Thursday, November 27, 2014

a thanksgiving lesson from Leah

The gemara (Brachos 7b) writes that there was no one since creation who gave thanks to Hashem until Leah said “hapa’am eodeh es Hashem” and named her son Yehudah (29:35).
Could it be that Avraham, Yitzchak, Ya’akov never gave thanks to Hashem?  Impossible to believe.  Just turn back to parshas Chayei Sarah and you find that even Eliezer said “Baruch Hashem” at finding success in his search for a shidduch for Yitzchak.   So whaydo Chazal single out Leah and the one was mechadesh giving thanks?
Ksav Sofer writes that the Avos lived lives where the supernatural was the norm, and they of course reciprocated with thanks and appreciation.  Leah gave thanks for childbirth, something that you can see in a hospital any day of the week.  
This is why, he explains, Chazal were critical of the person who says hallel daily. Hallel is a prayer of thanks for supernatural deliverance.  Someone who says hallel daily is fixated on the miraculous at the expense of appreciating and giving thanks for the regular day to day.
Others explain (I saw this explained nicely in Toras HaAggadah by Ephraim Oveid, but the idea is already in the Ben Yehoyada) that what made Leah’s thanks special is the fact that she incorporated it into the name of her child.  For most people, a thank you comes and goes.  There may be gratitude today, but tomorrow it’s forgotten and replaced by “What have you done for me lately?”  Leah wanted to remember that thank you always, and she wanted that spirit of gratitude to become part of who her child was.  That’s a good lesson to take to heart even if you don’t name your child Yehudah.
Rashi explains that Leah gave thanks here because in having her fourth child she realized she had gotten more than her share.  She knew that Ya'akov would have 12 children, divided by 4 wives, means her share should have been only three, and now she already had a fourth child.  Maharasha writes that Leah was not speaking b’toras nevuah, i.e. she did not know through prophecy that there would be 12 children in total or that none of the other wives of Ya’akov would have more than three children, as we don’t find Leah listed (Megillah 14) among the seven women nevi’os.  This seems to contradict Rashi in our parsha (27:12) who writes that all the Imahos were nevi’os (the Sefas Emes brings citations from Midrashim that say the same).  The Targum Yonasan also writes that Leah chose the name Yehudah because she saw David haMelech in the future, who would extol Hashem with his praises of thanks – again, another proof that Leah had prophecy and used it specifically here.  The simple answer is that Midrashim need not be consistent with each other.  Maharal answers that there were many other people , like Leah, who had the gift of nevuah but who are not listed by Chazal because the list consists only of those people whose prophecy is quoted in the text of Tanach.
Coming back to the question of what made Leah's thanks special, I think there are two possible ways to understand the Targum Yonasan I mentioned above.  One way is that he is telling us a siman: the fact that a David haMelech, author of Tehillim, would come out of Yehudah proves that the midah of thanks and praise was in Yehudah's spiritual DNA; therefore, he deserved that name.  But one could understand it as a sibas as well: Leah named her child Yehudah because she wanted to already commemorate the thanks and praise that she saw her great...great grandchild singing.  If that's what the Targum means, then maybe what made Leah's thanks special is the fact that she was showing gratitude for something that would not happen until years later in the future.  We have enough trouble showing gratitude for the chessed done for us in the here and now; Leah showed us that you can have gratitude even for what is yet to come.  Does the fact that she was a nevi'ah and knew with a greater degree of certainty that it would happen change things?  Maybe.  But I still think the point stands.  "Shema yigrom hacheit" -- there is always uncertainty.  Leah still had to have a degree of trust and hope.  Leah shows us that you don't always experience all the rewards in the here and now, but you can certainly give thanks for them.

1 comment:

  1. Rabbi Frand also was bothered by this question and he answered that sure, there were people in history who preceded her in thanking the Almighty. Noach, Avraham, and Eliezer all expressed gratitude to Hashem. However, there was something new about the circumstances of her thanksgiving because Leah saw that she had been "senuah" and now she was given a fourth son and clearly had achieved a preeminent role as matriarch of the Jewish nation. On this occasion, she expressed gratitude to Hashem even for the trials and tribulations of being an unappreciated wife. When she had Yehuda, she perceived that her earlier second class citizenship was ultimately for her good and it allowed her to merit having something that no other wife had – a fourth son of Yaakov.

    This idea is similar to that which We say in the Al HaNissim that we are duty-bound to thank Hashem for the miracles and for the salvation and for the mighty deeds and for the wars. This is strange. We have already thanked Him for the salvation and the victories. It sounds we are thanking hashem for the wars themselves. Why would that be the case?

    In the Sefer Heima Yenachamuni (by Rabbi Yitzchak Menachem Weinberg of Jerusalem, the Tolner Rebba)he brings from the Gemara [Shabbos 13b] which discusses the authorship of Megilas Taanis, which transcribed dates of Jewish historical salvation. In earlier times, these dates had the status of pseudo holidays on which it was forbidden to fast or give eulogies. The Gemara attributes the authorship to Chananya ben Chizkiya and his colleagues "because they loved tzaros.” Rashi explains that they celebrated the miracle, which allowed their salvation from the troubles. It was the miracle, which was dear to them because it allowed them to mention the praises of the Holy One Blessed Be He. The troubles brought them to the appreciation that G-d was watching over them and He redeemed them from their tzaros.

    But according to Rashi it is still a bit problematic: Is that not then a misnomer? We should not say they "love the tzaros." We should say they love the redemption from tzaros!? The Sefas Emes (Shabbos) says that "love the tzaros" means that if a person can make a simcha [celebration] after he has a misfortune, it demonstrates that he sees the Hand of G-d even in the troubles. If a person, Heaven forbid is terribly sick and then has a miraculous recovery and makes a party to celebrate -- what is the nature of that celebration? After all, what is there to celebrate – is it not better that he should not have been sick in the first place so that he would not have needed the "miraculous recovery?" If one can make a simcha and celebrate the fact that (a) he was in the state of danger and (b) he was saved from it, It demonstrates the person has the faith that somehow even the danger was for his own good. This is a very high spiritual level – to see Yad Hashem even in the troubles one encounters in life. This was the innovative novelty of Leah our Matriarch.