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November 15, 1991 - Image 48

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-11-15

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people can be charac-
terized by those they
choose as heroes and
heroines. If .Siegfried in the
Nibelungenlied Saga, the
child of nature, is idolized, the
development of an amoral
Nazi culture should come as
no great surprise. Before the
"debunking" of the great
became the journalist's con-
suming quest, a first presi-
dent who "could not tell a lie"
carried its principled conse-
quences for the young of
These past weeks we have
delved into the lives of our
patriarchs and matriarchs.
We have seen an Abraham ex-
amining God's justice, a
Rebecca concerned with the
future values of family. In
parashat Vayetze we meet our
last two matriarchs — the
beautiful and famous Rachel
and the mysterious Leah.
Leah is elusive in the
biblical narrative. Unlike the
virtuous Sarah, the forthright
Jacob, even the gentle Isaac,
her personality does not
readily spring forth from the
Torah's words. Why is she
placed after her younger
sister, Rachel, in citing the
Mothers of our People? She
seems to deserve pride of
place, as well, for being the
senior wife of Jacob.
The narrative singles out
Leah's eyes: einaim rakot —
"soft-eyed," she is called.
What is our tradition seeking
to teach us? After all, we don't
know the color of Moses' eyes,
the height of King David. The
p'shat, the straight-forward
text, seems to be describing
her best feature in contrast
with Rachel's remarkable
But the rabbis saw this
description as showing us
who Leah truly was. Einaim
rakot they translate as
"weak-eyed" and they write
that Leah's eyes grew red
from weeping. Her father,
Laban, and aunt, Rebecca,
had made a pact that his
daughters would be married
to her sons continuing the
custom that had begun in the
previous generation with
Rebecca's betrothal to Isaac.
Leah, the commentary con-
tinues, reasoned that the
older son would marry older
daughter. She had heard of
Esau's wildness; she

Rabbi Spectre is senior rabbi
of Adat Shalom Synagogue.

desperately wanted to be part
of the life and dream begun
by Abraham and Sarah and
epitomized in their grandson,
Jacob. She cooperated in the
ruse that brought her heavi-
ly veiled to a Jacob awaiting
Rachel. She was driven by her
passion to be a strong link in
the furtherance and continui-
ty of what has become the
Jewish ideal.
In our sedra we read that
when Leah gave birth to her
fourth child, Judah, she said,
Hapa'am odeh et HaShem —
"This time will I give thanks
to the Lord and she named
him Judah." Why didn't she
thank God before? Wasn't she
grateful for the previous
births of Reuben, Simeon and
In the Talmud, in B'rachot,
we read, "From the time the
Lord created His world no
human being gave thanks to

Shabbat Vayetze
Genesis 28:10-32:3
Hosea 12:13-14:10

the Holy One Blessed be He
until Leah came and thank-
ed Him as it is written: 'This
time will I give thanks . . "
But, on the contrary, the
92nd Psalm, the one
designated for Shabbat, that
begins "It is good to give
thanks to the Lord . . ." is at-
tributed by the sages to
Adam! It was their way of say-
ing that man's spontaneous
response to creation on the
first day of his life, Shabbat,
was thanksgiving.
What then, do Leah's words
The biblical text must be
understood differently —
Hapa'am odeh et Hashem?
"Shall I thank God only this
time, only in my joy at the
time of birth? Therefore, she
named him `Yehudah,'
`Judah,' thankfulness' ", so
that whenever she looked at
him she would think of her
blessing, of thanksgiving.
We read about Leah, this
extraordinary person who
raised her children and her
deceased sister's sons to -be
progenitors of the tribes of
Israel, during this period bet-
ween our holiday, Sukkot,
and the American celebration
of Thanksgiving. She teaches
us the need for what Dr. Max
Arzt used to call "the attitude
of gratitude," for living the
dream of our future with full
participation in Jewish life,
for exemplifying by applied
prayer our faith in that

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