Parshat Tzav תשפ
This week’s portion, Tzav, details the different types of sacrifices that one may need to bring. A sacrifice is called a קרבן (korban), the root of which is קרב – which means close. A sacrifice’s purpose is to bring a person close to Hashem, for when a person has sinned, and the sin has created a barrier between him and Hashem, bringing a sacrifice removes that barrier and allows him to once again to return to that special closeness.
One of the listed sacrifices, however, does not bring atonement for a sin, yet has the potential to bring a person much closer to Hashem, namely, the קרבן תודה “The Todah (thanksgiving) offering.” For this sacrifice a person could bring either a male or female lamb, goat or cow, and most of the meat was eaten by its owner. A person would bring this sacrifice when he needed to thank Hashem for a kindness that Hashem did for him. This Todah offering, moreover, was unique in that it was brought with 40 loaves of bread, which was not burned on the altar, but rather had to be completely consumed along with all of the meat.
The Torah determined how much flour needed to be used for the 40 loaves, and in today’s measurements it would come to about 88 pounds of flour. The flour was divided into two: ten leavened loaves were baked with one half of the flour (making each loaf at least four and a half pounds). The other 44 pounds of flour were used to bake the remaining 30 – matzah loaves that had no leaven and weren’t given time to rise. Of these 30 matzah loaves, ten were scalded (the dough was immersed in boiling water before it was baked), ten were baked as wafers (they probably looked like our matzas, only much thicker), and ten loaves had their flour first mingled with oil before being mixed with water and baked. Each of these matzah loaves was about a pound and a half.
The Torah also set a strict time-limit on how quickly all of the bread and meat had to be consumed: before midnight of the day that the sacrifice was brought, an impossible feat even for the guy who won the hotdog eating contest. The Torah clearly intends for him to invite family, friends, and anyone who wishes to participate to his feast, to help consume the huge amounts of bread and meat. Indeed, when someone came to Yerushalayim with a Todah offering, it was a holiday for the widows, the orphans, and the needy. They could come and eat to their hearts’ content of the bread, and expect some meat to go with it, just to finish in the allotted time. The reason for this is so that when people would come to eat, they would inquire, “What’s the party about? What happened?” This would give the person who brought the sacrifice the opportunity to tell his story – the reason for his thanksgiving, and thereby exalt Hashem and His name in the eyes of all.
From the Todah’s requirements, it seems clear that it must have come for some major event in the bringer’s life. What, then, would qualify as a reason for a Todah offering?
Psalm 107 lists four situations, which when a person is saved from them, he must express his thanks to Hashem for His salvation. When the Holy Temple stood, the following would have to bring a Todah offering: (1) A prisoner who gained his freedom, (2) A person who was very ill and recovered, (3) One who traveled across a sea and arrived safely, and (4) One who completed a journey through a desert.
(There is a cute Hebrew acronym to remember the four who need to bring a Korban Todah. It is a line from the daily prayer, וכל החיים יודוך סלה
“All the ח – חבוש
י – יסורים
ם – מדבר
will praise You forever.”)
Although surviving any of these four circumstances does not constitute an open miracle, each is nevertheless fraught with danger and prone to unhappy endings, so when a person is saved from them, he must offer a special thank you to Hashem for His kindness.
A person in prison may languish there for the rest of his life. To whom is he important? Why should anybody take up his cause? This concept applied primarily in days of old when a ruler or governor had complete control over his subjects and could condemn any of them to prison on a whim without a reason. But even today, a person may be sent to prison for a crime that he did not commit.
The truth is that every person is very important to Hashem, and Hashem is with him in his prison cell, feeling his pain and anguish. When a person in his time of need turns his prayers to Hashem, Hashem answers him. This is what Yosef realized when he was cast into prison for no crime, and it is what kept him alive and well. Hashem was there with him, and Hashem saw to his release. So, when a person makes it out of prison, he in great thanks brings a Korban Todah.
A person who suffered a dangerous illness and was healed must also bring a Todah offering. As we continue trying to avoid catching the seemingly ubiquitous corona virus we can definitely relate to this situation. Can we control whether this microscopic piece of DNA will attach itself to us? So many have already come down with it, some with severe cases in critical condition. If I were to come down with it, what would my fate be? We can try the best we can to avoid it, but the rest is really in Hashem’s hands. All I can actually do about is turn my eyes in prayer to Hashem and beseech Him for mercy that I not come down with it. And if I do, knowing that there is no known cure, I must pray that Hashem give my body what it needs to fight off the virus. In days of old, most sicknesses were like this. There were no cures. Imagine the feeling of one who was very ill or who had the virus yet survived. A major thanksgiving feast is in order.
