Jacob's choice of words, when he asked Laban to give him his wife at the end of seven years of service, is truly puzzling. Even the most boorish person would not use such crass language, as Jacob said: "Hand over my wife for I have completed my years." (Gen. 29:21) We must also wonder at Leah's choice of words later: "To me you must come this night, for I have hired you for the mandrakes of my son." (Ibid. 30:16)

Nachmanides, in his writing Iggeret Hakodesh,has already written about the significance of the terms "joining" and "knowing" when used to describe marital unions. Before man sinned and became polluted with the filth of the evil urge, the act of copulation was considered the fulfillment of a mitzvah, similar to all other mitzvot. Just as one employs one's hands to fulfill the commandment of building a Sukka, or one takes a lulav in one's hands, so one uses a different organ to fulfill the commandment of being fruitful. The genitals were created to enable man to perform this commandment, and there was no feeling of shame or embarrassment attached to the act. Only after the serpent had made man aware that he was naked,…did...physical union become associated with...shame and embarrassment…

Only after the serpent had made man aware that he was naked, and that the very condition of nudity was something to be embarrassed about, did the act of physical union become associated with feelings of shame and embarrassment. In the future, when G‑d will remove the evil urge from us, and we shall again be as free from sin as Adam was before his sin, the act of intimate union between man and wife will again be the performance of a mitzvah like all other mitzvot.

The Patriarchs and Matriarchs were on a spiritual level approaching that which in the future will exist amongst ordinary people. This enabled them to express themselves in a totally unrestrained manner. Whereas ordinary people, in order not to appear gross, must describe every reference to intimate physical activity by something the Sages call "lashon nikiya", euphemistic language, the Patriarchs and Matriarchs had no need to resort to this; their holiness was natural, the result of child-like innocence.

This also explains why Jacob is reported as kissing Rachel the moment they met, and why such conduct is not considered suggestive. This is why Rashi explains that Jacob's meaning was simply: "When can I begin to sire the twelve tribes?" Just as marital union before the Sin was an act which did not need to be performed in private, so the provision of food and clothing at that time was also something that did not involve man in preparation or hard labor.

[Translation and commentary by Eliyahu Munk]