November 21, 2017
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #1094, Parsha Thought, VaYeitzei


When Leah, Jacob’s first wife, gives birth to her fourth son she names him Yehudah because, she says, “this time I will thank [Odeh] G-d.”

The question has been raised, why did she wait for the birth of her fourth son to finally thank G-d? When Leah bore her first son she named him Reuven because “G-d has seen [ra’ah] my pain.” Although she acknowledges that it was G-d who saw her pain, she does not say odeh-I will thank G-d. She seems to be focused more on her pain than on thanking G-d.

The same is true with regard to Shimon, her second son. She named him Shimon because “G-d has heard [shama] that I was hated.” Here again, she does not thank G-d for her new son but instead focuses primarily on her despised state.

This pattern is repeated with the birth of her third son, Levi. Leah gives him that name because “Now this time my husband will be attached [yilaveh] to me…” Here, too, she has in mind the benefits she will enjoy with the birth of her third son; she does not explicitly thank G-d.

Only with her fourth son does Leah leave herself out of the picture. This time she focuses on G-d and the gratitude she now has for Him. To reinforce the distinction between her first three sons and the fourth, she states “this time I will thank …” implying that in the first three births she had not thanked G-d. This suggests that Leah’s gratitude to G-d for her first three sons was incomplete.

Why did she wait for a fourth son to express pure gratitude to G-d? What was so different about her fourth son, Yehudah?


Rashi addresses this question. He explains that Leah was prophetically aware that Jacob would father 12 sons with four wives. She took this to mean that each wife would bear Jacob three sons. Now that she had born him a fourth son, Leah felt that she had to offer a more profound expression of gratitude because she received more than her share of children.

However, the question can still be asked why she couldn’t express pure gratitude for the first three sons? Why did it take getting more than her equal share to prompt her thanks to G-d?


The 20th century work Meshech Chochma explains the symbolism of the first three sons and contrasts it with the fourth.

When we partake of food and drink we must recite a blessing beforehand. The Talmud describes this obligation as: “It is forbidden to derive benefit from this world without a blessing.”

What about a blessing for other forms of enjoyment, such as hearing a lovely melody or viewing a beautiful piece of art?

The answer is that no blessing is needed for other pleasures, with the exception of smelling pleasant fragrances. We need not say a blessing for aesthetic pleasures that involve visual, audio or tactile impressions. Only a pleasure that one ingests and internalizes requires a blessing; those include olfactory pleasures.

Hence, when Leah has Reuven, whose name represents the sense of vision, she does not expressly thank G-d. Likewise, when she has Shimon, whose name symbolizes hearing, Leah does not give explicit thanks to G-d. And again, when she has Levi, whose name alludes to touch, she does not mention thanksgiving. These sensory pleasures are more aesthetic than tangible; the requirement for a blessing arises only when the benefit received is tangible.

But Yehudah is different. Yehudah is the direct ancestor of Moshiach, about whom Isaiah says (Isaiah 11:1-3) that he will judge with his power of smell. With Yehudah’s birth Leah unequivocally and unabashedly thanks G-d. Yehudah, who represents the sense of smell, evokes her special, unmitigated gratitude to G-d.

The connection between smell and the Messianic Age is explained in other sources by reference to Adam and Eve’s partaking of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. All of their senses were involved, and thereby tainted, in this transgression, except for their sense of smell. As recorded in Genesis, Eve saw the fruit, heard the enticing words of the serpent, touched the fruit and tasted it. The only sense left out of the Torah’s description of this catastrophe was the sense of smell. Hence, that sense was not corrupted by their sin. It is, therefore, the power possessed by Moshiach that will bring the world to its state of perfection.


The notion that Yehudah-Moshiach is associated with gratitude is supported by the Midrash. It states that in the Messianic Age the only private sacrifice we will offer will be the Todah-Thanksgiving sacrifice. Likewise, the only Psalm of praise we will sing then will be Psalm 100, which begins with the words “A Psalm of Thanksgiving.” The Messianic Age, ushered in by Moshiach, will incorporate the idea of gratitude in an unprecedented fashion.

