Why we are called Jew/Jude/Yehudim
Yehudee is the word from which we get Jew (Yehudi – Jude, Jew is how it evolved). Now we know the Jews are called Klal Yisroel, the nation of Israel or Shivtei Yisroel, the tribes of Israel. Because in reality, we are children of twelve children of Yaakov, whose name had been changed to Yisroel.
The major question is why, then, is the most common way of the world referring to us that of us Jew, Yehudi. That word is the name of only one tribe – Yehuda/Judah. Why then are we all called for one tribe, when we are in reality from twelve different tribes?
Names are funny things. They mean something. And when you focus on what the name means you can sometimes remember the focus of your life. So if each one of us is called Jew, Jude, Yehudi, we should focus on what that word means so we can know how to focus as a Jew.
How did Yehuda get his name? Leah, his mother, had been married and felt anxious. She felt that she might be rejected by Yaakov. When she started having sons, each one was named because of that anxiousness. For example, Shimon – Kee Shama – G-d heard me crying. It was all about her situation.
Then she had Yehuda. Up until now Leah was keeping track of how many children Yaakov was supposed to have (12) and how much “her share” of the children would be – that according to her interpretation of what the future should be, she thought she should have three of those twelve children. A lot of times in life we have expectations, so when G-d gives us something, we think we “deserve” it, an attitude of ‘of course we got it’. That was what it was like for Leah as she had her first few children. Then she gave birth to a child she didn’t expect to give birth to – and she was overwhelmed. She didn’t feel like it was her “right” to have this child, she felt that it was a random, extra gift from G-d. So she said, “Hapa’am Odeh Es Hashem” This time I will acknowledge to G-d that He gave me a freebie.” And that is how Yehuda got his name. It was a realization from Leah that she didn’t deserve what G-d gives, that Hashem just gives. And it was the first time in the history of the world that someone said such a huge acknowledgment and thank you to Hashem.
Modeh – acknowledging. There are two aspects of why we are called Jew – one is the reason we just learned – that as Jews we have to acknowledge the good G-d does for us. We can’t be ingrates. That is why the first thing we say in the morning as a Jew is Modeh Ani (Grateful am I)– not Ani Modeh (I am Grateful). The first focus has to be acknowledging that G-d gives us life anew every single day. Then we can say Ani, I – I only have existence from G-d, so my ego, who I am, comes secondary to G-d.
What does that mean in our lives, to be focused that we are “Yehudim”? It means we should be grateful people. Rabbi Avigdor Miller said that we are idiots if we don’t focus on how much kindness and free gifts we are given. For example, he said, if you are in a bad mood, you think you should go out and party, but you come back in a worse mood when the party is over. He said, if you are in a bad mood, go to the hospital and see the folks on dialysis, whose kidneys are not working and who cannot go to the bathroom. He said, you will go home and be ecstatic every time you use the bathroom.
That is why we have Brachos, the blessings we make over food and pleasure, to remember to thank G-d. It is a smart idea every day to jot down some of the gifts G-d gave us so we remember how lucky we are. The Meilitzer Rebbetzin in Israel felt that she took things for granted so she started doing experiments. She closed her eyes for two days to feel what life would be like if G-d didn’t bless her with good eyesight. She now doesn’t take her eyesight for granted. She did the same about her limbs by sitting in a wheelchair for a few days. She now dances around her kitchen in thanks to G-d that her limbs work. We just are silly because most times we don’t notice all these gifts because we think we “deserve” everything. People who do a simple thing end up way happier folks- – just take a notebook and everyday find three new things to thank G-d for in your life.
The word Yehuda means acknowledgment. So there are times it means acknowledgment in a way of thanks which is what we just learned. But Yehuda, acknowledgment, also sometimes means acknowledgment of the truth of who we are and what we did – and that is another reason why we are called Yehudim because Yehuda/Judah taught us how to do this.
Yehuda messed up. When we sin, when we wrong someone, most times we try to justify what we did or to cover up that we did wrong. “Uh, uh, I didn’t say that or do that.” Or “I only did that because….” Or, “It’s not so bad what I do…” Yehuda, when he was caught in a situation where he could have had any of those reactions, reacted differently. He taught us what a prince should do – take responsibility for what he had done. He stood up and said, “hey, I was wrong.”
So we are called Yehudim because we have to focus on doing the same, be able to do that – admit to what we are doing wrong, because only when we are honest about our issues are we able to grow past them.
Call me Jew any day. It tells me to focus on acknowledging my shortcomings and thanking G-d for every gift.
you can read about the Meilitzer Rebbetzin’s experiment on http://www.breslev.co.il/default.aspx?language=english