (e.g., closing sport facilities) may refrain the enhancement of population immunity in response to present and future viral aggressors."

In last week's parsha, Vayeitzei, we are introduced to Rochel Imaynu. Rochel symbolizes the hopes and dreams of Klal Yisroel. To this very day, pious men and women visit her resting place to cry and beseech "Mama Rochel" to intercede with HaShem on their behalf. Because Kislev is the month of miracles, this would be an ideal time to partner with Mama Rochel in order to ask HKBH for yeshua, refuah, and rachamim.

I have put together a short video presentation to help us focus during this special time on our tefillos for Klal Yisroel, both collectively and individually. I hope that the addition of these photographs will only enhance the inspirational lyrics of Abie Rotenberg's magnificent "Mama Rochel". It is best viewed on full screen.


You are welcome to share this presentation with anyone you wish. Thanks to Yaakov Daniel Margol for his beautiful photographs of Sukkot in the park.

Mama Rochel, shed a tear for your dear children. May our prayers and our tears help bring the Moshiach and may HKBH speedily reveal Himself to us and the entire world.

Wishing you a miracle filled Kislev. and a Shabbat shalom!

13 facts about Leah to give her some equal time

Rachel and Leah, two sisters, two wives, two paths. At first Leah appears to be negative, weak and pale. But the more we dig, the more we learn and come to appreciate Leah, her strength, her quiet inspiration and her unending devotion.

1. Leah Is One of the Four Matriarchs

Along with Sarah (wife of Abraham), Rebecca (wife of Isaac), and Rachel (her sister and fellow wife of Jacob), Leah is one of the four mothers of the Jewish people.1

2. She Was the Elder Daughter of Laban

We are first introduced to Leah (and her younger sister Rachel) when Jacob comes to Haran in search of a bride. In the words of Scripture: "Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel."2 Although not clearly spelled out, some say the two were actually twins.3

3. Her Mother Was Adina

Scripture does not tell us the name of Laban's wife, the mother of Rachel and Leah, but tradition tells us that her name was Adina, which can be translated as "refined."4

4. She Had "Soft Eyes"

The verse tells us that "Leah's eyes were soft, but Rachel had beautiful features and a beautiful complexion."5 What was going on with Leah's eyes? Some say it means that her eyes were beautiful,6 but according to many, they were tender and sore from crying. Why did she weep? Everyone in her community knew that her aunt, Rebecca, had two sons: Esau and Jacob. They naturally assumed that the elder girl (Leah) would marry the elder boy (Esau). Since Esau was wicked, she cried and begged G‑d to change her fate.7

5. She Was Jacob's First Wife, But Not His First Choice

As soon as Jacob lay eyes on Rachel, he wished to marry her. However, Laban, the girls' father, was not keen on Leah being overlooked. After Jacob tended Laban's sheep for seven (!) years for the right to marry Rachel, Laban sneaked Leah under the wedding canopy. The next morning Jacob found out, and undertook to work another seven years to marry Rachel, with a week's interval between the two weddings. Leah thus found herself married to the same man as her sister.8

6. She Had Six Sons and One Daughter

"G‑d saw that Leah was despised, and He opened her womb, but Rachel was barren." Leah was blessed with four sons in a row (Reuben, Shimon, Levi, Judah),9 Rachel's maid bore two sons (Dan and Naftali), Leah's maid gave birth to two sons (Gad and Asher), and Leah then had two more sons (Issachar and Zebulun), and fell pregnant yet again. Knowing prophetically that only 12 sons were to be born to Jacob, Leah realized that if she would have a seventh son, there would be just one son left for her sister to bear, even fewer than the maids. She prayed to G‑d, and her fetus turned out to be a girl, whom she named Dinah. Rachel subsequently gave birth to Joseph and Benjamin, bringing the number of tribes up to 12.10

7. Leah Is a Paragon of Gratitude

There is no doubt that Leah lived a hard life, and had every reason to become bitter. Yet the sages of the Talmud11 see her as a shining example of gratitude. In the words of Rabbi Yochanan:

From the day G‑d created the world, no one thanked Him, until Leah expressed her gratitude. We thus read, "[She became pregnant and gave birth to a son, and she said], 'This time I will give thanks (odeh) to G‑d,' and he was called Judah."12

