If you've ever felt:
- not good enough
- pushed aside
- inferior in comparison to others (especially within your family)
- not as "blessed" (i.e. you were never the Golden Girl/Boy and certainly never had a snowball's chance in heck of becoming one) as others in your family, school, or community...
..then this is the dvar Torah for YOU.
Hold on tight, because Rav Miller takes us on a whirlwind ride this week...
Where are All the Reuvenim?
Originally, Rachel Imeinu was supposed to have been the primary mother of the Jewish people. Yaakov Avinu saw via Nevuah (Prophecy) that she was his true zivug and the primary mother of Am Yisrael.
And to be sure, Rachel Imeinu holds a revered position among us to this day.
But ultimately, Leah Imeinu merited to be the primary mother – and she's also the woman from whom Mashiach descends.
As Rav Miller notes we aren't called Reuvenim or Shimonim (Leah Imeinu's first 2 sons).
We are called Yehudim, after Yehudah, the 4th son of Leah Imeinu & Yaakov Avinu.
It's very interesting, if you think about it.
We aren't even called after Leah Imeinu's firstborn, Reuven.
And even though Rachel Imeinu's firstborn Yosef Hatzaddik is renowned for his tremendous gevurah in the face of some of the worst trials, and that to this day, all Jewish boys are blessed to be like Yosef Hatzaddik's sons, Menashe & Efrayim, we are not called Menashe'im or Efrayimim.
We are Yehudim. (Wouldn't the refrain of that popular song, ki ani Yehudi, sound funny if it was ki ani Menashe'i?)
But why was the pre-destiny switched?
Leah wasn't Actually Hated. So What Does It All Mean?
The parshah states (Beresheit 29:31): "And Hashem saw that Leah was hated, so He opened up her womb and gave her children."
Except that Leah wasn't hated.
Yaakov Avinu couldn't possibly "hate" Leah.
Part of the proof is verse 30: "And he loved also Rachel more than Leah."
"Also...more than" implies that Yaakov Avinu loved Leah, but he simply loved Rachel Imeinu more.
Rav Miller emphasizes that Yaakov Avinu absolutely fulfilled the dictum of our Sages, to love his wife as himself.
So he loved both Rachel & Leah as himself!
But he just loved Rachel even more.
So as much honor & affection as Yaakov Avinu showered upon Leah Imeinu, everyone know (just as everyone knows now) that she wasn't originally meant for him and that's not who he originally agreed to work for 7 years.
And both Rav Miller & Rav Shimon Gruen's wonderful weekly newsletter on the parsha emphasize that Yaakov Avinu was not angry with Leah and did not confront her, but confronted her father Lavan, who was the real snake behind the deception. Applying this lesson to real life? Go easy on your spouse, especially when he or she does something that really isn't his or her fault.
So Leah lived with this knowledge that she was the fifth wheel.
Even when Yaakov Avinu went to meet Esav, he kept Rachel Imeinu and her children the more protected part of the configuration. He also protected Leah Imeinu and her offspring, but circumstances forced him to grant the added protection to Rachel Imeinu.
And this was a very public configuration, to boot.
So this was the position Leah was always in and she knew it would never & could never change.
And because of this, Leah was always weeping and talking to Hashem.
The Secret to Greatness: Choose HOW to Respond to Your Suffering
So how did Leah Imeinu respond to her understandably painful & irremediable situation?
Leah Imeinu decided to dedicated her entire purpose to building Am Yisrael.
Rav Miller emphasizes that this is the proper response to any encumbrance: COMPENSATE.
Don't just complain & sulk. Don't get depressed or look for distractions and escapes.
How can you make the spiritual best of the situation?
How can you, like Leah Imeinu, use the pain of your situation for spiritual growth?
Page 9 (boldface mine):
It’s not merely the fact that Leah suffered so much that caused her to become the mother of the Am Yisroel. It was how she reacted to her suffering!
Why being "Chosen" is No Guarantee
Had situations been reversed, Rachel Imeinu would've been the one to daven more & strive harder.
But she wasn't.
Leah found herself in the more agonizing position.
And that’s why Hakadosh Baruch Hu rewarded her, because actually she attained a bigger perfection than Rochel.
Rav Miller goes on to make the mind-boggling point that this doesn't mean that Leah was better. In a sense, he says, Rachel was always better; Rachel was The Chosen One!
Because Leah wasn't The Chosen One, she needed to work harder.
And eventually, this tremendous inner investment earned her a tremendous place in the eternity of the Jewish people, in eternity as a whole.
In fact, despite Rachel Imeinu being the authentic zivug of Yaakov Avinu, it is Leah Imeinu who is buried next to him.
History Replays Itself Again between the Descendants of Leah Imeinu & the Descendants of Rachel Imeinu
And look at how history replayed itself.
Shaul Hamelech is a descendant of Binyamin – Rachel Imeinu's youngest son.
According to his innate nature, Shaul was a better person than David Hamelech (who was the descendant of Yehudah, Leah Imeinu's 4th son). The Gemara says Shaul was a perfect tzaddik.
Who was supposed to head the royal line of the Jewish people?
Who was supposed to build the Beit Hamikdash?
Who was supposed to produce Mashiach?
Shaul from Shevet Binyamin!
"Shaul bechir Hashem – Shaul is the chosen of Hashem" (Shmuel II:21:6). Even the Bat Kol said it!
Shaul possessed exemplary character & lineage, and was exceptionally tall & handsome (quite different than the ruddy redhead of questionable birth born under Mars that David was).
