Children And Deferred Dreams

Reflected in the names of her children, Leah grows to recognize her own worth, independent of Jacob's feelings for her.

Print this page Print this page

Winning His Love

Each of her sons, one after another, embodies yet another desperate attempt to win over her husband's love. Each one is, therefore, loved not for himself--not for being a beautiful infant. Instead, her children represent hope deferred and aspiration transferred. 

Reuben is so named because "the Lord has seen my affliction" and "now my husband will love me." Shimon, "because the Lord heard that I was unloved and has given me this one also." 

Leah calls her third son Levi because "my husband will become attached to me, for I have borne him three sons." Each one of these boys embodies yet another cry of pain and grief, another unsuccessful attempt to win the affection of Jacob. Ironically, all three sons will, as adults, disappoint and anger their father, producing tragedy for the aged patriarch.

With the birth of her fourth son, Judah, Leah finally achieves the inner strength to stop craving her husband's approval.  Now she no longer lusts after his concern. She is able to stand on her own. Judah is a source of pure joy, in and for himself. "This time, I shall praise the Lord." 

The noted commentator, Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (15th Century Italy) notes that this is the first child in the Torah whose name contains that of God! Like God, Judah is himself a source of joy, not merely a tool toward accomplishing some other goal. 

Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra, (12th Century Spain) observes that Leah's choice of a name is a confession that "I will praise God because I do not desire more." Therefore, she stopped bearing. In her own process of growth and maturation, Leah came to recognize her own worth, independent of the esteem of Jacob. While grieved by his rejection, she accedes to the reality of the present, without having to impose her dreams on her sons. 

In our own lives, we, too, face disappointments and the need to relinquish our childhood ambitions and dreams. Like Leah, we can grow to accept ourselves and reality without saddling the next generation, our children, with the unrealized fantasies of their parents. And only then are we in a position to truly praise, to thank, and to love.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.