Parshas Vayeitzei (5775)
By Rabbi David Zauderer
You remember the old Johnny Cash song A Boy Named Sue:
Well, my daddy left home when I was three
And he didn't leave much to ma and me
Just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze
Now, I don't blame him 'cause he run and hid
But the meanest thing that he ever did
Was before he left, he went and named me Sue…
If you thought that a boy named Sue was strange, check out the names that some famous celebrities have given their kids:
~ Actress Gwyneth Paltrow and rock star Chris Martin named their daughter Apple.
~ Grace Slick, lead singer of the rock group Jefferson Airplane reportedly named her daughter god (although some say that it’s an urban myth and her real name is China).
~ “Rocky” star Sylvester Stallone named his son Sage Moonblood.
~ Michael Jackson - the “King of Pop” - chose Prince Michael for his first son's name. He named his second son Prince Michael II and then proceeded to call him Blanket.
~ Hollywood stars David Duchovny and Tea Leoni named their kid Kyd.
~ Jason Lee, from "My Name is Earl," named his son Pilot Inspektor.
~ Songwriter and musician Frank Zappa named his daughter Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen.
~ and singer Mariah Carey named one of her twins Moroccan.
It turns out that giving children “strange” names goes all the way back to biblical times, as we shall illustrate from a “baby-naming” in this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Vayeitzei.
When our forefather Jacob and his wife, our matriarch Leah, had their fourth child, she named him Yehudah (Judah). The Talmud in Berachos 7b states: Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai: Since the day that the Holy One, blessed be He, created His world, no one thanked G-d until Leah came and thanked Him. For when Judah was born, Leah said ‘This time I will thank G-d’ (Genesis 29:35).” [She therefore called her son Judah, a Hebrew name which derives from the root hoda’ah, which means “thankfulness”.]
The Talmudic commentators all ask how it is possible that no one thanked G-d until Leah came around. It is conceivable that such saintly biblical personalities as Adam and Eve, Shem and Eber, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca – all of whom preceded Leah – never thanked G-d, not even once, for all the good that He bestowed upon them?
I believe that what the Talmud is saying is that while all those great biblical figures who preceded Leah indeed expressed their thanks to G-d at various times of the day and throughout their lives, Leah went one major step further than the rest – she actually named her child “thanks”. By naming her fourth son Judah, which means “thanks”, she had a constant reminder of her obligation to thank G-d, thus ensuring that she would never forget, not even for a second, all that she owed to G-d for all the kindnesses that He bestowed upon her and her family.
We, the Jewish people, descendants of Leah and Judah, are also named “thanks”, for in many places in the Bible we are referred to as Yehudim (see, for example, Esther 3:6), which derives from the Hebrew word Judah, meaning “thanks”.
Indeed, we are a nation of “thankers”. In fact, our people have been praying the following Modim (“Thanksgiving”) blessing in our daily prayers three times a day for well over 2000 years:
We gratefully thank You, for it is You Who are the L-ord, our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers for all eternity; Rock of our lives, Shield of our salvation are You from generation to generation. We shall thank You and relate Your praise – for our lives, which are committed to Your power and for our souls that are entrusted to You; for Your miracles that are with us every day; and for Your wonders and favors in every season – evening, morning, and afternoon. The Beneficent One, for Your compassions were never exhausted, and the Compassionate One, for Your kindnesses never ended – always have we put our hope in You. For all these, may Your Name be blessed and exalted, our King, continually forever and ever. Everything alive will gratefully acknowledge You, Selah! and praise Your Name sincerely, O G-d of our salvation and help, Selah! Blessed are You, L-ord, Your Name is ‘The Beneficent One’ and to You it is fitting to give thanks.
This coming week, our family will IY”H (G-d willing) be celebrating the marriage of our oldest daughter, Adina, to a wonderful boy named Eli Kuhnreich. I would like to publicly express my heartfelt thanks to the One Above for this amazing kindness, and for all that He has done and continues to do for us always. We can never thank G-d enough for all the good that He bestows upon us, but one thing we can and did do: We followed our matriarch Leah’s lead and named our third boy Yehudah, “thanks”, as a constant reminder of G-d’s kindness to us.
May we all share in simchas together.