In this week’s parsha we learn of the birth of Leah’s six sons. Rav Dovid Goldberg (Shiras Dovid) points out that with her first four sons we see Leah used the Tetragrammaton (the name of Hashem yud, hai, vav & hai) during their naming ceremonies, whereas with the last two sons she switched to the name Elokim. Perhaps we may suggest a reason for this.
Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Berachos 7b) tells us that no-one in history had really given proper thanks unto Hashem until Leah named her fourth child Yehuda . That name came from the word hoda’ah – giving thanks, for she recognized that this was a time and place to thank Hashem. Now giving thanks has an obvious effect on the recipient, but let’s think about what it can do to the bearer of the praise. Allow me a mashal. Nine year old Billy hated school. He hated the stuffy classrooms and the long day. But most of all he hated his math teacher, Mr. Brickofsky. His classes were soooo boring, his homework assignments seemed impossible, and boy, oh boy, was he strict. The slightest disturbance in class and ol’ Brickofsky would whirl around and fix a stare on you with eyes burning like coals, making you want to shrivel up and just disappear. Billy secretly wished that Mr. Brickofsky would disappear. One afternoon, while riding his bike home from school, Billy was daydreaming about his upcoming birthday and wondering what presents he might be getting. Lost in his thoughts he didn’t see the pothole in the road. His front tire dipped into the small crater causing the bike to flip up into the air, tossing Billy over the handlebars. He lay on the asphalt winded and hurt. He tried to get up by putting weight on his elbow when he felt a shooting pain coarse up (and down) his arm. He shrieked from the pain and lay himself back down. Suddenly a car pulled up next to his prone body. Billy sensed help was at hand and through his tears he looked up at his helper. It was his behated teacher Mr B! Oh no, Billy thought, what a nightmare, I’ll probably get a verbal tongue lashing from him for not paying enough attention to the road. But to his surprise the math teacher bent down and with genuine concern asked him if he was okay. He helped Billy sit up and made him more comfortable. Well, to cut a long mashal short, Mr Brickofsky stayed with Billy even after Billy’s parents arrived, and insisted on waiting in the emergency room to make sure his pupil was not too severely hurt. The next day just before Math class began, Billy went over to Mr. Brickofsky and thanked him for his kindness. And then an interesting thing happened; the class felt less boring, the teacher’s stare didn’t bother him, and the homework that evening went like a breeze. You see, by realizing that Mr. Brickofsky was really a nice man, this made Billy look at everything in a new light. And Billy realized that Mr. B’s tough approach was really done out of devotion to the kids and was always in their best interest.
Hashem has two modes; rachamim and din – being merciful and doing things by the strict letter of the law. Rachamim is represented by the Tetragrammaton and din by the name Elokim. Until one fully appreciates Hashem, one might mistakenly think that His mode of din is vengeful and cruel. With such a mindset it is hard to connect to the Elokim and it is near impossible to praise It. However, when we experience the rachamim side of Hashem and we have a Eureka! moment that He does deserve our thanks and praise, and we are able, as was Leah with the naming of Yehudah, to express that thanks, we will soon accept the Elokim experiences of our lives in a new light and find them warranted and fully acceptable. And then we become comfortable connecting to Him even as Elokim.
With our last gasp, at the culmination of yamim nora’im at the end of Ne’ilah davening we dramatically cry out sevenfold “Hashem hu ha’Elokim”. For we are no different than our matriarch Leah. As our days of judgement finish we cry out that we accept whatever the upcoming year may bring. Hopefully Hashem will have mercy upon us. And for that we give him praise. But if He has decided to interact with us according to the strict letter of the law, then Hashem hu Ha’Elokim – there is no difference. We accept that this too is for our good.
Have a great Shabbos.
Rabbi Nosson Greenberg is rov of Khal Machzikei Torah of Far Rockaway, N.Y., and maggid shiur at Yeshiva of Far Rockaway.