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The Connection between being Grateful and Confessing

Vayeshev (Genesis 37-40 )

by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski

Judah recognized and he said, “She is right. It is from me” (38:26)

The Midrash lauds Judah's courage in admitting that he was the father of Tamar's child because he could easily have denied it. The Midrash states that Judah received this trait from his mother, Leah, because when he was born, she said, “This time let me gratefully praise God” (Genesis 29:35; Bereishis Rabbah 71). The Hebrew word for “giving thanks,” hodaah, is also the word for “confess. ” Leah was indeed grateful, but we do not find her confessing anything. Although the same word has two meanings, how does Judah's ability to confess derive from his mother's ability to be grateful?

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch frequently points out that words that are similar are somehow related. This must be more so when the words for two different concepts are identical.

There is a very profound relationship between the ability to confess and the ability to be grateful. Both are the result of self-esteem.

Many people have difficulty in expressing gratitude, because it makes them feel obligated and beholden to their benefactor. This psychological truth is clearly stated in the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 5a). The resistance to express gratitude appears to be innate. A mother may tell her five-year-old child, “Say `thank you' to the nice man for the candy,” but the child may only grunt. A person with low self-esteem sees being beholden to anyone as a dependency on others, and considers being dependent as demeaning. He may not only be resistant to express gratitude, but may also turn off any awareness of gratitude. A mature person with good self-esteem is not threatened by feeling gratitude. He can take appropriate dependency in stride.

This also holds true for the ability to confess a wrong. A person with low self-esteem is apt to deny having done wrong. He may not admit a misdeed even to himself, let alone to others. Confessing a wrong can be crushing. A person with good self-esteem, on the other hand, realizes that even the finest human being may err, and he may have little difficulty in confessing.

When I lecture on self-esteem, people invariably ask, “What can we do to help our children build their self-esteem?” My answer is that the first thing is to have good self-esteem yourself. Self-esteem is contagious. Parents who feel positive about themselves provide an atmosphere where the child can feel positive. Parents with low self-esteem act in a way that transmits negative feelings to their children.

Leah had reason to have low self-esteem. Jacob preferred her sister to her, and she had participated in deceiving him. When the Torah says that God saw that Leah was despised (Genesis 29:31) it does not mean that Jacob despised her. The patriarch did not despise his wife. It means that Leah despised herself for participating in the deception. The names Leah gave her first three children all indicate how poorly she felt about herself. By the time she bore Judah, her self-esteem had improved to the point where she could express gratitude. She transmitted her positivity to Judah, who was, therefore, able to confess.

The Midrash that equates the ability to be grateful with the ability to confess is teaching us an important psychological concept: self-esteem enables a person both to be grateful and to confess a wrong.

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