8. Zohar: Jacob's Love For Her Was "Hidden"

Scripture says that Jacob "hated" Leah, but very few understand this literally. For example, Rabbi David Kimchi explains that it simply means that his love for her was less than his love for Rachel, and is therefore called "hate" by contrast.13

The Zohar couches the dynamics between Jacob, Rachel and Leah in Kabbalistic terms, explaining that Jacob did not actually hate Leah. Rather, her spiritual source was so lofty that he could not relate to it, and his love for her was "hidden" and not expressed in the same way that he loved Rachel.14

9. She Is the Mother of Royalty and the Priestly Clan

How does the Zohar know that Leah was not actually hated? It's very simple. There is a rabbinic principle that children born out of hate tend to turn out less than stellar. Yet, "all the good sons came from Leah,"15 indicating that she could not have been hated as one may think. Indeed, her son Levi was the progenitor of the priestly clan, and from Judah came the royal Davidic dynasty.

10. She Gave Her Handmaiden to Her Husband

When Rachel saw Leah having sons while she remained barren, she gave her maid to her husband, hoping that the deed would cause G‑d to bless her with sons of her own.16 Leah then did the same, and G‑d blessed her with two more sons. Why? Because she "desired and was seeking means to increase the number of tribes."17

11. She Is Buried Beside Her Husband

Unlike Rachel, whose death and subsequent roadside burial are described in Scripture, we are not told anything about Leah's passing. All we know is that Jacob tells his sons that he had buried her in the Cave of Machpelah, and asks them to ensure that he will be buried there as well.18

There is an element of poetic justice here. In their single days, Rachel was comfortable at home, while Leah tearfully took to the crossroads, begging for word that Esau had repented. In death, Leah is comfortably ensconced next to their husband, while Rachel is forever weeping for her lost and scattered children.19

12. She Is Associated With Thought

Based on the Zohar, chassidic teachings20 explain that Leah's soul stemmed from the world of thought, while Rachel's soul came from the world of speech.

13. Her Name Means "Tired"

The meaning of Rachel is straightforward: it means "ewe." But what does Leah mean?

It is associated with the Hebrew word for "fatigue" or being "worn out." This makes sense when one considers that our thoughts are a continuous torrent, never pausing even for a moment.21

And perhaps this is something we can take from Leah. Even when we are tired, the underdog, and in an impossible situation, we can express our gratitude, hope, faith and prayerful wish for a better tomorrow.



Talmud, Berachot 16b.


Genesis 29:16.


Seder Olam Rabbah 2.


Seder ha-Dorot, quoting Sefer ha-Yashar.


Genesis 29:17.


Rashbam to Genesis 29:17.


Rashi ad loc., quoting Talmud, Bava Batra 123a (and many other sources).


Genesis 29:18–30.


Genesis 29:31–35.


Talmud, Berachot 60a, quoted in Rashi, Genesis 30:21.


Talmud, Berachot 7b.


Genesis 29:35.


Radak, Genesis 29:31.


Zohar 1:154a.




Rashi, Genesis 30:3.


Rashi, Genesis 30:17.


Genesis 49:31.


Zohar 1:223a.


Ma'amarei Admur Hazaken 5572, Inyan Ki Snuah Leah.



By Menachem Posner

Who Were Bilhah and Zilpah?

By Leibel Gniwisch

The twelve tribes of Israel were conceived by four women. Two of them, Rachel and Leah, are lionized in history as the matriarchs of our people. They are so well known that in the list of the most popular American girls' names, Rachel and Leah rank 235 and 61 respectively.1 Lesser known are the other two, Bilhah and Zilpah, mothers to Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher.2 Bilhah and Zilpah were originally Rachel and Leah's handmaids, but when Rachel and Leah struggled to conceive, they proposed that Jacob marry and have children with their handmaids.

Who Were They, Anyway?

In Biblical times, men often had many wives. Sometimes, the wives were of different social castes and would retain that social status after marriage. The woman of the higher caste was considered the man's primary wife and her children received preferential treatment. When a man married into the slave's caste, on the other hand, the children of their union usually remained slaves. Social anthropologists have coined a rarely used term to describe the practice of a man marrying women from both higher and inferior castes: polycoity.

