of Am Yisroel, the Nation of Israel are commonly referred to as
the Jews. The word Jew is derived from the word Judah who was one
of the twelve tribes. Why is a nation which consists of twelve tribes
named after only one of them? When in history did we acquire this
the Torah, we find two names for our nation: Yisroel and Ivri. The
name Ivri is first introduced in connection with Avraham Avinu.
The Torah calls him Avraham Ha'ivri. The Midrash in Parshas Lech
Lecha explains that the term Ivri means "side". Avraham
was on one side and the rest of the world on the other, with regard
to his belief in one G-d. The Jews, in other words Avraham and his
descendents, were referred to as Ivrim, because they distinguished
themselves from the rest of the world. The name Yisroel we first
find in Parshas Vayishlach when Jacob fought with the angel. The
angel called him Yisroel, "Ki sarisa im Elokim veim anashim
vatuchal" For you prevailed over angel and man. The name Yisroel
therefore means, "This nation prevails over all other powers".
The title Yehudim
however is not found in the Torah but in the latter parts of Prophets
and throughout Megillas Esther. Only when the Jews were in exile
were they given this name. It seems quite strange. Why were we always
called Yisroel and then in exile had a change of name? The answer
is that Yisroel is a name which denotes superiority over other nations.
In exile however, where such a name is inappropriate, we are referred
to as Yehudim or Jews.
us back to our original question. If the Jewish nation consists
of twelve tribes why are we only referred to as Yehudim? One of
the key figures that we find in Megilas Esther is Mordechai Hayehudi.
The Talmud in Tractate Megilla poses the following question: Mordechai
came from the tribe of Binyamin . Why was he called "Mordechai
Hayehudi", which infers that he came from the tribe of Judah?
The Talmud answers that whoever denies idolatry is called Yehudi.
The connection with the word Yehuda and one who denies idolatry
is that the word Yehuda is related to modeh; to admit. In addition,
the word Yehuda contains all the letters of G-d's name- Yud, Keh,
Vav, Keh. Therefore Yehudah means he who acknowledges the existence
is also found in Rashi's commentary to Genesis 36:2. The Torah lists
the names of Esav's wives. In one verse it mentions the name "Ahalivama"and
in another when talking about the same person it refers to her as
"Yehudis". Rashi comments that her original name was Ahalivama
but she adopted the name Yehudis in order to deceive Yitzchok and
have him believe that she denied idolatry and believed solely in
G-d. In short, the reason we are called Jews is that the word Jew,
derived from Judah, means one who denies idolatry. It is for this
reason that in exile, where we stand alone amongst the nations in
our belief, that the name Yehudi or Jew is the name of choice.
There is yet
another explanation as to why we carry the title "Jew".
In this week's Parsha, it says that when Leah gave birth to her
fourth son and named him Judah, she explained, "Now let me
thank Hashem." The word Judah includes the name of Hashem and
the word Hodaah- to thank or to admit. When one thanks he admits
that he is indebted to the giver. Rashi quotes the Midrash that
says that Leah knew that Yaakov was destined to have twelve children
through his four wives which amounts to three children per mother.
When Leah had her fourth child she thanked Hashem for giving her
more than she deserved. The Rashba explains that Hodaah-thanking-
specifically refers to the thanks that one expresses after receiving
an undeserved gift.
With this explanation
the Rashba answers the following question. The Talmud states that
Leah was the first person in history to thank G-d. Is it possible
that the Forefathers never thanked G-d? How could this be? The Rashba
answers that Leah was the first person to ever receive something
which she didn't deserve. The Forefathers praised G-d and blessed
Him, but they never expressed Hodaah-thanks- because everything
that they had they actually deserved. Leah, however, felt that the
gift of this fourth child, Yehuda, was undeserved . The Chidushei
Harim says that with this concept we can understand why the people
of the nation of Israel are called Yehudim, Jews. This name was
given so that a person should always think of himself as undeserving
of all the good things that happen to him. When bad things happen,
a person is oft to say "Why me?" When everything is going
smoothly, when a person has a stable job, a stable marriage, good
health and good children, does a person ever ask himself, "Why
me, why am I deserving of this good?" For this reason we carry
the name, Jew, Yehudi, which means thank you Hashem, we are not
deserving of all the good that you bestow upon us.