The Torah in Parashat Vayeitzei tells of the birth of Yaakov’s children, and the reasons for the names they received. His first six sons were born from Leah, whom he loved less than his second wife, Rachel, and the names Leah chose for her first three sons express her longing for Yaakov’s love. Leah named her first son “Reuven” because “ra’a Hashem be-onyi” – “The Lord has seen my torment” and thus gave her a son so that Yaakov would love her (29:32). The name of her second son, “Shimon,” signifies that “shama Hashem ki senu’a anokhi” – “…the Lord heard that I am despised” (29:33). And the name of her third son, “Levi,” expresses that with the birth of a third child “yilaveh ishi eliai” – “my husband will attach himself to me” (29:34).
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch observes that unlike these three names, the name of Leah’s fourth son, Yehuda, is not associated with Leah’s relationship with Yaakov. The name “Yehuda” is simply an expression of gratitude – “Ha-pa’am odeh et Hashem” (“This time, I shall thank the Lord” – 29:35), without any reference to Leah’s desire to earn Yaakov’s love. On this basis, Rav Hirsch asserts that after the birth of Leah’s third son, Levi, she felt that her relationship with Yaakov had finally reached the level of closeness that should characterize a marriage. After each of the first two births, although Leah noticed a marked improvement in Yaakov’s attitude towards her after, and a less pronounced difference between his relationship to her and his relationship to Rachel, but only after Levi’s birth did Leah sense that, in Rav Hirsch’s words, “the difference had quite disappeared,” and that “the purest, truest loving relationship between husband and wife was established.” Therefore, when Leah’s fourth child was born, she no longer needed to celebrate any enhancement of Yaakov’s affection towards her, and so she simply expressed her general feelings of gratitude to the Almighty. (It should be noted, though, that after the birth of Leah’s sixth Zevulun, she again spoke of her relationship to Yaakov, exclaiming, “Ha-pa’am yizbeleini ishi” (30:20). This would certainly appear to indicate that this issue continued weighing on Leah’s mind even later.)
In light of this, Rav Hirsch asserts that the name “Levi” – more specifically, Leah’s response to Levi’s birth which formed the basis of his name – encapsulates the “purest, truest loving relationship between husband and wife.” The name “Levi” stems from the term “yilaveh,” Leah’s anticipation of Yaakov “attaching” himself to her. Rav Hirsch suggests a link between the root “l.v.h.” used in reference to “attachment” (as in the common word “leviya,” which means “escort”), and the use of this root to mean “borrow.” The relationship signified by this term, Rav Hirsch explains, is the “attachment of two persons where each one of them feels themselves the loveh, the debtor of the other…that they owe their happiness and whole life to the other.” The highest-level relationship is achieved when the parties see themselves as indebted to one another, as opposed to feeling owed by one another. When the two parties focus on their perceived entitlements, on what they can and should be receiving from the other, disappointment and tension are all but inevitable. A successful relationship is one signified by the name “Levi,” characterized by a mutual sense of indebtedness, with each party seeking to please the other. This is thus the name given to Levi, whose birth heralded, in Leah’s mind, the attainment of the complete marital bond that she sought to build with Yaakov.