Dear WJC Family,
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Taken out of context, as this quote almost always is, you might think that Shakespeare believed the simple meaning—that names do not determine destinies. Of course, if you’ve ever seen the rest of Romeo and Juliet, you know that the whole point of the play is that the fate of these “star-crossed lovers” is precisely determined by their names – not to mention by the stars. After all, star-crossed is a term from astrology meaning that their destinies just didn’t match up. The whole lesson of Romeo and Juliet is that names and fates are bound together.
In modern times there is a lot of research trying to connect names and life choices like careers, ambition, education levels and family life. But Shakespeare didn’t need that kind of research because he knew his Bible. In this week’s Torah portion, VaYetze, we read about the birth of Jacob’s sons. The first four sons are each named by their mother Leah and each with significant meaning. It’s depressing to read – the first three names are all tied to her unloved, unappreciated status. “Leah conceived and bore a son, and named him Reuben; for she declared, “It means: ‘The LORD has seen my affliction’; it also means: ‘Now my husband will love me.’ She conceived again and bore a son, and declared, ‘This is because the LORD heard that I was unloved and has given me this one also’; so she named him Simeon. Again she conceived and bore a son and declared, ‘This time my husband will become attached to me, for I have borne him three sons.’ Therefore he was named Levi.” (Genesis 29:32-34)
Each time Leah bore another son she was sure this would solve her marital issues. She never appreciated her child for the child’s sake but rather saw in each baby a tool for getting ahead in her bizarre family dynamic. As if that wasn’t tragic enough for all involved, it doesn’t even work. With each additional son she thinks this will be the one to fix her marriage and each time she is disappointed.
And then, her fourth son is born and everything changes. She looks at this beautiful baby boy and says, “This time I will praise the LORD.” Therefore she named him Judah. Then she stopped bearing.” (ibid. v. 35) This is an incredible moment in the history of our people. Leah, seemingly one of the most pitiable characters in the Book of Genesis, delivers humanity’s first prayer of thanks. Of course it is exactly a miserable character who teaches us about gratitude! The whole point of gratitude is to change our gaze from that which we lack to that which we have. With the birth of Judah, Leah finally appreciates what she had, a beautiful baby boy, instead of focusing on what she lacks, the love of her husband. And Judah becomes the namesake for our people and our religion – the people who give thanks.
On this particular Thanksgiving Weekend the lesson of using gratitude to recognize our good fortune even while lacking so much is particularly poignant. Hopefully we can all channel our matriarch Leah’s lesson and use the art of giving thanks to recognize all that we have even as we manage, and sometimes struggle, through difficult times.
It is a lesson my family and I have been trying to focus on with the passing of my Grandmother Miriam Arnowitz this past Friday. While we are sad to lose her, we are certainly grateful for our matriarch and the 97 years she had in the world. For this week’s video, I am including the recording of my eulogy from this past Monday. As she requested, it is mostly a commentary on the song, “Eishet Chayel” from the Book of Proverbs (a different take for all the Sisterhood folks who spent last year studying this text), but towards the end it also includes some comments on this week’s Torah portion. However, I am mostly including it as a point of personal privilege as a way to honor a great lady and share her memory with my shul family. You can watch the video by clicking the video link below.
Another lesson in gratitude—while we are disappointed that the pandemic has forced us to close our doors for services, we are grateful to be able to connect by Zoom and our Live Stream. This Shabbat we will reprise our joint Kabbalat Shabbat service with Temple Israel Center in the afternoon—3:15 for mincha and 3:25 for Kabbalat Shabbat. See log in information below.
Saturday morning we will be following our regular schedule, but with only Rabbi Dalton and Cantor Goldberg in the sanctuary and broadcasting out via Live Stream. Rabbi Dalton will be teaching at 8:30am on the story of Jacob’s Ladder towards the beginning of the parsha. Click here to download and print the source sheet for the morning discussion. At 9:00am the cantor will lead the Pesikei D’Zimra and Shacharit services. At 10:00am, we will turn to the Torah service, but regrettably, without a minyan and therefore, we will only be reading a highlight of the parsha from the scroll. Rabbi Dalton will then teach on that passage. Following putting away the Torah we will do musaf “individually together” as the cantor will daven his personal amidah aloud with singing.
Our regular Havdalah service will be at 5:30pm.
See you online,