Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Vayeitzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3) Looking for a Breakthrough? Say ‘Thank You’

Leah and Rachael are two Matriarchs central to the Jewish narrative. Leah had one child after another but Rachel remained barren. When she finally did have a child, it was a son and she named him Joseph (Yosef), from the Hebrew asaf, “gathered in.”

She conceived and bore a son, and said, ‘G-d has gathered in my disgrace’ (30:23)

What does she mean by “disgrace?” The Midrash, quoted by Rashi, makes the remarkable claim that when a woman has children, she has someone to blame when something breaks or is eaten. She can always blame her child for the damage.

How are we to understand this; is this simplistic idea really the one she wanted to express to G-d when she named her first son after having been barren for so many years? She had just articulated her pain a few verses previously and said that she felt lifeless without children. When she finally had a son, one would have expected a deeper reaction than basically thanking G-d for having someone to blame for the messy house and the eaten leftovers!” What is the meaning of her reaction?

A look at the order of the morning blessings gives a background for the answer. ‘Blessed are You Hashem our G-d, King of the Universe who has given the rooster the understanding to distinguish between day and night.’ One wonders how this blessing merited such a distinguished place in the sequence of the daily blessings. Is it more significant that “He Opens the eyes of the blind”?

We could understand if the leadoff blessing would have been one of the later blessings such as thanking G-d for the ability to walk, be clothed, stand up straight or other critical aspects of our existence. Thanking G-d for a rooster’s wisdom does not seem to deserve such a high ranking in terms of the order of the morning blessings.

The Talmud (Brachos 59b) says that the proper blessing for rain is “concerning each and every drop that You brought down for us”. We do not need an abundance of rain to acknowledge G-d’s favor towards us; we are thankful for even the minutest of favors. We humans are intelligent thinking creatures who can communicate and accomplish much with our brains but-conceptually- the first “drop of intelligence” in this world is a rooster who knows how to distinguish between day and night.

Just like we do not thank G-d for 35 inches of annual rainfall – or whatever amount we need to grow our crops – but rather we thank Him for each and every drop, so too we do not thank G-d for having a 130 IQ or the fact that we might be a successful brain surgeon. We thank Him for the minutest amount of intelligence that we perceive in the world – the instinctual knowledge possessed by a rooster that the morning has arrived.

All of the intelligence that He showered on the world begins with the rooster who has a brain the size of a thumb nail, but can distinguish between day and night. If we are obligated to thank G-d even on that small amount of instinctual intelligence, imagine how important it is to articulate our thanks for the intelligence that allows us to lead the rich lives we do.

Bearing this in mind, we can now understand Rachel’s expression of gratitude for having someone to blame for household misdeeds when her first son was born. She was obviously overwhelmed with gratitude that she was no longer barren and now had a child but her very first expression of gratitude was for even the minutest derivative benefit of this blessed event. It is hard to believe that Yaakov and Rachel’s marriage is one in which a broken plate would have been the cause of an argument but even this incredibly minute benefit of having a son was deemed by Rachael to be worthy of thanks. This was only the beginning of her thanks but by no means the full extent of her gratitude.

Why do some people find it difficult to thank their relatives, friends, and people with whom they interact-especially their spouses? One reason is ego; people do not want to think they need someone else and they do not want to feel beholden to the person who did something for them. This attitude has the ability to sabotage any relationship but there is another equally dangerous mindset; the feeling of entitlement. I don’t owe anyone a ‘thanks’ because my wife, husband or friend was supposed to do that. Whether it is cleaning the garage or doing the dishes, whether it is coming home on time or remembering to call, we are meant to be grateful for everything done on our behalf. If not, then everything becomes a demand because I am entitled to it. In the monumental work on self-awareness Strive for Truth, Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler (1892-1953), observed “When demands begin, love departs.” When one focuses on my responsibilities to my spouse-How can I be helpful; how can I be a source of happiness for him or her?-that person not only becomes a giver, but also a receiver of the love that this attitude engenders.

One who gets angry when he or she can’t accept life on life’s terms is because of an attitude of entitlement. I went to college, therefore I am owed a good job. I went to graduate school, therefore I deserve X…I have worked loyally for years for the company, therefore…This never leads to happiness or fulfilling relationships. The solution is not complicated; the way to get out of this mind set, is to be grateful for everything you have. The most successful way to have a breakthrough is to begin learning how to say thank you.

Rachael was grateful for every aspect of having a child-even the most trivial. One can only have that level of gratitude if she feels that everything in life is a gift. Good health is not part of my birthright, it is a gift and so is everything in life. May we all follow Rachael’s model of gratitude.

(Source: Rabbi Yissachar Frand quoting the Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the Alter of Slabodka; Strive for Truth p. 130)