Leah (לֵאָה) was the first wife of the prophet Jacob and the mother of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Dinah. She was the daughter of Rebekah's brother Laban and the older sister of Rachel.
Jacob meets Rachel
Due to the will of God and Jacob's mother Rebekah, the prophet Isaac gave his blessing to his second son Jacob instead of his first son Esau. Esau was enraged and vowed retribution against Jacob. In order to protect Jacob, Rebekah had Jacob sent to her homeland, to live under the protection of her brother Laban. Isaac also tasked Jacob with finding a proper wife from among Rebekah's people.
Leah's sister Rebekah served as a shepherd for her father's flock of sheep. As she was leading her sheep to a well, she and Jacob met. Jacob had earlier learned from the other shepherds that Rachel was Laban's daughter. Jacob rolled away the stone that was covering the well in order to allow Rachel's sheep to drink. He then greeted and introduced himself to Rachel. Jacob was both excited and happy. Rebekah alerted her father, and her father came, welcomed Jacob, and brought him into his house.
Gaining a husband
Within a month, Jacob fell in love with Rachel. Laban offered to pay Jacob for working for him and asked for a price. Jacob sought Rachel's hand in marriage, so he offered seven years of labor as the bride price for Rachel. Laban agreed to this arrangement.
After seven years of labor, Jacob asked Laban for the marriage that he had rightfully earned, per their deal. Laban agreed to have Jacob marry a daughter of his, but Laban sought to have his eldest daughter Leah become married first. Laban gave Jacob a lavish feast. A footnote within the Amplified Bible suggests that Laban had Jacob impaired by intoxication. Laban brought Leah out to marry Jacob instead of Rachel, and Jacob married Leah. Jacob and Leah then consummated the marriage in bed, making the marriage irreversible without offending Leah's honor.
Jacob woke up the next morning and found that he married and had intercourse with Leah instead of Rachel. Jacob chided Laban for tricking him, but Laban said that tradition dictates that an older daughter is to be wed before a younger one. Laban then said that Jacob may marry Rachel after Leah's week-long wedding feast is over but would then have to work for Laban for another seven years in order to paid off the price of the additional bride. Thus, Jacob finally married Rachel, but he was now attached to Laban for another seven years.
God saw that Jacob loved Leah less than Rachel, so God blessed Leah by increasing their fertility. Leah gave birth to four sons. She acknowledged each birth as a blessing from God and as a means to earn her husband's favor.
Now when the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, He made her able to bear children, but Rachel was barren. Leah conceived and gave birth to a son and named him Reuben (See, a son!), for she said,Because the Lord has seen my humiliation and suffering; now my husband will love me [since I have given him a son].Then she conceived again and gave birth to a son and said,Because the Lord heard that I am unloved, He has given me this son also.So she named him Simeon (God hears). She conceived again and gave birth to a son and said,Now this time my husband will become attached to me [as a companion], for I have given him three sons.Therefore he was named Levi. Again she conceived and gave birth to a [fourth] son, and she said,Now I will praise the Lord.So she named him Judah; then [for a time] she stopped bearing [children].— Genesis 29:31–29:35 (AMP)
Rachel, meanwhile, remained childless and became jealous of Leah. She begged Jacob for children:
Give me children, or else I will die. Jacob responded by saying that only God can permit children to be born. Rachel then devised a way for her maid Bilhah in have children in her stead. At Rachel's urging, Jacob took Bilhah as an additional wife an conceived a child with her. Jacob and Bilhah later conceived another child together.
Leah then copied Rachel's strategy and had Jacob take her maid Zilpah as an additional wife as well. Jacob and Zilpah conceived, and considering the birth fortunate, Leah named the child Gad ("good fortune"). Jacob and Zilpah conceived again, and Leah named this child Asher ("happy"):
I am happy! For women will call me happy.
Mandrakes for Rachel
One day, Leah's son Reuben gathered mandrakes from the field and gave them to Leah. Rachel asked Leah for some of her mandrakes, which she believed would increase her fertility. Leah was reluctant to depart with the mandrakes since Rachel had Jacob for most nights. Rachel then promised that Leah would have Jacob for the night in exchange for the mandrakes. Leah agreed, turned over some of the mandrakes to Rachel, and spent the night with Jacob. Jacob and Leah conceived a fifth son, then a sixth son, and finally, a daughter.
