The Old Testament is good for many things – it is, after all, the original Good Book – but in particular for making unexpected connections. The other day, I was reading about the travails of my namesake, Leah the wife of Jacob. Leah, of course, had a pretty serious problem: her husband, who married her effectively by mistake, didn’t like her much and loved her younger sister Rachel, his other wife. Leah gave birth to several sons, and each time hoped that this would help her win her husband’s favor (it never worked). She gave them names like Reuben, meaning, “Look, it’s a son! (Maybe my husband will like him),” and Simon, meaning, “God has heard me (and given me a son, whom hopefully my husband will like).” One of her sons she named Judah, which means “I will thank” – thank God for giving her yet another glimmer of hope.
Judah went on to found a mighty and holy tribe. It was the tribe of David. It was also the tribe after which the land of Judea was named. Due to complicated history which you can read about in the book of Kings, the term for a resident of Judea, “Judean,” came to describe all of Israel. That word is the origin of the term “Jew.”
So Jews are those who thank God – especially those of them who come from the line of David. This article offers this account and a Jewish take on its implications for the spirituality of the Jewish nation.
But the other word that means “to thank,” and in context “to thank God,” is, of course, the Greek eucharisto – Eucharist, holy Communion, the body of Christ and thus Christ himself – Jesus, a man of the tribe of David.
The spirituality of gratitude thus runs through the entire olive tree, to use St. Paul’s term – both the roots and the branches. And that is something to rejoice in. (Particularly for those of us named after Leah the unhappy wife!)
That the same word was used by Leah to name her son and by the early Church to refer to the Sacrament is perhaps not surprising – in context, both seem natural choices of a word. What is surprising to me – or, rather, refreshing and encouraging – is the way in which two words that have been serving as labels for religions locked historically in an antagonistic relationship, for identities deeply in conflict, reveal their fundamental unity.
And speaking of gratitude, one of the things I am grateful for is that there is an Orthodox church in Jerusalem where liturgy is served in Hebrew. The priest of this church, Fr. Alexander Winogradsky – I have written about him before – has been in a battle for his health, and would be grateful for your support. I encourage you to visit Fr. Alexander’s website to learn more about his activities and consider making a donation.