Our tradition tells us that Laban also had (at least3) two wives.4 Most traditions5 assert that Laban's second, inferior wife was a concubine, while others6 posit that she was actually his maidservant. Leah and Rachel were sisters born of Laban's primary wife, and Bilhah and Zilpah were daughters of his second wife, making Bilhah and Zilpah the half-sisters of Rachel and Leah. Before they married, Laban gifted Bilhah and Zilpah to Leah and Rachel as handmaidens (in Hebrew amah or shifchah).7

Bilhah means "to become alarmed" (lehibahel). Bilhah was named so because of her stunning beauty.8 Zilpah means "to flow" (lezalef). This name proved to be prophetic, as when Zilpah was told—as a young girl—that she was destined to join Leah in her marriage to the evil Esau,9 tears would flow down her face.10

Jacob Marries the Maidservants

One could assume that a young bride would be opposed to having her husband marry her maid. What events led Jacob's wives to offer their handmaids to him in marriage?

At the beginning of her marriage, Rachel could not conceive despite her desire to have Jacob's children and be part of the future he was trying to build.11 The pain of her childlessness was exacerbated when she watched her sister, Leah, birth not one but four children one after the other. Rachel became jealous of her sister. Besides envying the children she had begotten,12 Rachel attributed Leah's fertility to her righteousness, and envied the good deeds Leah must have done to merit offspring.13 "Give me children, Jacob!" she cried to her husband. "If not, I am as good as dead!"14 Rachel was so stricken that she thought she would die from grief.15

Mirroring her grandmother Sarah who gave Abraham her maidservant Hagar, Rachel hoped that she would merit to have children if she did the same.16 At the very least, Rachel hoped to help raise Bilhah's children as her own, mitigating some of the pain she was experiencing.17 Thus, Rachel set Bilhah free and Jacob married her.18 In time, Bilhah bore two children and Rachel named them Dan ("judgment,") and Naphtali ("contest" or "prayer"19).20

After Leah saw Rachel's partial success, Nachmanides relates, she too desired more children. Rachel and Leah were prophetesses and knew that Jacob was only destined to have twelve sons. To ensure that the majority of those boys would be borne by her or her handmaid, even though she already had four children at the time (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah), Leah offered Zilpah to Jacob in marriage. It appears that she made the offer half-heartedly, almost hoping he would refuse.21 Zilpah gave birth to two children, and Leah named them Gad ("good luck") and Asher ("fortune").22

Rachel eventually gave birth to two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. After her premature passing, Bilhah raised Rachel's children as her own.23

Reuben and Bilhah

In Talmudic times, the Torah was read in Hebrew and then in the colloquial Aramaic so that the congregation could understand what was being said. The reader chanted a verse in Hebrew and the meturgeman (translator) would repeat it in Aramaic.24 The Mishnah25 lists four Biblical stories that should not be translated lest they be misinterpreted by the unlearned.26 One of them is the story of Reuben and Bilhah.

The verse27 simply states, "And it came to pass when Israel sojourned in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah, his father's concubine, and Israel heard [of it], and so, the sons of Jacob were twelve."

While one Talmudic tradition interprets the verse literally, the majority do not, prompting the Talmudic dictum, "Anyone who says that Reuben sinned [with Bilhah] is nothing other than mistaken, as it is stated: 'Now the sons of Jacob were twelve.' This teaches that all of the brothers were equal [in righteousness]."28

So what does the verse mean? The Talmud (quoted in Rashi29) explains that Reuben moved Jacob's bed from Bilhah's tent to the tent of his mother, Leah. Reuben knew that Jacob loved Rachel more than his mother,30 and that it was she who Jacob desired to marry at the outset. Indeed, Jacob kept his marriage bed in Rachel's tent for the duration of her life. After Rachel's passing, Reuben assumed that Jacob would move into Leah's tent. In his mind, Bilhah and Zilpah were inferior to Rachel and Leah, their former masters. When Jacob chose to move into Bilhah's tent instead, he felt righteous indignation. "If my mother's sister was my mother's rival, should my mother's sister's handmaid be her rival as well?" He took Jacob's bed and moved it to Leah's tent.31

Years later, when Jacob blessed his children before his passing, he chastised Reuben for this act. "[You have] the restlessness of water; [therefore,] you shall not have superiority, for you ascended upon your father's couch; then you profaned [Him Who] ascended upon my bed."32

Jacob punished Reuben for his disrespectful act by declining to give him the usual firstborn rights.33 The Book of Chronicles records, "For he [Reuben] was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel."34 Joseph's two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, became two separate tribes, mirroring the double inheritance given to firstborn children.