To better understand the relationship of Moshiach to gratitude, we must first discuss the precise translation of the Hebrew word for gratitude, hodaa.

The word hodaa can have several layers of meaning; all of them are connected.


First of all, hodaa means gratitude. When we want to thank someone, we simply say, “todah.” The Matriarch Leah used this term to thank G-d when she had Yehudah.

Judaism’s emphasis on expressing gratitude to G-d for everything is exemplified by the first thing we are required to say upon awakening, the Modeh Ani, in which we give thanks to G-d for restoring our souls to us in the morning.

Second, hodaa means “to concede.” If one argues with another and then comes to realize that the other person was correct, one’s concession of the argument would be described by the word Modeh, such as “Rabbi Meir admitted [hodeh] to the Sages.” Later on, Yehudah, specifically, is praised for admitting to Tamar that it was he who impregnated her.

Third, the term used for confession of sins in Hebrew is Vidui, which shares the root with the word hodaa.

Fourth, the term hodaa can also be rendered as submission to another. In the context of our relationship with G-d it is used to refer to the highest state of connection with G-d, where our egos are entirely suppressed. In the context of daily prayer, particularly when we recite the Shmoneh Esrei, we stand in total submission before G-d.


Upon reflection, it becomes clear that these translations are interconnected.

When we thank others, we acknowledge that they exist and that we do not take their existence for granted.

Our Animal Soul is fiercely territorial. It is loath to surrender any part of that territory to another. The G-dly soul, by contrast, is giving and nurturing. When thanking another, it is our G-dly soul’s influence that allows us to override the natural tendency to be self-obsessed and possessive.

In effect, when we thank someone it is a concession that he or she rates too. In effect, it is a way of saying: “I am not the only important one who exists. I recognize that you, too, are responsible for something that I have.” When we thank someone sincerely we concede some of our space to the other.

The same sentiment is expressed when we confess our sins. It is our concession to G-d that He is right and we are wrong. To do that sincerely is a profoundly humbling experience.

The common denominator in all of these manifestations of the concept of hodaa is that we have diminished our egos and suppressed our self-centeredness. We leave room for the Other; whether that is a fellow human-being or G-d.

This leads us to the final translation of hodaa as profound self-abnegation. This applies when our egos are totally subsumed within G-d; we totally subjugate ourselves to Him.

This is the difference between Leah’s first three sons (Reuven, Shimon and Levi) and Yehudah, her fourth son.

The first three sons symbolize the visual, audio and tactile levels of attachment to G-d, wherein our egos remain intact notwithstanding our recognition of G-d’s prime role in our lives.

The senses of sight, hearing and feeling are all means by which we get closer to the Other; but we can still remain detached from what we see or hear. Even touching does not mean that we have completely surrendered ourselves to G-d. Only the sense of smell implies total self-abnegation; it suggests an intuitive understanding of G-d’s Will because we have become so connected to Him.


The medieval commentator and Kabbalist Rabbeinu Bachaye correlates the five senses to the five levels of our soul: Nefesh, Ruach, Neshama, Chaya and Yechida. Our sense of smell corresponds directly with the very essence of our soul, Yechida.

The Kabbalists teach us that King David, Elijah the Prophet, Moses and Adam possess the general levels of Nefesh, Ruach, Neshama and Chaya, respectively. It is Moshiach who embodies the fifth level of Yechida.

Only Yehudah-Moshiach will be able to inculcate a state of total submission to G-d in us. He will do this by revealing the Yechida that exists in all of us. This spiritual level will empower us to express our totally unmitigated feeling of gratitude; it will lead us into total self-abnegation before G-d. Free of the taint of our ego’s possessive nature, our gratitude will finally be complete.

It is a well-known fact that there is a correlation between gratitude and happiness. Happy people are, by nature, grateful people and grateful people are happy.

Thus, the pure gratitude that we will feel in the imminent Messianic Age will also translate into each of us as unadulterated and unprecedented happiness.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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