We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.
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Parshas Vayetzei #1
“She conceived again, and bore a son. And she said, ‘This time I will give thanks (odeh) to Hashem.’ Therefore she named him ‘Yehudah’” (Bereishis 29:35).
When Leah gave birth to her fourth son she named him “Yehudah,” derived from hodaah, thanks, as an expression of gratitude to the Al-mighty. Why only now, with the birth of this son, did Leah give special thanks to Hashem?
Leah, like the other Matriarchs, knew that Yaakov would have twelve sons from his four wives. Their assumption was that each wife would have three sons. Then Leah was blessed with a fourth son – she was given more than what she perceived to be her share. This extra gift inspired her to thank Hashem (Bereishis Rabbah 71:4).
Chazal credit Leah with being the first one to thank Hashem: “From the day the Holy One, blessed be He, created His world, there was no person who thanked [Him], until Leah came and thanked Him, as it says, ‘This time I will give thanks to Hashem’” (Berachos 7b).
Was Leah really the first person in the world to express thanks to Hashem? The Torah Temimah (Bereishis 29:35, 9) points out that Adam, the first man, thanked Hashem, saying, “I will thank You, for I was wondrously created” (Tehillim 139:13; see Baba Basra 14b). Avraham’s servant Eliezer would later thank Hashem profusely for sending him the right girl for Yitzchak (ibid. 24:26-27).
The Torah Temimah explains that Leah’s thank you was different from all earlier expressions of gratitude: she was the first to thank Hashem for giving her more than she deserved.
At first glance, this does not appear to be an especially noble sentiment. Shouldn’t we appreciate even the basics Hashem gives us – our fair share, so to speak – and thank Him for that? Why wait to be grateful only when we feel that we have received an extra bonus?
Appreciating the Gifts
We can answer these questions based on the Torah Temimah. Leah was not the first one to ever thank Hashem; we see that there were others before her. Leah’s thanks were a “first” in another sense. She was the first to appreciate that what Hashem had given her was more than she deserved. This realization was important and unique, and this is why the Gemara makes special mention of Leah’s expression of gratitude.
We all have something to be grateful for, be it good grades, parnassah, friendships, or an easy grasp of the Daf Yomi. We may take these blessings for granted, or attribute them to our skills, talents and good luck.
We can learn a lesson from Leah, one of the mothers of the Jewish nation. Everything Hashem gives us is an “extra,” more than we deserve. Leah was the first to recognize this fact, and she perpetuated her gratitude in the name she gave her son.
Question for Discussion:
There is much to be thankful for in life, both in everyday events and those which are out of the ordinary. Looking back on this past week, what is something you are especially grateful for?
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Parshas Vayeitzei #2
“And this stone which I have placed as a monument will be a House of G-d, and [of] all that You give me, I will give a tenth to You” (Bereishis 28:22).
With these words, Yaakov Avinu instituted maaser kesafim, tithing of financial assets (Daas Zekeinim MiBaalei Tosfos, citing the Midrash). Chazal tell us that Yaakov vowed to dedicate not only a tenth of his material holdings to Hashem, but even one son out of ten. The son set aside for Hashem was Levi (Midrash Aggadah ibid.).
Rabbeinu Bechayye elaborates: Yaakov had twelve sons, the Tribes of Israel. Yosef’s sons, Efraim and Menashe, are also counted as Tribes, on par with Yaakov’s two eldest sons, Reuven and Shimon (Bereishis 48:5), bringing the total to fourteen. The eldest son of each of the four Matriarchs had his own sanctified status as a bechor, and was already considered sacred. This left ten Tribes, and of them, Levi was the one designated by Hashem to serve Him. Levi, the ancestor of all Kohanim and Leviim, was Yaakov Avinu’s “maaser.”
Time for Others
Rav Moshe Sternbuch, shlita, notes that we learn an important lesson from the wording of this passuk. Yaakov said, “and [of] all (kol) that You give me, I will give a tenth to You.” The word “all” appears to be unnecessary; Yaakov could have simply said, “and [of] what you give Me, I will give a tenth to you.” Why “all”?
Every word in the Torah has meaning, and the word “kol” in this passuk is no exception. Rav Sternbuch writes that his rebbe and rosh yeshivah, Rav Moshe Leib Schneider, zt”l, of Yeshivas Toras Emes in London, said that the obligation to give maaser is not limited to money. It includes all Hashem gives us, even our intelligence. In the merit of sharing our intellectual gifts to help others, we are granted blessing and success. Rav Schneider implemented this principle in his yeshivah on a practical level. He had the talmidim dedicate an hour a day to helping others increase their Torah knowledge, which would help them succeed in their own learning. He called this time “Avodas HaKodesh.”
Talmidim of Rav Shimon Shkop, rosh yeshivah of Shaar HaTorah in Grodna, recall that he would say that the same principles apply to giving tzedakah with money, and to giving of one’s spiritual and intellectual assets. One who donates money will not lose by it – he will be enriched financially. One who gives Torah knowledge will not be hampered in his personal growth in Torah; on the contrary, he will spiritually enriched, many times over. If he teaches a weaker student in his younger years, he will merit Hashem’s blessing, and go on to teach many students.
Rav Sternbuch adds that he has heard from several yeshivah students that they were not doing well in their learning, and felt that their tefillos for success in Torah were not being answered. It was only when they began to devote some time every day to helping a weaker student, that they were blessed with success (Taam V’Daas, Bereishis, p. 141).
Question for Discussion:
Maaser is not only ten percent of our earnings. Ideally, we should also be setting aside ten percent of our time for others as well. If you would give maaser of your time, which cause would you give it to, and why?