How Could Jacob Marry Two Sisters?

The Talmud tells us that Abraham fulfilled the entire Torah before it was given.35 Presumably, Abraham taught his descendants to observe the commandments as well.36 Indeed, the Midrash records that Jacob kept Shabbat,37 and Rashi quotes Jacob in conversation with Esau, "I have lived (גרתי) with Laban and kept all of the 613 (תריג) commandments."38

Knowing this, commentators throughout the ages have grappled with instances where it seems that the patriarchs neglected to observe a particular commandment, including Jacob's marriage to two sisters despite the Biblical prohibition:39 "And you shall not take a woman with her sister [in marriage] as rivals." Many explanations have been given to solve this contradiction. Here are a few:

Nachmanides answers that the patriarchs only kept the law when they resided in Israel. Outside the Holy Land, they kept only the moral laws incumbent on all of humanity, and that code permits marrying sisters.40

Rabbi Samuel Eliezer Eidels, the Maharsha,41 explains, based on the dictum, "a convert is considered like a newborn," that Rachel, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah converted to Judaism before they married Jacob and were no longer legal siblings.42

Rabbi Judah Lowy, the Maharal of Prague,43 understands that the patriarch's fulfillment of the commandments was based on ruach hakodesh (Divine inspiration). In the instances where they veered from that practice, it was once again ruach hakodesh that instructed them to do so. In this instance, G‑d saw that these four women were especially suited to be the progenitors of the Jewish people, so He suspended His prohibition for Jacob.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, of righteous memory, wonders why Rashi—who is supposed to address all questions a simple reader of the Torah might have—doesn't address this one. In two talks,44 the Rebbe answers the question in regards to both sets of sisters.

The Rebbe explains that the patriarchs agreed to observe the Torah not as an obligation (like it became after the Torah was given) but as a self-imposed stringency. The Seven Noahide Laws and other accepted moral practices, however, were absolutely binding. As such, when faced with competing values, an accepted moral precept would trump their non-binding acceptance of the Torah's prohibitions. In our case, Jacob promised Rachel he would marry her.45 Keeping one's promise was an accepted moral law at the time,46 so even after he married Leah he would have to fulfill his promise to Rachel despite the Torah's prohibition against doing so.47

This explanation does not justify his marriage to Bilhah and Zilpah, however, to whom no promises were made. In a long and complex legal treatise, the Rebbe argues, a) that Bilhah's and Zilpah's mother was a maidservant according to Rashi,48 and b) that the children of a maidservant do not have the legal status of siblings.49 Therefore, Jacob did not violate a Torah prohibition by marrying them.

On a final note, while little has been recorded about these two great women, Bilhah and Zilpah, that which we do have paints a portrait of devotion, piety and goodness, traits they undoubtedly passed on to their children.



Rachel. Leah. In Israel, the name Leah (or Liah) ranks 9th, and the name Rachel ranks 21st.


Zilpah ranks 16,320 on BabyCenter and Bilhah doesn't even have a page.


See note 42.


Rashi on Genesis 31:50. Concubines were common as secondary partners primarily for marital relations or to bear more children. No official marriage document (ketubah and kiddushin) had to be signed, see Genesis 25:6 and Rashi ad loc.; Talmud, Sanhedrin 21a.


Simple reading of Rashi on Genesis 31:50; Pirkei Derabi Eliezer 36 writes, "The children of a concubine are called maidservants."


The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, Likutei Sichot V, page 234. His views will be discussed later in this article.


Genesis 29:24,29.


Midrash Seichel Tov (on the verse). Alternatively, Midrash Aggadah on Genesis 30:2 explains that as a baby, Bilhah would become disquieted when it came time to nurse, making it difficult to feed her.


