At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, tazria, we are told this regarding a new baby boy:
וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי יִמּוֹל בְּשַׂר עָרְלָתוֹ:
On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. (Leviticus 12:3)
Is there a significance to this number eight, to doing this on the eighth day? It turns out there is. According to the great 16th century rabbi Yehudah Livai of Prag (the Maharal of Prag), everything that pertains to the supernatural intervention of the divine in the world is associated with the number eight.
The Shabbat of the weekly Torah portion of miketz (Genesis 41:1 – 44:17) always coincides with Hanukkah, and this year it also coincides with the holiday of Thanksgiving, which is very rare. And yet the two holidays share a common spirit.
Giving thanks is fundamental to Judaism. In fact, it is built into its name. The Hebrew word for “Jew” is “yehudi” (יהודי), which means “belonging to the tribe of Judah, or “yehudah” (יהודה). The name literally means “I thank Yah (God)”. Leah, Jacob’s wife, chose this name for her fourth son in gratitude to God for his birth. Therefore, beyond the myriad of do’s and don’ts and the great tradition of learning, the essence of Jewish life—in fact the essence of Jewish identity—is gratitude towards God. It is what gives us our name and what defines our path and our goal. We are yehudim, a nation of thanks-givers to the Almighty.