In the beginning of this week’s Parsha we have the dramatic scene where Yehuda approaches Yosef (Bereishit 44:18):
“Then Yehuda approached him and said, “Please, my lord, let now your servant speak something into my lord’s ears, and let not your wrath be kindled against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh….”
It is clear from this verse that Yehuda is the focal point here, not Yosef – whose name is not even mentioned. At this crucial juncture in Jewish history which marks the reunification of the brothers and their move to Egypt, the central personality and name used here is Yehuda’s. Why is this the case?
In next week’s parsha, when Yaakov blesses his children, he blesses Yehuda with the following (Bereishit 49: 8):
“Yehuda, [as for] you, your brothers will acknowledge you. Your hand will be at the nape of your enemies, [and] your father’s sons will prostrate themselves to you”.
The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 98) explains this verse as follows:
“Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said: ‘All of your brothers will be called by your name. After all, a Jew does not say “I am a Reuveini” or “I am a Shimoni”; but he does say “I am a Yehudi.”
To fully understand why we are called by Yehuda’s name, we need to delve into the meaning and essence of Yehuda’s name. When we look at Yehuda’s birth, we see that he is the first child where Leah expresses full gratitude to Hashem – without any expression of sadness and difficulty – as opposed to her first three sons:
“And she conceived again and bore a son, and she said, “This time, I will thank Hashem! Therefore, she named him Yehuda, and [then] she stopped bearing.”
The Sefat Emet (Vayigash 5631/1870) explains the true meaning of the word hoda’ah (which Yehuda’s name stems from in the above verse) as follows:
“Then Yehuda approached him: The idea of hoda’ah / gratitude is a trait found in every Jew. My grandfather the Chiddushei HaRim explained that we are called Yehudim because we are grateful to and acknowledge Hashem’s involvement and kindness in every aspect of our lives. And it is through this acknowledgment that we are able to approach every challenge in our lives. In this verse Yehuda was really approaching Hashem (Vayigash Eilav), and through this he drew the strength to approach Yosef and stand up for his brothers.”
This is the reason we Jews begin our day with “Modeh Ani” and Birchot Hashachar – showing gratitude to Hashem for all His kindness. It is interesting that modern psychology recognizes the importance of gratitude for mental health. Dr. Tal Ben Shahar mentions in his book “Happier” the following: “In research done by Emmons & McCullough, those who kept a daily gratitude journal – writing down at least five things for which they were grateful – enjoyed higher levels of emotional and physical well-being”.
May we all be able to connect to this innate trait, and always double our enjoyment of Hashem’s kindness through gratitude!