The David Petraeus scandal, where a national hero betrays a solid, devoted soul
mate to be with a hot young thing seems as old as time itself. In earlier times
a general or king would usually have two women, to fulfill two very different
needs. The pedigreed wife for children and to rule as consort (recall that
Petraeus married the daughter of the superintendent of West Point) and a
mistress for passion and excitement. But Petraeus had to resign because our
society expects men who are accomplished in their public life to be equally
accomplished in marriage, finding both dimensions in one woman.
Biblical story of Jacob and his two wives, Rachel and Leah (last week’s Torah
reading) provides insight.
When Jacob first meets Rachel, he seeks to
impress her by moving a giant stone, then kisses her, and breaks into tears. He
then offers Laban, her father, seven years of work in return for Rachel’s hand
in marriage. The years pass by so quickly that “they appeared in his eyes as if
they were just days.”
Jacob’s love for Rachel is one of deep passion and
It is love as covetousness, and desire. It is the fieriest kind
of romantic love. It is also the most tragic. Romantic, passionate, lustful love
that isn’t balanced by partnership and intimacy nearly always ends badly, either
because the fires die down or because the it burns so brightly it consumes both
participants. Jacob feels in his bones that his passion for Rachel must end
Thus, he is drawn to kiss her, but he immediately
He recognizes that in this imperfect world, perfect love is
impossible to attain. He wants Rachel to be his soul mate, but he intuits that
he is destined to lose her.
By contrast, he experiences none of the same
passion for Leah. When he is fooled into marrying her, he accepts Leah as a
partner and eventually the mother of his children.
But his yearning is
for Rachel. Leah feels hated and names the first of her three children after her
experiences of rejection from Jacob. Reuben is for the God “who saw my
affliction and granted me a son.” Simon is for the God “who saw that I am
hated.” Levi is the son whose birth “will bring my husband closer to me.” Only
with the fourth son, Judah, which means “praise to God,” do we begin to see a
name that gives the child an intrinsic identity rather than one that relates
instead to the relationship of his father to his mother.
For Jacob, Leah
represents a maternal, practical partner with whom he shares a life but has no
It reflects, arguably, the way Petraeus viewed his
own loyal wife. They have intimacy but no intensity. They have a family
but no fervor or fire. He loves her but does not long for her. He wishes to
protect her but she is not the delight of his soul.
Yet Jacobs knows in
his heart that Leah, rather than Rachel, is destined to be his soul mate. (No
doubt Petraeus knew in his heart as well he was always fated to return to his
wife, if she would take him back). She is destined to bear most of his children,
share his life, and share eternity by being buried at his side. Leah represents
stability and order. She will be Jacob’s anchor. She is his
The woman who tethers him to family. Yet he will never make
peace with love that is only functional and not romantic, stable but not
Rachel is playful, girlish, and evinces at times an
immaturity that is often characteristic of women whom men desire mightily. She
can also be callous about Jacob’s love for her. When Reuben brings flowers for
his mother Leah, Rachel strikes a deal with Leah to exchange the flowers for a
conjugal night with Jacob. What Leah longs for, Rachel treats as mere currency.
Unlike Jacob who understands intuitively the tragic nature of passionate,
romantic love, Rachel thinks they have endless time to be together. One night
will make no difference. But Jacob knows the clock is ticking. Women like
Leah ultimately both triumph and suffer.
In their stability they end up
gaining the commitment of men who build families with them. But they suffer
because they never feel the passionate desire of their husbands. And a
woman wants to be lusted after even more than she wants to be loved.
it is the amalgamation of both types of love that is meant to characterize the
successful marriage. Not a man in a relationship with two women, but a man and
woman whose marriage incorporates both dimensions.
Husbands and wives are
meant to have passion and practicality, fire and firmness, lust and love, desire
and durability. Rachel and Leah are meant to be one.
laws that will follow with the giving of the Torah at Sinai will prescribe half
of the month be devoted to passion and sexual fire, and half of the month
devoted to soulfulness and intimacy. The orchestration of the two is what makes
a marriage whole. We are meant to be lovers and best friends, paramours and soul
Our wives should be our mistresses and our companions. We
never wish to lose our lust, but we also need lust accompanied by
It was Jacob’s inability to value both dimensions that lead to many
problems in the life of his own family. Jacob seems scarred from his childhood.
His father favored Esau and he felt rejected. Later, he will repeat many of
these mistakes in favoring Joseph, creating even more painful sibling rivalry
among his own children than he experienced with Esau. Jacob struggles to
appreciate the stability of Leah and gravitates exclusively toward the drama of
Rachel. She accuses Jacob of being responsible for her not falling pregnant. He
fires back that he is not God and is not responsible for her infertility.
Dramatic relationships are addictive and Rachel is the drug of
Jacob is, interestingly, far better at adversarial relationships
than intimate ones. He outmaneuvers the wily Esau to take his blessing as well
as his immoral and cunning father-in-law Laban. He wrestles with an angel and
defeats him. He has learned from an early age to survive on his
Like many a man who has experienced insufficient love in his
childhood, Jacob finds intimacy challenging. He gravitates to the romantic love
of the poets rather than the practical love of real life, never realizing how to
amalgamate the two.
We men of the modern era, who so often look callously
at the wives who love us, can draw the appropriate lesson.
“America’s Rabbi,” is working on his next relationship book entitled Kosher
Lust, upon which this column is based. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.