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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Vayetzei 5774 "Sincere and Everlasting"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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“This is a true story!

“In my speeches and workshops, I sometimes ask my audiences to shut their eyes and think about someone who, at some point in their lives, has rekindled their inner light. It is always a profound experience for everyone as they remember the joy they received from being appreciated by someone when they needed it most.

“After one session, a gentleman thanked me for creating a new awareness. He had immediately thought of his eighth grade literature teacher who had really made an impact on his life. He planned to track her down and thank her.

“A few months later he called me to say that he had written his teacher. She had gotten his letter and the following week she sent him her response…

Dear John,

You will never know how much your letter meant to me. I am 83 years old and I am living alone in one room. My friends are all gone, and my family’s gone.

I taught for 50 years and yours is the first “thank you” letter I have ever gotten from a student. Sometimes I wonder what I did with my life. I will read and reread your letter until the day I die.

“He was very emotional on the phone. He said, “She is always the one we talk about at every reunion. She was everyone’s favorite teacher. We loved her…

….But no one ever told her….”

-From “The Simple Truths of Appreciation”, by Barbara Glantz

Rochel was still barren when Leah bore her fourth son. Leah named him Yehuda stating “This time I will thank G-d.[1]” Rashi notes that Leah was aware that Yaakov would father twelve sons and she assumed that each of Yaakov’s four wives would bear three of those sons. When she had her fourth son she realized that she had merited more than her allotted share, and therefore she was particularly grateful.

The Chiddushei HaRim notes that it is for this reason that Jews are referred to as “Yehudim”[2]. A Jew must realize that G-d owes him nothing! Every thing we are granted is given out of G-d’s infinite Love. Leah named him Yehuda because she knew he was a gift; she had received more than she expected. A “Yehudi” must be cognizant of the fact that everything in life is a gift. Much of the reason why we are not enamored or filled with blissful joy constantly is because we feel “Es kumt mir- I am entitled!” One who truly feels that everything is a blessing from the Grace of G-d, will count his blessings and realize just how much he has.

The Gemara[3] quotes a statement attributed to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai: “From the time of creation there was no one who praised Hashem, until Leah praised Him for the birth of Yehuda.” It is inconceivable that the great Patriarchs and other righteous individuals who preceded Leah never praised G-d. There must have been a certain aspect of Leah’s gratitude that was unique and unprecedented.

Rabbi Avrohom Pam zt’l[4] explained that whenever one reaches a milestone or achieves something extraordinary his heart overflows with joy and gratitude. As time passes however, one becomes accustomed to his success or achievement and the initial joy begins to fade. For example, when one searches for a shidduch (spouse) for many years and finally becomes engaged, the initial joy is almost euphoric. But soon the wedding is over and life continues its monotonous course. Similarly, if a couple is blessed with the birth of a child they may feel elated. But late nights and parental responsibilities quickly begin to take a toll on the weary parents. In the same vein, if one wins the lottery and is instantly transformed from pauper to millionaire, although at first he can hardly give enough charity, he soon acclimates to his new lifestyle. In all of these situations, the surge of excitement and gratitude quickly dissipates into the daily grind.

Leah well understood this. She wanted to somehow maintain a connection with the initial gratitude and overabundance of joy that she felt at the moment of the birth of her fourth son. Surely there were many who had expressed their gratitude to G-d in profound ways before her, but Leah was the first to express her gratitude in a manner that ensured that it would not become diminished with time. In order to accomplish this she named him “Yehuda”, an expression of her gratitude. Thus, whenever she would call his name she would be reminded of the heartfelt joy she experienced when he was born.

Rabbi Pam continues that it is for this reason that wedding pictures are an invaluable asset. Married life can, at times, become challenging and arduous. The vicissitudes of life often cause stress, even in the best marriages. G-d forbid, there can even be rancorous disagreement which results in strife and divisiveness in the home. It is particularly at those junctures when the couple should take out their wedding albums and sift through them. As they are reminded of the initial joy and passion that they felt for each other, it will help them reflect on the dreams and aspirations that they shared when they set out to build their new home together. They will be reminded of all the distinguished guests, friends, and relatives who deemed their union worthy enough to take out time from their busy schedules in order to attend the celebration. Those pictures will help them put their issues in a proper framework and perspective[5].

“But no one ever told her…”

“This time I will thank G-d”

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[1] Bereishis 29:35

[2] literally- a group of ‘Yehudas’

[3] Berachos 7b

[4] The Pleasant Way

[5] The following is the conclusion of this Stam Torah as I wrote it in 5768:

On a personal note, today, 4 Kislev 5768, our family celebrated the b’ris of our son, Avrohom Yosef Staum. [He was named after his esteemed great grandfather (my father’s father), Mr. Abe Staum a’h.] The joy we felt - and feel - for his healthy birth, that he was able to enter the covenant of Avrohom Avinu in the proper time, as well as the joy we feel for our beautiful family, is completely indescribable. Along with all of our prayers that G-d allow us to raise our children (and ourselves) into G-d-fearing, Torah observant Jews, we pray that G-d allow us to maintain the feelings of overwhelming joy and gratitude that we feel today, throughout our lives.

We pray that when we recite the “Modim” prayer and thank G-d, “For Your Miracles that are with us each day, and for Your Wonders and for Your Good, that You bestow at all times, evening, morning, and afternoon”, we will be able to fully appreciate those words. May we only enjoy nachas from Avrohom Yosef and his siblings, Yaakov Meir Shalom and Aviva Rochel, and may we never lack appreciation for all the gifts that Hashem has bestowed and continues to grant us.

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