But then Hashem decided that Shaul needed to be usurped by David (who also composed our beloved Tehillim).
Hashem Values the Humbled Person Who Works Harder
Hashem chooses the lesser one, the overlooked one. (The Kli Yakar also notes this several times throughout his commentary.)
The smaller mountain, Har Sinai, was chosen as the place to receive the Torah.
Gidon was the youngest of the smallest family of the smallest Tribe at a time when Am Yisrael was under the thumb of Midyan.
The one who looks least important, least impressive, and so is forced to strive the most – that is who ends up at the top.
This is literally all over Tanach, and even stated outright at times, especially throughout Mishlei/Proverbs.
Avraham Avinu grew up in a terrible environment, as did Moshe Rabbeinu.
Think about it.
Rav Miller notes that in Ur Kasdim, Avraham Avinu was the hated one because of his rejection of polytheistic occultism.
Moshe Rabbeinu was hated; he even needed to run for his life at one point. Later, he wasn't loved by the people as much as his brother Aharon HaCohen.
David was despised by much of his family until Shmuel Hanavi came to anoint him as king.
Chana, the mother of Shmuel Hanavi, felt very put upon by her co-wife, Penina. It's logical to assume that in the eyes of the community, people pitied Chana: "Oh, look. Poor Chana. She's such a lovely person, but she can't have children and so her husband needed to marry another woman, and she's producing one child after another while Chana still remains barren. Poor dear."
And before all that, you had Noach who was mocked and denigrated by his generation when he started building the ark – yet it was Noach who survived and earned the right to repopulate the planet.
(Please also note that sometimes, their pain & humiliation was very public, and not just within the private realm.)
Much later in the times of the Gemara, look at how belittled Rebbi Akiva initially was.
In recent generations, look at how many truly great tzaddikim were locked up in prison on false charges – hated for sure by many people, but profoundly loved by Hashem.
Rav Miller notes that many of our greatest works were written in Exile (pg. 12):
...all these seforim were born out of the needs of the time, out of battle.
It’s only the necessities of battle against the difficult environment that created these great men and great works.
And How Does Exile Refine Us?
And so we in Am Yisrael must also realize that this is the way to our own spiritual perfection (page 13):
Hakodosh Boruch Hu says openly, “I loved you of all the nations, that’s why I visit upon you all of your sins” (Amos 3:2).
It means, “That’s why I’m giving you this treatment of being s’nuah [hated] in this world. It’s because I love you more than all the nations and I want you to struggle to achieve perfection.”
And this is the reason why the Jewish nation is the highest in morality of all the people.
I’m not talking about the Jews who are so in name only.
We’re talking about true Jews.
There is nobody in the world and there never was who could even remotely compete with us in morality.
Is this one reason why, at the End of Days, the Erev Rav take over?
Is this why the Erev Rav are on top while the regular real Jews struggle under their thumb?
We know who the real victors will be in the end.
Prudently, Rav Miller also warns us against looking at America's old pilgrims, or nuns & priests, or Buddhist monks, Lamas, or seemingly nice non-Jewish religious groups as comparable to the average Jew of yore.
Yes, they certainly look good. A tiny minority have even been truly heroic in saving Jewish lives. But as he notes, if you see them from up close, a different picture begins to take shape.
The real way to spiritual achievement is to struggle against Galut, both the general and the personal Exile.
"He was on the bottom of the pile, he was the s’nuah [hated one], and that’s why he came out on top."
And once again, the same dynamic plays out.
Rav Miller also addresses the well-known phenomenon of people who did not grow up frum mourning over their lack of Torah background. "And rightfully so," says the rav.
He also notes that many people raised without Torah would not have become as great if they had been raised in a Torah environment.
You see converts & baalei teshuvah on fire, and even after the fire dwindles, you still see many of them struggling and striving.
And then you see FFBs going by rote.
But even among FFBs, you see those who struggle to overcome the "by rote," to overcome whatever was not so Torahdik in their upbringing.
Some of the FFBs I've met with the best middot are those who were raised by a father who seemed very important outside the home (not one of the Gadolei Hador, but merely a chashuv guy), yet was really kind of a jerk at home to his wife & children — even a bad-tempered tyrant.
Rather than flying off the derech, their father's hypocrisy forced them to dig for the real Judaism, to embrace truly good middot and not just the facade of good middot.
It's not so socially acceptable to say this (one side dislikes hearing that a rabbi can be a jerk, while the other side dislikes hearing that suffering children can actually turn out well despite everything), but I think it's an important point to make: Regardless of your upbringing & environment, you can overcome the natural set outcome by sheer will.
(Yes, it all comes back to ratzon – desire.)
On pages 17-18, Rav Miller offers brief examples of wives and students in difficult circumstances and what they can do to use these unhappy circumstances to their advantage.
Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein has spoken of a girl in his school who was diagnosed as hopeless by the New York Board of Education (the top "experts," the "builders" of education), and even told she had a bit of Down Syndrome (which means that she is defective at the chromosomal level).
Yet she overcome it all and ended up excelling academically.
The "experts" were wrong.
We have the famous verse Tehillim/Psalm 118:22, which is recited in Hallel:
"Even ma'asu habonim hayatah l'rosh pinah" – The cornerstone despised by the builders, despised by the experts, THAT is the one which will merit to be the cornerstone of the most exalted building to ever exist.
If you were never despised, if you were never the sanuah, then you actually have no chance of becoming a cornerstone.