She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the LORD.” So she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children. — Genesis 29:35
The Torah portion for this week, Vayeitzei, which means “and he left,” is from Genesis 28:10–32:3, and the Haftorah is from Hosea 11:7–12:14.
When Leah gave birth to her fourth son, she bestowed on him a name that reflected how she felt: Judah. The name Judah comes from the Hebrew word hoda’a, which means to thank or give praise. At that moment, Leah felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude toward her Creator for giving her yet another child.
The Jewish sages make a puzzling statement about Leah’s choice of name. They say that Leah was the first person to ever praise God. But what about all of the great people that came before her? Surely Abraham and Isaac gave thanks to the Lord and offered sacrifices of thanksgiving to Him! How can the sages make such an outrageous claim?
We need to understand what the sages meant by their statement. Everyone before Leah who thanked God did so in response to some unusual event – a miracle of some sort. Leah was the first to thank God for the commonplace wonders that happen every single day. She gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby – something that many folks take for granted – and said, “Hey, this is miraculous!” Leah was the first to realize that just because something is natural and common doesn’t mean that it isn’t miraculous. She was the first to praise God for natural wonders.
It’s so easy to get caught up in everyday life and miss out on the extraordinary things that are happening all around us. Many of us take for granted the glory of the morning sunrise and the brilliance of the stars at night. We don’t fully appreciate the gift of a dear friendship, the beauty of children’s laughter, or the ability to eat a satisfying meal. God’s miracles are everywhere. He is in the wind that blows through the trees, and the breeze that kisses your cheeks. He is in the rise and fall of the waves in the sea. Leah was the first to open her eyes and appreciate that God is everywhere. And so she gave thanks for everything.
In the daily Jewish prayer service, we recite a special prayer of praise and gratitude three times a day. This is what we read: “We give thanks to You . . . Your miracles are with us every day and Your wonders and Your goodness are at all times.”
Leah’s legacy lives on. We take the time to reflect daily on the miracles that we experience every day of our lives, at all times. Because when we can find God in the little things, we will also experience Him in the big things. When we recognize everyday miracles, we will merit seeing the greatest miracles of all.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President