Yaakov works seven years for Leah, and then seven more years for Rachel. Why does he have to work seven for both of them?
I would suggest that the Torah gives us a hint – that when it says that the seven years “seemed unto him but single days”, and then again, “Jacob said unto Laban: ‘Give me my wife, for my days are filled’” – that we are being told that it is not the years that matter, but the number “seven” itself. The years might as well be days, and that is how Yaakov feels them.
G-d made the world in seven days. The Torah is telling us that a marriage, each marriage, is analogous to building the whole world. When a man marries a woman, they create their own world together, and then, just as with Adam and Eve, life begins anew, and together.
There is a very important corollary to this nugget. The two marriages are very different, and they yield different fruit. Leah bears six children directly (and more through her handmaid). She is also buried in the cave of Machpelah, in the ancestral family burial grounds.
But the marriage with Rachel is much less productive. Rachel has fewer sons, and is not buried at Machpelah, but is instead buried in a place along the side of the road, a spot that is not even marked.
The real kicker? Leah loves Yaakov profoundly and deeply, while the Torah never tells us that Rachel loved her husband at all!
The Torah is teaching us a lesson about marriage, work, and all of life. Our investments and their returns are connected. Things that are hard to achieve are worth far more than the things that come easy (compare the spending habits of a man who earned his bread versus one who wins it).
Yaakov’s investment for Rachel is easy – every year is like a day to him. He does not have to invest; it is painless.
But the years Yaakov works for Leah are not called “like days”. They are full, hard years of labor.
And what is the return on his investment? With Leah, Yaakov enjoyed a richer and fuller marriage, and eternity spent together in Machpelah after their lives had passed.
The marriage with Rachel is also commensurate with Yaakov’s investment: she is not similarly blessed with children nor even with a notable love for her husband.
The lesson is simple enough: the harder path may well be more fruitful. Our rewards, especially in relationships, are commensurate with the effort and energy that we pour into that relationship. Indeed, building a marriage is the way in which each of us creates the entire world.