On the occasion of the bris of יהודה צבי דכמן , June 10, 2008/ז סיון ה'תשס"ח
We are now celebrating the holiday of שבועות, which commemorates the giving of the Torah.
The Gemara(ע”ז ג) tells us that when the Holy One Blessed Be He gave the Torah to the Jewish
people, he gave them two choices: accept the Torah, or I will return the world to nothingness. What
was so important about the Torah that the world would have to return to nothingness if the Jews would
not accept it? Moreover, the word for “nothingness” used there is תהו. The Ramban in Breishis (פסוק א:ב)
explains that the word תהו does not actually mean “nothingness.” Rather, when G-d
created the world, first there was nothingness, then He created תהו—something with the potential for
everything—and from that תהו everything else was created. If that's so, how do we understand the
previous Gemara? Why would G-d have returned the world to תהו—why stop there? Why not go all
the way and return the world to nothingness?
The Kli Chemdah (פרשת בראשית ד) explains that when G-d created the world, with all of its
fixed physical laws, He knew that there was a danger that mankind might be fooled by those physical
laws into thinking that there was nothing else—that there was only nature and nothing beyond.
However, despite the danger, as long as Klal Yisrael would accept the Torah, then He was willing to
accept that danger. Because, the Torah contains enough light such that through it, we can come to
realize that there is more to this world than just nature—that there is something beyond.
However, if Klal Yisrael would not have accepted the Torah, this would have been an
unacceptable situation. And therefore, G-d would have had to return the world to תהו and then
recreate the world, but this time with unfixed laws of nature. Then, with changing laws of nature,
people could realize that nature was not all there is, but that there is something beyond.
We see that one of the important aspects of the Torah is to show us that there is more to this
world than just nature, but that there is something else beyond. Rav Kook, in his commentary on the
Sidder, the Olas Reiyah (ח"א ע' שצה ד”ה וירא ה' אל אברם), explains that this is also the purpose of
the mitzvah of bris milah. We might think that we shouldn't do milah—that how the baby is naturally
is really the best. Therefore the mitzvah of milah comes and tells us that no, nature is imperfect and we
have to fix it. By realizing that nature is imperfect, we will come to realize that there is something
This idea is also hinted to in the name “יהודה.” When Leah gave birth to her fourth child she
said (Gen. 29:35) "הפעם אודה את ה" “Now I will praise G-d (therefore she called him יהודה).”
The word הודאה "praise” is related to the name “יהודה.” The midrash points out that with this
praise, Leah was the first person to ever praise G-d. Leah was the first person to ever praise G-d?!
What about Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov? They never praised G-d for all of the miracles done for
them? What about all the other tzaddikim who proceeded them? They never praised G-d? The Ksav
Sofer (על בר' כט:לה) explains that of course Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov and all the tzaddikim
before them praised G-d. But, they had many miracles done for them for which to praise G-d. Leah
was the first person to praise G-d for something natural—childbirth. Leah realized the lesson of bris
milah—that there is more to this world than just nature. Therefore she knew to praise G-d for
something that is natural. This is the idea hinted to in the name “יהודה”.
Like Leah, Dana and I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for the very natural childbirth that
happened. It was very natural: Dana didn't even use an epidural! And it is our prayer that our son
יהודה grows up to realize this idea hinted to in his name. And that he realize the idea of bris milah,
and that through learning Torah he should come to realize that there is more to this world than nature.
And if he does, then I am confidant that he will come to deserve the brachah that Yaakov gave to his
son יהודה (Gen. 49:8): “יהודה, אתה יודוך אחיך" “Yehuda, you your bretheren shall praise.”