Parshas Vayaitzai

This Shabbos we read Parshas Vayaitzai. The Parsha focuses on the life of Jacob, his flight to the house of Laban, his marriage there to Rachel and Leah, and the birth of most of his children. When Jacob got married, Leah had children, while Rachel remained barren for several years. Leah first had three sons - Reuven, Shimon, and Levi. Her fourth son she named Yehuda or Judah, meaning “to give thanks”. She explained the reason she named him this because “this time I want to thank Hashem”. (Genesis 29:35) The Talmud tells us that “no one thanked Hashem until Leah came and thanked Him” (Talmud, Berachos 7b). What does it mean that no one thanked Hashem until then? We constantly find the Patriarchs thanking the Almighty for all the miracles that He did to them?

The Ksav Sofer explains, that when something happens to a person that is extraordinary, beyond the natural way the world runs, he or she realizes that they must thank Hashem. When everyday events occur that are not abnormal, however, we often don’t realize that we have to thank Hashem. Our Sages teach us that “for every breath we take we must thank Hashem”. Although breathing is not something that is abnormal, it is not something that is an open miracle. It is something we often take for granted. The Sages are telling us that it is not enough to thank Hashem for open miracles, when the hand of Hashem is self evident and obvious. We have to thank Him when we see the everyday occurrences that give us life and allow us to exist. If we only feel thanks for open miracles and not for everyday ones, we are not really thanking Him properly.

The recorded incidents where the Torah describes the Patriarchs thanking Hashem are incidents when there was an open miracle. Issac was born at an advanced age, Abraham won a war over the four kings,… Leah thanked Hashem for having a son, something that happens everyday of the week. She, however, did not take this for granted, but thanked Hashem for this. This is a beautiful lesson in thanking Hashem, one that the Sages say we should apply to our everyday life.

The story is told of a person who was walking one day and was hit by a car. Miraculously, he survived the incident. The next day he brought shnaps and cake to his Synagogue, and made a L’chaim, telling everyone about the miracle that occurred to him, that he was hit by a car when he was walking and survived. The next day his friend put out a huge spread of shnaps and cake. When he was asked why he was making this L’chaim, he said, “for gratitude that when I was walking I was not hit by a car”! This is the beauty of the lesson our Matriarch Leah taught us – to recognize the everyday occurrences that happen to us, to appreciate them, and to thank Hashem for them.