The Red Tent My Mother's Stories (Chapter 1)

Anita Diamant

My Mother's Stories (Chapter 1)

Dinah begins the retelling of her four mothers’ stories on the day that her father Jacob arrives at their home. Jacob comes upon Rachel at the well; taken by her immense beauty, he kisses her. Even though she has not yet begun to menstruate and is, therefore, still considered a child, Rachel resolves that she will marry Jacob. Her eldest sister, Leah, scowls and laughs at her foolishness, and their father, Laban, demands to hear the details of the encounter. He is not surprised that Rachel has received this attention for he, like everyone else, has been taken by Rachel’s beauty and powerful nature since her birth, which was violent and caused her mother, Huna, to bleed and die. After Huna’s death, Laban’s other wives looked after Rachel as their own. Smelling of perfumed water, Rachel enchants all around her.

Leah, on the other hand, is shunned by others because she was born with one green and one blue eye. When Jacob arrives at Laban’s threshold seeking familial hospitality as the son of Laban’s sister, Rebecca, Leah immediately likes him because he holds her gaze rather than looking away. He does not see in Leah the witch that others claim to have seen; instead, Jacob is drawn by Leah’s height and her shapely, strong figure. Unlike her sister, Rachel, Leah smells of bread and yeast, which draws Jacob to imagine her sex.

Aside from his legitimate daughters, Laban also bore two daughters from slaves who once lived in his home. His second daughter, Zilpah, is olive-skinned and raven-haired, and she has little time for men. Zilpah praises the moon, the Queen of Heaven, and everything feminine. The youngest daughter, Bilhah, is dark and silent and is left to herself by the others in the home. One day, Bilhah proves herself by correctly predicting the birth of kids from a she-goat thought barren.

Once Jacob comes into the home, Leah begins creating a feast to comfort him, and Jacob ends up remaining in the home of Laban for many weeks. Jacob eventually makes a proposal to take Rachel as his bride, and Jacob and Laban argue over the proper bride price. A stingy man who has been known to take a wandering hand to his daughters, Laban tries to offer Bilhah in place of a proper dowry. Jacob, however, will not stand for this, and the men settle on Jacob’s working Laban’s herds for one year. But when the year is over, Rachel has still not begun to menstruate, and Laban’s wife, Adah, will not allow the marriage. When Rachel’s cycle finally begins, her sisters introduce her to the rituals of the red tent. According to custom, Jacob is forced to wait another seven months to wed his bride.