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Rabbi's Weekly Message

Rabbi Wexler - Thursday, November 26

This week’s Torah portion, Vayetzei, contains the story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah. Jacob is tricked into marrying Leah rather than his beloved Rachel. It’s easy to feel bad for Jacob and Rachel, lovers kept apart through a deceitful father. Yet, it is the character of Leah that I find myself thinking about this week. Imagine her feelings when, on the morning after her wedding, her husband's only response to discovering that she, rather than her sister, is his wife is a painful mix of outrage and disappointment. Jacob works for seven more years in order to marry Rachel, and the text makes no secret of his preference, and neither does he. Genesis tells us simply that Jacob "loved Rachel more than Leah" (29:30).

My heart breaks for Leah, and apparently, God’s does too. The Torah tells us that seeing that Leah is unloved, God blesses her with children. Leah has several children in succession, and as she names each one in turn, her loneliness and her yearning come bursting forth. Leah longs to be loved by Jacob, but Jacob remains silent; a deafening silence that speaks volumes. Through the birth of her first three sons, Leah remains isolated and dejected.

But then something changes within her. Leah gives birth to a fourth son. We expect another expression of her sadness and longing to be loved. But something else occurs. We read: "she conceived again and bore a son, and declared: 'This time I will praise (odeh) the Lord.' Therefore, she named him Judah (Yehudah)" (29:35). Amazing. How does a person mired in misery, feeling totally unloved and alone, suddenly do a total about-face and express gratitude rather than longing?

Leah finds the courage to accept that her life is not going to turn out as she had hoped. Something inside of her shifts, and rather than sinking in the sorrow of what she does not have, she is able to embrace all that she does have. She is the mother of four beautiful children.

It's important to note that Leah's gratitude does not magically set everything aright and eliminate every other feeling she has. Her disappointment is real. She will never have the love and the kind of marriage that she longs for. Leah is rightfully disappointed, but with the birth of Judah, she discovers the awesome capacity to feel grateful even amidst her sorrows.

In the Talmud, Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai says that Leah was the first person in the history of the world who ever expressed gratitude to God (Berakhot 7b). What does he mean? Certainly, other people before Leah offered thanks to God. Rabbi Shai Held explains what makes Leah's gratitude unique. He writes: “It is one thing to be grateful when everything is wonderful, when all of our dreams have been fulfilled and all of our hungers sated. But it is quite another to be grateful when life is complicated, when some of our most cherished dreams have remained painfully unrealized, when some of our yearnings are so intense that they threaten to burn right through us. Leah is the first person to feel and express gratitude even and especially amidst profound sorrow and enduring disappointment.

Leah names her fourth son, Judah, meaning "I will praise" or "I will express gratitude." Jew-Yehudi, comes from the name Judah-Yehudah. Who is a Jew? One who discovers the possibility of gratitude even amidst heartbreak. To live into our name, we are challenged to find gratitude and to see the blessings in our lives even when things are imperfect and perhaps even difficult.

Today is Thanksgiving; a time when many of us normally gather with friends and family. This Thanksgiving will be very different, and for some, quite challenging, as we are unable to be with our extended families and large groups amidst the Pandemic. Personally, I feel a sense of loss that this year I will not be able to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with my 25+ family members that usually sit around the table. Even more, we know that this year has been one of great loss, disappointment, and sadness. We long for our pre-pandemic lives and hope for a post-pandemic world. All of this makes the holiday of Thanksgiving even more powerful and important this year.

Leah teaches us that struggle and disappointment need not preclude gratitude. We are Yehudim. We are a people of gratitude. And we, like Leah, understand that a broken heart can also have moments of profound fullness.

Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.

A Guide for Zooming Shabbat and Holiday Services

“The Shabbat services that we offer over Zoom help keep us spiritually connected while we are physically distant. Though we normally do not use electronic devices on Shabbat, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement considers this to be a hora’at sha’ah, an extraordinary time, which allows us to make an exception to our normal observance. You can read the halakahic ruling (teshuvah) that comprehensively addresses our situation here. Even though we are using technology to gather for services on Shabbat and holidays, we still try to minimize the use of our devices in honor of Shabbat. Click here to see our guide to help with this.

Update: Shabbat services are now Livestreamed - Check it out here! Screen sharing is not available in this format, therefore Siddur Lev Shalem will need to be obtained in advance. A PDF version is available HERE or can be purchased at the TBS office for $54 each.

TBS@Home

While our physical building is closed, we are excited to share with you many ways to connect and engage with our TBS family in the upcoming week through our Zoom programs. Check the TBS calendar for listings.

To join a Zoom session, click on the link at the designated time. You can also call into the number provided and enter in the meeting ID number.

Tue, December 1 2020 15 Kislev 5781