In Parshas Vayeitzei we are introduced to Yaakov’s quickly blossoming family. In pasuk after pasuk we read about his children being born. The way that Leah chooses to name her children is interesting, to put it one way. Leah is the elder sister of Rachel, the woman whom Yaakov worked for years to be able to marry. Yet, in a dastardly act of deception, his future father-in-law calls and audible, and Yaakov is left married to Leah instead of his beloved Rachel. In the aftermath of this debacle, Yaakov agrees to continue working for Lavan in order to marry Rachel. One can only imagine how this makes Leah feel, and it’s manifested in the way she names their children. She conceives quickly, as the verse states, because Hashem blessed her after seeing how she was “hated” by her husband.
And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuven, for she said, “Because the Lord has seen my affliction, for now my husband will love me.“
And she conceived again and bore a son, and she said, “Since the Lord has heard that I am hated, He gave me this one too.” So she named him Shimon.
And she conceived again and bore a son, and she said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, for I have borne him three sons; therefore, He named him Levi.
She then gives birth to Yehuda and something changes.
And she conceived again and bore a son, and she said, “This time, I will thank the Lord! Therefore, she named him Judah, and [then] she stopped bearing.
This time, Leah thanks God, “hapaam odeh es Hashem.” Rashi helps us understand the background. He writes that each of our matriarchs had nevuah and they knew that Yaakov Avinu would have 12 tribes that descended from him. They also knew that there were four wives, so it would make sense that each one would have three. Yet, it is Leah, the “hated” wife of Yaakov who bears the most of his children, more than his other wives combined. When Leah gives birth to Yehuda, she is so thankful that there is something unique about her, something that may enhance her connection with her husband. Rashi comments here that she thanks Hashem in this instance since she has taken up more than her share by having a fourth son, shifting the equal divide from the other wives of Jacob.
Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter of Ger, the Chidushei HaRim, explains this notion even further. Leah thanked Hashem because she received more than what she was expecting, more than she “deserved.” For this reason, the Gerrer Rebbe points out, is exactly why we are called Yehudim, for we too “take” more than we deserve. It’s incumbent upon us to thank God for what He gives to us as if we’re not worthy of receiving it. As we are not neviim, we are not granted special knowledge of what is ra’ui for us to receive and what is not. Yet, God continues to provide for us and implement His wisdom in our lives every day.
This is the message of Leah Imeinu. Leah recognized that she was indeed blessed, and that by being granted another son, she was almost not worthy of the gift that she received. She portrays her thanks to the Almighty by naming her fourth son, not only recognizing her gratitude for his birth when she bore him, but forever more by calling him by that name. I think this may be why she ultimately merited to have three other children. Leah’s relationship with Yaakov may have been frustrating enough that she felt undesired and snubbed by her spouse, but she teaches us a tremendous lesson in gratitude.