In this Torah portion, Vayetzei, Jacob falls in love with his beautiful cousin Rachel but is tricked into marrying her older sister Leah first. Married to both sisters, Jacob’s preference for Rachel is obvious and causes Leah great anguish. Seeing that Leah is unloved, God opens her womb and she births three sons in quick succession, each time hoping that the baby will make her husband love her more. Nothing changes in the marriage, however, as Rachel remains the favored wife. But something changes in Leah. When she gives birth to her fourth son, Leah’s perspective shifts. She no longer sees her baby as a way to get her husband’s attention. Rather, she sees him for what he is: a gift from God. And she expresses gratitude, becoming the first person in the Torah described as giving thanks to the Lord. Leah names her son Judah – Yehuda – from the Hebrew word for thankfulness.
Jacob had twelve sons, who became the Twelve Tribes of Israel, but the one we Jews are named after is Judah. As our very name indicates, the primary role of the Jew in the world is to model an attitude of gratitude to God.
Image: “Rachel & Leah” by James Tissot (1896)