"She [Rachel] gave [Jacob] her handmaid Bilhah as a wife…. (Gen. 30:4)

She [Leah] took her handmaid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. (Gen. 30:9)

Bilhah and Zilpah were sisters. Nonetheless, in marrying them, Jacob did not violate the Torah's prohibition of marrying two sisters, since they did not have the legal status of sisters. Bilhah and Zilpah were the daughters of Laban's maidservants, and according to Jewish law were thus considered his property, devoid of any familial status.

Every Jew is, in a sense, a servant of G‑d….

Spiritually, every Jew is, in a sense, a servant of G‑d. Not only does his property belong to G‑d, his very existence belongs to G‑d. This aspect of our relationship to G‑d is in a way superior to the son-father aspect of our relationship to G‑d. When we consider our relationship to G‑d like that of a child to its father, i.e. when we fulfill G‑d's will out of love for G‑d, our self-awareness is a factor in the relationship: the more we sense how much we love G‑d, the more we desire to fulfill His will. In contrast, when we serve G‑d as a servant, our service is pure; there is no admixture of self-awareness, for we are merely the "property" of our Master.

Through this attitude, the Jew becomes an extension of the King, and reveals to the world the sovereignty of G‑d.

The maidservants were, in a sense, superior to the matriarchs….

In Kabbala, the Hebrew word for "iron", "barzel", is seen as an acronym for the four wives of Jacob: Bilhah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Leah. Significantly, the names of the maidservants appear before those of their mistresses. This reflects the fact that the Maidservants were, in a sense, superior to the Matriarchs. The Matriarchs personified malchut of Atzilut as it is in its native environment, the world of Atzilut. The Maidservants, on the other hand, personified malchut of Atzilut as it descends into the lower worlds. This is why Abraham and Jacob did not initially want to marry their maidservants: they did not want to be brought into the lower worlds. The Matriarchs, however, recognized the need for this descent and therefore encouraged their husbands to marry their maidservants. Precisely because they descended into the lower worlds, they were able to reconstruct malchut, a necessary stage in the process of Redemption. For this reason, the names of the Maidservants appear before those of the Matriarchs.

[Adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Likutei Sichot, vol. 5, pp. 236-238; Sefer HaLikutim on Gen. 49:11; Zohar I:122 Sefer HaSichot, vol. 1, p. 234b
Copyright 2001 chabad of california / www.LAchumash.com]