With Thanks and Praise

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.

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About The Groom's Family

I was born in Soviet Russia and grew up in Israel. I was baptized Orthodox Christian in 2006. Today my husband and I live in Northern Virginia. I would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment!
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3 Responses to With Thanks and Praise

  1. Hi there! New reader sent here from your NRO column – which was VERY well written, and I think I may write on that same subject myself.

    Wanted to comment on this post, though. Please keep in mind about Leah’s rejection by Jacob:

    Gen. 49 (NIV):
    29 Then he gave them these instructions: “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite. 31 There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah. 32 The field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites.[p]”

    33 When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people.

    Jacob’s last words were to be buried, not with Rachel, but with Leah. We can only imagine what happened after Jacob and Leah go to the background of the account of Joseph and his brothers, but it’s quite easily imagined that they became at least close friends in their marriage, in their old age.

  2. Doron says:

    If ever there was a Jewish birthright it is the Church; on account of the contribution made – forcibly and voluntarily.

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