Sunday, December 23, 2007

Parashas Vayetze

There is a tradition in many communities to allow the wife to choose the name of the first born child. Subsequent children are then named by the father or by the consensus of opinion of the parents. There is also a tradition to name a child after a forefather - especially when that forebear is especially illustrious.

In this week's parashah, we find that neither tradition is used. Leah names all of her children as well as the sons of her maidservant and Rachel names her son and the children of her maidservant. It is only with the birth of Rachel's second son that Yaakov is given a chance, and his role is limited to changing the name from Ben Oni to Binyomin.

In addition, the Midrash notes that Yitzchak had sent Esav out to hunt as part as part of the preparations of the seudat havra'ah marking Avraham's death. Why would none of his twelve sons bear the name of their great [tartei mashma] grandfather? [A perusal of Tanach reveals that there are very few places where we find people named after forebears. I would be most appreciative to any reader who has ever seen any research or commentary on this subject.]

The names that Leah chose seem to be a kind of tefilla: Reuven recognizing Hashem for having given her child, Shimon acknowledging Hashem for hearing that she was disliked, Levi an expression of hope that her husband would now seek her company. She then bears a fourth son and says: ha-pa'am odeh es Hashem - at this point I can now thank G-d [see Rashi and Targum].

Why did she have to wait for the fourth son to use the expression of hodayah - thankfulness? The Midrash explains that Leah foresaw that Yaakov was destined to have four wives and twelve sons. Thus, when she bore a fourth son, she recognized that she had received more than her share and she therefore acknowledged G-d.

The gemara notes that the name Yehudah is applied to one who denies idolatry which is why we as a nation are referred to as Yehudim - Jews. What is the co-relation between denying idolatry and this fourth son? We could have been called Shimonites or Yosefites and have had those names represent our belief in Hashem.

I would like to suggest that Leah felt that the birth of a fourth son - when all would see that she was the beneficiary of an extra measure of Divine grace - was the time to tell the world about her gratitude, for it is specifically at a point when one has received more than they deserve that it is important that we realize and recognize that all is a gift from G-d.

R' Itzele of Volozhin [son of R. Chaim and father-in-law of the Netziv] points out that Lavan hated Yaakov more than Esav did, because he understood that his phenomenal wealth was a result of Yaakov's presence in his home. Lavan was unable to even consider the idea that his successes were all a gift or the result of someone else's efforts. Cognizance of man's dependence upon G-d or upon other people was simply not a part of his lexicon.

Moreover, Lavan lived with a sense of entitlement [sound familiar] and if he was granted great riches, then he must deserve them. It was his only his daughter who had the sense to look at the world and recognize the truth. This is the middah of the denier of avodah zarah; a capacity to not wallow in self-delusion but to recognize truth.

In the case of the shevatim, each of their names represents a midah of recognition of Hashem that only the imahot were capable of seeing. Our recognition of our ultimate dependence on chasdei Hashem is one of the most important lessons that we can impart to our children. Doing so demands that we demonstrate this with our words and actions - tefillah and Torah study. If a child never sees his father look at a sefer, why should we expect that child to attach any importance to Torah? If his mother is always to busy to daven, why should he not make excuses for himself?

If we truly want to keep our children on the derech and raise them as Yehudim, we would do well to emulate Leah and give expression to our gratitude and recognition of the grace of G-d that permeates our lives.

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