And she conceived again and bore a son, and she said, “This time, I will thank HASHEM! Therefore, she named him Yehuda, and [then] she stopped bearing. (Breishis 29:35)
This time, I will thank: since I have taken more than my share, consequently, I must offer up thanks. – Rashi
It’s a little hard to digest the notion that our great matriarch Leah had not been thankful up until this point. HASHEM had already granted her three healthy children prior to Yehudah’s birth and even without that there’s plenty to be thankful for! What does she mean, “This time I will thank HASHEM”?
Rashi must have been troubled by the same question. He offers a little contexture to her intention. Leah understood there would be 12 children from amongst 4 bearing mothers. That’s how it turned out too. When she bore her 4thchild it was apparent that she was disproportionately gifted. When Leah realized that she was a majority shareholder in the production of the Jewish People it created a cosmic shift in her attitude. Now she is adopting a posture of continuous, non-stop, ever increasing gratitude.
Yehuda, the name, contains the letters of HASHEM’s name! Yud and Hey and Vuv and Hey. Only there is a Dalet, which stands for humility and poverty plugged in the middle. Yehuda represents and is the lowly, humble servant who carries The Name of HASHEM through history. His existence, his mere presence is a living constant reminder of the goodness of HASHEM. As a surviving tribe, it is no mistake that we, the Jews, the Jewish people bear the name for all time, Yehudim, Yehudi- hence Jew. That’s what a Jew is. The first words we declare upon awaking in the morning is, “Modeh Ani…”- I thank, I admit, I acknowledge my indebtedness! My Rebbe simply explained that what we are declaring that what I am is a MODEH!
I am a thanking being, a grateful creature! That is who we are! We are appreciators of HASHEM generosity.
I was launching a 3rd grade class of boys into Davening just this morning. We were talking about this point before pressing the start button and racing past Modeh Ani! I was listing some odd things to be thankful for and giving some practical reasons why our lives would be painfully difficult without for example, elbows! Imagine trying to get a piece of food into your mouth if you could not easily bend your elbow. Now appreciate the elegance and kindliness of the design.
One boy politely detonated a bomb of a question into the middle of this otherwise basic discussion. “Rebbe, what do we get from all these things that HASHEM gives us? He was asking sincerely, and not at all cynically. It was deserving of a real answer. I was taken aback for a moment! I do believe he was truly curious about this arrangement we have with HASHEM. He gives us abundantly and we reflect back many thanks. What’s the good? Why? Now I had the opportunity to land a lesson that only became crystal clear to me as I was forced to explain it to a class of 3rd graders.
Picking up a board marker I presented it to this boy, acting as if I was a great and mighty King. What if the King of England gave you this marker!? Would you leave it in your desk? Would you lose it? Would you use it foolishly? “No!”emphatically was his and everyone’s unanimous answer. “You might even want to bring it home and frame it- treasure it forever! “What if the King told you to use it, but only for learning and for good things in school? Would you write on the walls of the school with it or scribble on your desk!? Of course not!
When we realize that what we have is from HASHEM, we are immediately committed to using it for what it was meant to be used for by the giver. (The gift connects the giver to the receiver, while the “thanks” connects the receiver to the giver. It’s a hug, a two-way, reciprocal relationship.) So if I realize HASHEM gave me a mouth, can I use it to say bad and hurtful things? No! I must only use it for saying things, like “thanks”! Now let’s begin, “Modeh Ani…””
DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.