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David Petraeus and the Biblical Lessons of Why Men Want Two Women

November 26, 2012 9:35 pm 7 comments

CIA Director David H. Petraeus. Photo: wiki commons.

The David Petraeus scandal, where a national hero betrays a solid, devoted, soul mate of a wife to be with a young hot thing who gets his blood pumping seems as old as time itself. In earlier times a general or king would usually have two women to being with to  fulfill two very different needs. The pedigreed wife for children and to rule as a consort – and 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 does not tolerate unfaithfulness. It expects men who are accomplished in their public life to be equally accomplished in marriage by finding find both dimensions in one woman, namely their wives.

The Biblical story of Jacob and his two wives, Rachel and Leah (which we read in last week’s portion) provides insight into what men search for and the tragedy of not  orchestrating disparate needs into one indivisible woman.

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 yearning. It is love as covetousness, lust, and desire. It is the fieriest kind of romantic love. It is also the most tragic. Romantic, passionate, lustful love that is balanced by partnership and intimacy nearly always ends badly. Either because the fires die down, or because the fire burns so brightly that it consumes both participants. Fiery, lustful love rarely ends up with a happily ever after. Jacob feels in his bones that his passion for Rachel must end disastrously. Thus, he is drawn to kiss her, but he immediately weeps. 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 will never fully possess her and 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.’ Simeon 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.

Leah longs for Jacob the way that Jacob longs for Rachel. But for Jacob, Leah represents a maternal, practical partner with whom he shares a life but has no passionate connection. 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 does not want bad things to happen to her. He wishes to protect her but she is not the delight of his soul.

Yet Jacob 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 destined to return to his wife, if she would accept him back). She is destined to bear most of his children, share his life, and share eternity with him by being buried at his side. Leah represents stability and order. She will be Jacob’s anchor. She is his permanence. 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 passionate.

Rachel is playful, girlish, and evinces, at times, immaturity that is often characteristic of  women whom men desire mightily. She can also be callous about Jacob’s love for her, so confident is she in the strength of his desire. 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. They triumph because in their stability they end up gaining the commitment of men who build families and lives with them. But they suffer because they never feel the passionate desire of their husbands. They never really feel wanted. They never truly feel special. And a woman wants to be lusted after even more than she wants to be loved.

But 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.

The Jewish laws that will follow with the giving of the Torah at Sinai will prescribe half of the month 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 mates, people who ache for each other but settle down with one another to create a life of stability and permanence. Our wives should be our mistresses and our companions, our excitement and our anchor. We never wish to lose our lust, but we also need to accompany lust with love.

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, so from his earliest age he tasted rejection. Later, he will repeat many of these mistakes in favoring Joseph, creating even more dysfunction and sibling rivalry among his own children than he experienced with Esau. Likewise, he favors one wife and one type of love. He struggles to appreciate the stability of Leah and gravitates exclusively toward the drama of Rachel. With Rachel he fights and argues. 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. But dramatic relationships are addictive and Rachel is the drug of choice. But in favoring Rachel so exclusively Jacob risks becomes emotionally monolithic, never quite mastering the art of relationships. He 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 wits.

Like many a man who has experienced insufficient love in his childhood, Jacob finds intimacy challenging. Love for him is more of a high than a deep sharing of self. He seeks the deep thrill of love that comes from a woman of passionate nature like Rachel rather than a woman of deep emotion like Leah. Jacob gravitates to the romantic love of the poets rather than the practical love of real life.

But, whatever man’s plans, God often intends something different. Jacob lusts for Rachel but his future is with Leah.

We men of the modern era can draw the appropriate lesson.

Shmuley Boteach, whom the Washington Post calls ‘the most famous Rabbi in America,’ is the international best-selling author of 29 books, and is working on his next relationship book entitled Kosher Lust, upon which this column is based. Look for the book in stores in a few months. In the meantime, you can lust and yearn for it. Follow Shmuley on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


  • DEGEL,YOU ARE MISSING TH EPOINT. He was twisiting the Torah His interpretration is corrupted and illegitamant.

    You are blurring issues saying that he gives a legitement interpretations of Torah.

    Do as you like,you can say what you like and believe as you like but universal body of Rabbis reject his interpretion. You cannot validate his biblical interpretation because you like his marital advise.
    I think thats called socratic method of persuassion where you accept one premise and base everything that follows no matter how wrong blindly because you agreed with his first premise..

    He is wrong He insulted Torah and the whole basis of Judaism.


    the 2 other religions even use Yaacobs name


    • Usually when a person states anything he have to give an argument or two to confirm his or her opinion. Generalization may serve him a bad favor because it’s like accusation of guilt without any proving or evidence. How do you know that this article contradicted Torah? Why do you dare to issue verdict and do not bother yourself of giving any quote from the Source that would confirm your presumption. For me the best prove that we deal here with authentic Torah interpretation baized on teaching that whatever happened with our forefathers keeps going of happening with their children, us included. That’s why I am sure that this article gives us a gleam of luxury of absolute eternity of Torah and its fascinating modernity. Now we can relate to it not only on theoretical level but practicallly and specifically, and internalize Torah lessons in our every day life.

      • i gave my argument. I quoted the majority of Rabbis. His arguments are not new.His infantile ignorant arguments have been discussed times before. Judaism is based on questions ,checks and balances which you lack the understanding and sources to do such…obviously.Judaism had many heretics and rebellious leaders and followers both Jew and goy.You are not the first and
        Boteach is not the first rebellious one.

        If you were a Jew that had basic Torah classes you also would know and not comment like a outsider.
        Torah is beyond your literal understandings.
        You seem offended by my responce.You arrogance supercedes your need to learn.
        I suggest you subscribe to spiderman comics for more insight.

        I once heard a term by a great Rabbi of this generation which I feel describes you to the point. ”you are an overeducated idiot”

        Thank you for reading my comments and responding.
        Your next stop should be with a TORAH ORTHODOX RABBI THAT IS ACCEPTED AS SUCH.

        • You did not answer my question. Accusations without prove do not deserve attention and are absolutly irrelevant.

  • “Person’s comprehension is according to his or her own level of perversion.” Those Jews who see this article as a threat to their purity or chastity may be hypocrites or may have serious health issues starting from not obvious disturbance up to cretinism. Our world is full of people who gravitated in serious depravation such as pedophilia, homosex, S & M and so on. But when a healthy person have healthy needs that topic is forbidden, our society cannot stand it, making TABU on human NATURAL not perverted sensuality.
    Shmuley Boteach is one of my favorite writer, my daughter grew up on his “Ten Commandment of Jewish Mariage” Not sure if I remember the name of the book correctly but from those books that we have now about Jewish home, Boteach’s books are among the best.


    It is said man has substitues of certain pleasures
    fighting the yezter hara.
    This man finds his substitutions in deseminating filthy distortions of TORAH and our Father Yaacov Avienu where the world of rabbis doesnt dare speak like he reported here.

    Is shumely boteach saying he is more awareness then all out great Rabbis of this gerneration and prebvious generation that we people should respect this outlandish crap he writes?

    The last time we heard this disrespect was from the jews in the ‘enlightened’ movement and before that we had many false messiahs who claimed to be enlightened even fooling our holy leaders of the time and as a result we had our revolutions.

    Its obvious from all of his past and present writings, that this man doesnt have the basic knowledge of a child and he should not be given any respect as a rabbi and in fact he is a threat to Torah Judaism which he desgraces
    with his every article and publication.

    I urge every one to not purchase any of what he sells.

  • Boteach has become a concervative rabbi no orthodox rabbi would even try to explain the story like this. Horrible

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