Yaakov was a prophet. He signified emet, which is the ability to perceive something completely – including one’s own place in the larger picture. Yaakov was tiferet, a combination of chesed and gevurah, inspiration and challenge. The perfect mate for tiferet is malchut, taking the vision and making it happen. Malchut means achieving absolute control over oneself and then surrendering that control to something higher. Yaakov saw malchut in Rachel.
The Zohar says that Rachel was beautiful but she had no eyes. Rachel wasn’t a visionary. She didn’t live with perceiving the bigger picture from afar. She lived in the here and now and this is what Yaakov saw in her. He needed someone to take his vision and ground it in reality.
Hashem gives everyone a mission in life, but it’s difficult to accomplish it alone. He gives us a helpmate to help us reach our destiny but how do we know who our mate really is? The Gemara says one’s first mate is the one who was divinely ordained and one’s second mate goes according to merit. The Malbim explains that the first mate is the bonding of the soul to the body.
The person you marry depends on your merits. Every soul has a mission that is applicable to it on many levels. Nefesh is the part of the soul experienced through the body; ruach is the choosing self; and neshama embodies our spiritual uniqueness. A person will encounter his highest zivug according to his merit. Many of us are barely on speaking terms with our neshama. We don’t know ourselves at all. Our zivug will not be with our neshama but rather with our nefesh or ruach.
Yaakov recognized Rachel as his absolute zivug. He kissed her and wept. The kiss was not a kiss of desire. He cried because he had a flash of prophetic insight that told him he wouldn’t be buried with her. Nobody thinks of death and desire at the same time. He was in love with her righteousness and part of her righteousness entailed that she wouldn’t be buried with him. She was destined to be interred at the crossroads. Being a doer, uplifting physicality, means you have to address yourself to the world and not hide in a cave.
Leah’s eyes were weak from weeping. Unlike Rachel she didn’t live in the moment but rather in the future. She was projective. Leah had great spiritual capacity and could have turned Esav around. But she didn’t want him. He could give her nothing that she desired and she therefore wept for the fate that awaited her. Leah’s middah was binah, insight. Yaakov needed action, not insight, and therefore Lavan gave him Leah so that he would fail in his mission. For Yaakov it seemed like a disaster. For Leah, however, it was the fulfillment of her deepest prayers.
Rachel saw Leah just as herself, a woman no less divine than her, who wanted just what she desired. She could not let her suffer humiliation. She sacrificed her entire future to save her sister from shame. Her act took only a moment, but it changed the course of history. The power of redemption is in her merit.
Why didn’t Yaakov leave Leah after discovering Lavan’s deception? We believe that all marriages are predestined. If Hashem blesses a marriage with a child, it means the couple is meant to be bonded. However the Torah does permit divorce because people can choose themselves out of a good marriage. Divorce can be a matter of a bad choice. In marriage there has to be a basic premise of honesty between the couple. If it is based on false premises, it’s not a valid pact. Nonetheless, Yaakov’s depth was such that he wouldn’t divorce the mother of his child.
In truth it wasn’t a mekach ta’ut (a mistaken pact). The tribes with their caliber had to come from Leah. And Yaakov, the personification of emet had to be married to the wrong woman in order to develop himself. He needed both Rachel and Leah because in a certain sense it was as though he was two people, Yaakov and Yisrael. At this juncture in his life he was still Yaakov, the heel touching the floor, he wasn’t at his highest most developed state. Yet eventually he became Yisrael, the one in whom Hashem would prevail.