10 Nov Shabbos Is In The Air: GOOD FOR BODY, MIND AND SOUL
In this week’s parshah, we are introduced to two of our matriarchs, Rochel and Leah, the wives of Yaakov.
“And Leah’s eyes were ‘rakos’, tender and Rochel was ‘yefas toe’ahr, vi’fas maareh’, beautiful of form, and beautiful of appearance.”
Tender eyes? Rashi explains that Leah cried and cried. She cried so much, that her eyes became red and tender. Leah heard the local “talk” – that Yitzchok and Rivkah had two sons, Eisav and Yaakov, while Lavan had two daughters, Rochel and Leah. It would be expected that the older daughter, Leah, would marry the older son, Eisav, while the younger daughter, Rochel would be a match for Yaakov.
Leah began checking out Eisav. She heard that he was a hunter, a man of the field. He was not only a hunter by profession, but lived his life “on the hunt, on the prowl”. Always running and searching, but never satisfied.
She also inquired about Yaakov. She learned that he lived his life on a high spiritual plane, devoting himself to study and prayer. He walked the walk and talked the talk, bringing the lessons of Torah learning home with him.
It’s no wonder that Leah cried, wishing to become the wife of Yaakov. The Torah mentions her tender eyes as a credit to her, for they were eyes of longing. Eyes pleading to be a matriarch of the Jewish people. It was with that heartfelt desire that Leah stood under the chuppah alongside Yaakov, knowing all too well that it was her younger sister, Rochel whom Yaakov truly wished to marry.
HaShem blessed Leah with children, and she saw the birth of each one as a time for tefillah, an opportunity to connect to HaShem.
The Torah tells us that upon giving birth to her fourth son, Yehudah, Leah says “This time I shall praise HaShem.” (Bereishis/Genesis, 29:35)
Leah proclaims her thanks to HaShem, for the gift of a beautiful son which meant the world to her. She named her son, Yehudah, from the root word odeh, meaning to appreciate, to show gratitude. Odeh, also means to acknowledge, for when saying thank you, we admit to a good that was bestowed upon us.
Leah could have been depressed or disheartened, walking around with a chip on her shoulder. After all, she was living in Rochel’s shadow. She chose otherwise. Leah looked at the blessings in her life, and was appreciative. Instead of comparing her life to Rochel’s, she concentrated on the gifts HaShem blessed her with.
It is taught, “From the day that HaShem created the world, no one thanked Him, until Leah came and thanked HaShem upon giving birth to Yehudah. (Talmud Berachos, 7b). Though there were others before Leah who in fact did express gratitude to HaShem, it was Leah who lived in a state of constant thankfulness, with an “attitude of gratitude”.
In our own lives, we can take an important lesson from Leah. To live a life of thankfulness. To want what you have. There will always be someone with more, better, nicer. Someone with a more luxurious home, a more up-to-date kitchen, a more extravagant wardrobe, or taking more exotic vacations. It’s toxic to be measuring and comparing to others. Count your blessings, and be grateful for what you do have.
As a nation, we are called Yehudim – Jews, derived from the name Yehudah – Judah. A nation for whom expressing gratitude is intrinsic to our very being.
We wake up every morning, with the words “Modeh Ani – Thank You HaShem” on our lips. Thank you HaShem for the gift of another day. Thank you HaShem for all of life’s blessings.
The 6th of Kislev is the yahrtzeit of my beloved grandmother, Mama, Rebbetzin Miriam bas HaRav Tzvi Hersh HaKohein, a”h. Mama epitomized living a life of gratitude.
Like our Matriarch Leah, Mama was appreciative of everything around her. She didn’t have the easiest of lives, yet saw every day as a gift from HaShem.
When my Zeide, HaRav Avraham HaLevi zt”l, opened a yeshiva, Mama was by his side. Every morning she would be there when the buses arrived, standing at the entrance and wishing each child a “boker tov – good morning”. She was there once again at dismissal time, distributing snacks to the children as they left, always reminding them to first recite a berachah.
Mama loved children, all children. To her, each one was special. Each one a proof that, even after the Holocaust, our nation remained resilient, strong and is thriving. For each yiddishe neshamah, Mama, just like our Matriarch Leah before her, would say “Hapa’am odeh ess HaShem, this time let me praise HaShem.”
During the summer months, Mama often joined us at our bungalow upstate. The bungalow was nothing to write home about – one bedroom (which I shared with three children) and a kitchen. Mama would sleep in the kitchen, and get up early in the morning, with the biggest smile, ready to take my baby out for a walk. She was happy just to look at HaShem’s world around her. To listen to the birds, watch the sun rise and take in the scent of the pine trees. Mama’s greatest pleasure was watching the children in the colony, especially all the babies. She had true yiddishe nachas just seeing a new generation. Mama didn’t see a small bungalow; she saw a beautiful world. She taught me a lesson in appreciation.
Some years ago, The Wall Street Journal carried an article about living with an attitude of gratitude. “Adults who frequently feel grateful, have more energy, more optimism, more social connection and more happiness, than those who do not. They are also less likely to be depressed, envious or greedy. They sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly and have greater resistance to viral infection.”
Dovid Hamelech tells us in Tehillim, “Hodu L’HaShem ki tov….” (Psalms 118:1). While it is literally translated as “Give thanks to HaShem, because He is good….”, perhaps we can also understand this to internalize the powerful message that giving thanks to HaShem is also good for us. Expressing thanks elevates us, it lifts us to a higher level. It is good for body, mind and soul.