Leah is also said to have cried over this, Bava Batra 123a; Rashi on Genesis 29:17. [Leah] thought she would have to fall to the lot of Esau and she therefore wept continually, because everyone said, "Rebecah has two sons, Laban has two daughters — the elder daughter (Leah) for the elder son (Esau), the younger daughter (Rachel) for the younger son (Jacob)."


Midrash Song of Songs Zuta 1:15.


Genesis 30:24, see Rashi.


Chizkuni, Genesis 30:1.


Rashi ibid.


Genesis 30:1.


Ramban, ibid.


Genesis 30:3, Rashi and Sforno ibid.


Genesis ibid; Rashi ibid. From Onkelos.


Ohr Hachayim Genesis 30:30, and others.


Genesis 30:8, Rashi and Onkelos respectively,


Genesis 30:5-8.


Genesis 30:11, Rashi says, "As though Leah said to Jacob, 'You proved faithless to me when you married my handmaid,' like a man who is faithless (בגד) to the wife of his youth." Even though Leah offered Zilpah to Jacob, she still felt betrayed that Jacob married her.


Genesis 30:10-13.


Genesis 37:3, Rashi.


Mishneh Torah, Tefillah 12:12.


Megillah 4:10.


They are, the Priestly Benediction (Numbers 6:24-26), the story of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32:21-25) and a verse in the story of Amnon (II Samuel c. 13). See Megillah 25a for the reasons.


Genesis 35:22.


Shabbat 55b.


Genesis 35:22.


Genesis 29:30.


Shabbat 55b.


Genesis 49:4.


This is what Jacob means when he says, "[Therefore,] you shall not have superiority."


I Chronicles 5:1.


Kiddushin 82a; Yoma 28b.


Ramban, Genesis 26:5.


Genesis Rabbah 79:6.


Rashi, Genesis 32:5.


Leviticus 18:18.


Nachmanides on Genesis 26:5.


Yoma 28b; cf. Chizkuni, Genesis 29:28.


Although the rabbis prohibited even this union, Maharsha claims that even Rachel and Leah were half-sisters born of two different wives. According to Jewish law, when converts share only a father, one may marry them both.


Gur Aryeh, Genesis 46:10; cf. Parashat Derachim (R. Judah Rosanes, author of Mishneh Lamelech on Mishneh Torah), Derech Ha'atarim 1.


Likutei Sichot V, pages 141 and 234.


As evidenced by the signs he gave her. See Rashi, Genesis 29:25.


Proof: In Genesis 29:25, Jacob asked Laban, "Why did you trick me?" which presupposes that tricking people was wrong. In addition, Laban doesn't suffice with simply arguing with the assumption that lying is bad, but justifies what he did with another accepted moral precept (ibid. 26), "It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the older."


See a complete rendering of the talk for a lengthier explanation.


The assumption is that when Rashi is silent it is because he isn't needed, and the verse can be understood in its literal sense without his input. In his commentary to Genesis 22:20 (Behold Milcah, she also bore sons to Nahor your brother), Rashi compares pilegesh to shifcha (the usual term for maidservant), and then neglects to interpret pilegesh in 22:24 (And his pilegesh, whose name was Reumah), relying on the comparison he had made. This means that the simple meaning of pilegesh is maidservant and not concubine as most interpret. This is echoed by Abraham Ibn Ezra, Genesis 25:1. The Midrash (quoted in Rashi, Genesis 31:50) calls Bilhah's and Zilphah's mother a pilegesh, which in Rashi's world means maidservant (unless Rashi specifies otherwise, as in Genesis 25:6 in reference to Hagar after she was freed).


Exodus 21:21 calls the slave "[the master's] money." The legal implication of this is delineated in the Talmud (Bava Kamma 15b), "A slave does not have legal familial ties (yichus)." For an explanation on Torah's view of slavery and how it might fit into our modern moral sensibilities, see Torah, Slavery, and the Jews.

By Leibel Gniwisch

See you tomorrow bli neder

We need Moshiach now!

Love Yehuda Lave

Yehuda Lave, Spirtiual Advisor and Counselor

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

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