“The lady doth protest too much, me thinks.”
With this famous and oft-quoted line, Shakespeare reminds us that vehement arguments and fervent emotions are often signs of intense inner conflicts. In such cases, our true feelings are the opposite of what we so adamantly and publicly express. Or, as Freud suggested in analysis, to get to the heart of the matter, start with the resistance.
This week’s Torah portion, Vayetze, tells us that Jacob hated his Leah. Such strong words! One can understand Jacob feeling less passion for Leah than for her younger sister, his much-beloved Rachel. But why would his adoration of Rachel create such loathing for Leah? Perhaps Jacob’s hatred is rooted in the circumstances of his marriages. Jacob is tricked by his father-in-law, Laban, into wedding Leah before Rachel. Reflecting on Jacob’s personal history, Rabbi Harold Kushner comments:
“Knowing what we know of human psychology, we can also suspect that Jacob did, indeed, hate Leah because, by reminding him of the fraudulent circumstances of their wedding, she reminded him of his most shameful memory, the time he deceived his father. We often hate people for confronting us with what we like least about ourselves.”
We often hate people for confronting us with what we like least about ourselves. Those closest to us can act as mirrors into our own souls—and we may react badly when we do not like what they reflect back at us. One of the most powerful lines in our Yom Kippur liturgy comes from a contemporary interpretation of the “Al Chayt” confession of sins: “For condemning in our loved ones the faults we tolerate in ourselves.” Indeed.
This week, when you find yourself feeling or acting with a disproportionate level of emotional agitation, consider the possibility that what you see in someone else is shining an uncomfortable light into your own psyche. Start with the resistance. Our reactions to those nearest and dearest to us can, with insight and effort, become a calling to introspection and self-improvement. Jacob’s impatience with his wife’s duplicitousness might have led him to recognize and root out his own. So, too, can our awareness of hate and anger and fear move us to love and compassion and faith.