God listened and answered [the prayer of] Leah, and she conceived and gave birth to a fifth son for Jacob. Then Leah said,God has given me my reward because I have given my maid to my husband.So she named him Issachar. Leah conceived again and gave birth to a sixth son for Jacob. Then Leah said,God has endowed me with a good [marriage] gift [for my husband]; now he will live with me [regarding me with honor as his wife], because I have given birth to six sons.So she named him Zebulun. Afterward she gave birth to a daughter and named her Dinah.— Genesis 30:17–21 (AMP)
After this was done, God allowed Rachel to conceive children with Jacob. Rachel thanked God and the child Joseph ("may He add") in hopes that God would bless her with more children.
Jacob earns his flock
After Joseph's birth, Jacob made his desire to return to the Promised Land known to Laban. However, Laban understood the benefits of having a prophet in his household and offered to pay Jacob to continue working for him. Jacob said that he would take Laban's spotted, speckled, dark, and black sheep and goats as his wages in order to start his own flock. Laban agreed but removed the spotted, speckled, dark, and black sheep from his flock in order to force Joseph to stay.
Jacob then began to work miracles with God's help. He took tree branches and peeled off some of their white bark in order to create stripped branches. Sheep and goats mating by these branches would produce streaked, speckled, and spotted offspring. Jacob only displayed the branches in front of the sheep when they were strong and healthy in order to produce strong, healthy non-pure coat offspring. Since Jacob did not display the branches in times of illnesses, all of the pure coat offspring were sickly.
Laban and his sons became upset with this outcome and blamed Jacob. God then commanded Jacob to return to Canaan. Jacob explained to his wives what was happening, and they agreed to leave with him and advised him to do as God commanded. Rachel, however, stole her father's household idols before they left, possibly to secure a share of her father's inheritance for her and her offspring.
Laban learned about what happened three days later and pursued Jacob. After seven days of pursuit, Laban overtook Jacob. God appeared to Laban in a dream and warned him not to speak with Jacob, but Laban spoke to Jacob nonetheless. Laban complained to Jacob about how Jacob snuck away, denying him the opportunity to say good-bye to his daughters and grandchildren. Then he asked Jacob to explain why Laban's idols were stolen.
Jacob told Laban that he snuck away because they was afraid that Laban would not allow Leah and Rachel to leave with him. Jacob did not know that Rachel stole the idol and promised Laban that whoever stole the idols would die.
Rachel placed the idols on her camel and sat on top of them in order to hide them from her father. Laban could not find the idols, and Jacob chided Laban for disrespecting him after twenty years of labor.
Laban and Jacob then made a pact with each other. Laban stated that God bears witness to all events, so Laban and Jacob should no longer act behind each other's back. They pledged to not do harm to each other. Laban swore by multiple gods, while Jacob swore only the God of his family, the one true God. Jacob then prepared a sacrifice to God.
The next morning, Laban said good-bye to his daughters and grandchildren, asked for God to bless the family members he is leaving behind, and left in peace.
Jocab's reunion with Esau
Jacob then send humble messages to his brother Esau. When the messengers returned, they told Jacob that Esau was coming with four hundred men. Jacob was worried about Esau's intentions and divided his camp in two so that if Esau attacks, at least half of them can escape to safety.
Jacob prayed to God, and God reassured Jacob, promising that Jacob's seed would be as numerous as grains of sand. Jacob then sent out a large number and variety of livestock ahead of him to offer to Esau as a gift. Jacob then sent Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, Bilhah, and their children across a brook for safety.
While Jacob was alone, God appeared to Jacob in human form and wrestled with him. Jacob sought to extract a blessing from God. When Jacob refused to quit the struggle, God dislocated Jacob's hip with a mere touch of His finger, yet Jacob continued to refuse to give up until he had secured a blessing.
God asked for Jacob's name, and Jacob told him "Jacob", but God said that Jacob earned a new name: Israel ("he who strives with God"). God blessed Jacob, and Jacob was thankful to be alive.
Esau arrived, and Jacob crossed the brook to greet him. Jacob bowed to the ground seven times while approaching Esau. Esau then hugged his brother; this reunion was to be a happy one. Jacob then had his family met Esau. After that, the two brother went their separate ways.
Leah is the mother of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun; thus, she is the progenitor of the Israelite tribes that correspond to those names.
Feminist author Margaret Atwood would use the natalist story of Leah and Rachel their handmaids Zilpah and Bilhah as the basis of the fictional dystopian, zealous Christian society featured in the anti-patriarchy novella The Handmaid's Tale.