Parshas Vayeitzei: Giving Thanks

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Vayeitzei, we journey with Yaakov Avinu, who enters the parsha a lonely and hunted man, fleeing the wrath of his brother, Eisav, and ends the parsha a man wealthy in family and flocks.  During his twenty year stay at the home of his uncle, Lavan, Yaakov marries his four wives – the two Imahos (foremothers), Rachel and Leah, and the two sh’fachos (maidservants) Bilhah and Zilpah – and sees the birth of twelve children – eleven sons and one daughter, Dina. 

When Leah, his first (but not the most beloved) wife, births her fourth son, she declares, הַפַּעַם אוֹדֶה אֶת ה– this time I will thank Hashem, and therefore, the Torah narrates, קָרְאָה שְׁמוֹ, יְהוּדָה, she called his name Yehuda (Bereishis 29:35). 

Rashi comments: הפעם אודה שֶׁנָּטַלְתִּי יוֹתֵר מֵחֶלְקִי, מֵעַתָּה יֵשׁ לִי לְהוֹדוֹת – This time I will thank Hashem: since I took more than my share (of sons), it is now incumbent upon me to give thanks. 

Leah knew, with ruach ha’kodesh (Divine inspiration), that there would be twelve tribes born to Yaakov.  Four wives, twelve tribes… each wife should birth three sons.  When Leah, the first to wed Yaakov, had her fourth son, she realized that she had received more than her share, and hence, she gave thanks!

R’ Soloveitchik zt’l comments, “This time I will thank Hashem!  The concept of thanksgiving involves expressing gratitude to G-d for that which has been attained, while accepting that it is impossible to acquire everything which one desires.  Only after her fourth son was born did Leah finally resign herself to the truth of her relationship with Yaakov.

“A woman has two great needs: she wants to be loved by her husband, and she craves children to whom to give her love.  Leah realized that even after giving birth to three sons, there would be no fundamental change in Yaakov’s relationship with her.  Rachel would always remain the greater object of his love.  With Yehuda’s birth, Leah finally relinquished the hope of ever being Yaakov’s beloved one, yet she was grateful to G-d that she had four children to love and care for.

“R’ Shimon bar Yochai mentions in the Gemara (Brachos 7b) that Leah was the first to offer thanks to G-d, since she was the first to assert that G-d must be praised for any blessing He bestows upon us.  The name Yehuda later became associated with the Jewish people itself.  Despite the suffering and persecution we have been subjected to, we remain thankful to G-d for the privilege of having been selected as His people” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Bereishis, p.222-223).

It was not just a regular “thank You” that Leah gave Hashem upon the birth of her fourth child.  It was a “thank You” that: even though I cannot, and never will have, the total love and attention of my husband, and even though my sister is his akeres ha’bayis (mainstay and anchor of his home – see Rashi to Bereishis 46:19), and I am not… and even though he married me under deceitful conditions and I was not, and am not, his first choice… and even though my eyes were so tender, oh so tender, from countless tears, and my sister was, and is, far more beautiful than I am…. and even though it is impossible to acquire everything which one desires…. nevertheless!  This time I will thank Hashem.

Leah’s “thank You” is 

the humble, amazing, inspiring, courageous and brave “thank You” of every Jew, in every time and in every place, who feels a lack, yet thanks Hashem for all the good He graciously bestows upon us.  And for this, indeed, we give thanks.

It is not an accident of course, that our people are known as Yehudim, after the thanks that Leah so eloquently expressed with the birth of Yehuda.  And it is not an accident that the very first word we utter each and every morning of our lives is “modeh [ani] thankful [am I]”.

It is an attitude and middah (character trait) that we must strive to acquire, and carry with us, our entire lives.  Even if… and even if… and even if…. for all the good, we will give thanks.

There is a Yiddish expression which states: אז מע קען ניט ווי מע וויל, דארף מען וועלן ווי מע קען – If you can’t have what you like, then like what you have.

Our essence as a people is encapsulated in the four words uttered by our foremother Leah, at the dawn of our national history.  This time – and every time – I will thank Hashem.

May her righteousness, her sacrifices on behalf of our people, her humility and courage, her tenacity and bravery, inspire us to emulate the person she was and the middos she lived by.

For all the good in life, and perhaps the perceived-not-so-good, ‘הַפַּעַם אוֹדֶה אֶת ה.

,בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום

Michal

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