We all know her story, but have we wondered how she felt on that wedding day?
She wasn’t brave enough to this, even though her father had ordered it, and there was no escape. Even her sister seemed resigned to the plan, or more likely she had such certainty of her power over her betrothed that, once assured that it would only be a short delay, she saw the extra wait as nothing important. No one except herself seemed to think there was anything wrong with it.
She rehearsed her father’s arguments in her head: the custom of their people to marry an older daughter before a younger, the desirability of getting her a husband (and who else would ever want her, he added with thoughtless cruelty), the advantage of getting this restless young man to stay around longer (“keeping the family together”, he called it), and “how nice” it would be that she and her sister would always be together (thus proving he didn’t know his own daughters at all). She knew better. They were all just excuses, a smokescreen of rationalisations to cover the truth of his blind greed – why settle for seven years unpaid labour from such a productive young man as the bride price for one daughter, when, by throwing another superfluous daughter into the bargain, he could get double the return? Ironic, really, that, in the end, she should be worth exactly the same amount to her father as her cherished younger sister? But then, of course, this was to be achieved by pretending, for just one night, that she was her sister.
A girl was supposed to be radiant on her wedding day, but she couldn’t stop crying. Not that it mattered, for the sake of the deception it was necessary that she wear a thick veil, so there was no point in painting her face. No point in doing anything except passively stand, sit, go through the motions as instructed, and keep the poor man totally fooled. And .. afterwards? No one could give her any help there, except that they had promised the room would be dark (to preserve her maiden modesty) and, if she never spoke above a whisper, he would not be able to tell her voice from her sister’s. After all, it wasn’t as if he’d ever been able to spend much time with either of them anyway. For seven years they’d been sent off to the women’s quarters most of the time when he was in camp, only leading an unsecluded life when he was with the flocks and herds (which was most of the time.)
It was hard to always be the unwanted one. She had been taught to believe in the God of her family, but she wondered – and kept her wonderings to herself. Family religion was decided by men, not women. But why would God create her with a blemish that would always make her ugly in everyone’s eyes? She felt a whisper, deep inside, which seemed to say, “Not everyone ..”
She savoured the thought, wonderingly. Who had ever wanted her? Her mother, perhaps? But she could barely remember her mother. “I knew you long before your mother did. I shaped you into being inside her body.”
There was only one answer to that, and she found herself crying again for a very different reason. Her shoulders heaved with emotion, and her sister, Rachel, glared at her. Perhaps she wasn’t so indifferent after all? But the whisper in her heart hadn’t finished yet. “You will be the mother of mighty sons, and it will be through one of your sons that the promise will continue.”
It didn’t seem enough, not when every breath of her being shouted out for a father who cared and a husband who would love her. But it was something, a foothold to cling to when her world was crashing down in pain. And perhaps there would come a day, when her sons were grown men, when her husband had grown older, when this little fragment of hope could grow to be her peace ..