Travel across the sea is fraught with danger. When one is on a boat in the middle of the sea, there are very limited options should something go wrong. The weather is one thing that can do a ship in, and pirates and hijackers who would attack ships, killing and plundering the travelers, is another. There was no Coast Guard, no SOS, no help from anyone, but Hashem. I would assume that one only made a journey across the sea if he had no other option. And when he completed his journey successfully, there was great reason to celebrate.
The same is the case for crossing a desert. Without rest areas or food stores but with many other undesirables waiting to plunder the wary traveler and relieve him of his money or valuables, on what can one rely in making such a trip? Does he control the bandits along the way? The snakes? The lack of water? Does he control the weather? What are his options? There is only one, to put his trust in Hashem and pray to Him for mercy and deliverance. Again, it would seem that one would make such a trip only under the most difficult of circumstance, and when all went well and he reached his destination in peace, a major celebration was in order.
It is easy to imagine the elation and exhilaration that one would feel upon reaching safety in any of these situations. He would want to broadcast his thankfulness to Hashem as loud as he possibly could and to share it with all who would listen! He would find his outlet through the Todah offering with its bread and meat that needed to be consumed in such a short time. The feast would be enjoyed by many who would all rejoice in his miracle from Hashem.
When someone recovers from a serious illness or a life -threatening situation today, how does he express his gratitude to Hashem? With no Holy Temple, there can be no Todah offering.
There is a special blessing called ברכת בגומל The Gomel blessing, which expresses this concept, and substitutes for the Todah offering. Ten men, two of whom are learned in Torah, must be present when the blessing is recited. This is the blessing.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְדֹוָד אֱלֹקֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם. הַגּוֹמֵל לְחַיָּבִים טוֹבוֹת. שֶׁגְּמָלַנִי כָּל טוֹב
You are the source of all blessing Hashem our G-d king of the universe, who bestows goodness (even) to the guilty, Who has bestowed upon me all that is good.
Upon hearing this blessing, the congregation responds with:
אָמֵן. מִי שֶׁגְּמָלְךָ כָּל טוֹב. הוּא יִגְמָלְךָ כָּל טוֹב סֶלָה:
Amen. (on the bracha) Who has bestowed upon you all that is good, may He continue to grant you only good.
Usually, this blessing is recited after an aliya when the Sefer Torah is read, but it doesn’t need to be said only at that time, as long as it is recited in the presence of a minyan.
Two other places in our in our daily prayers provide the opportunity to express our thanks to Hashem for the daily miracles that He does for us.
One is in the morning service, which incorporates in it Psalm 100, “A Psalm of Thanksgiving.” In it we say, “For Hashem is good, His kindness endures forever.” With just a little thought, we can see how we are all the recipients of Hashem’s endless kindness.
The second place in our daily prayers where we have the opportunity to thank Hashem for the constant goodness that He bestows upon us is in the “Modim” – Thank you! -section of the daily Shmoneh Esreh prayer recited three times a day. The entire blessing is replete with reasons to be thankful to Hashem, and a careful review of the meanings of the holy words of our Sages will surely bring a person to appreciate Hashem’s goodness to him.
During these difficult and trying times, we have to be ever so much more grateful for every little (though really big!) thing that we have. The greatest of them all is, that we have to be so thankful that we have Hashem! We Jews know that life is not random and that things are not the product of coincidence and chance. Hashem is loving and merciful, and He has nothing but our best interest in mind in every single decision that He makes. Although we are unable to understand Hashem’s Divine plan and why things are the way they are, we are sure that Hashem is doing what He is doing in the kindest and most sensitive way possible.
Someone was once brough before the great Rosh Yeshiva of Aish Hatorah, Rabbi Noach Weinberg זצ”ל with the hope of convincing the young man to enter the Yeshiva to learn Torah. The young man said to the esteemed Rosh Yeshiva, “You don’t have to convince me that there is G-d! I know there is a G-d, and I have a great relationship with Him!” “Really?” replied the rabbi. “Tell me about it! Perhaps you will teach me something about G-d!” The young man explained, “You see, I ride my bikes across the Swiss Alps, and one time as I came around a turn high on a mountain pass, a truck was bearing down on me. I had to either go off the cliff or collide with the truck. I chose to go off the cliff, and, after falling many stories, I landed on my bike without a scratch. My bike was completely mangled, but I was okay. So, I know there is G-d! He saved my life!”
Without missing a beat, Reb Noach asked him, “And who do you think sent the truck?”
In a way, we can ask this very question about the Todah offering. Indeed, who brought the prison sentence, the illness, the need for the trip across the sea or desert? Of course, it was Hashem, Who controls all events. So, while we are happy to be out of the difficult situation, when we consider that Hashem brought the whole thing about to begin with, maybe such a major thanks isn’t in order. Imagine someone played a joke on you, locking you up in a room without food or drink when you were very hungry. After a few hours he came back and let you out. Would you be eternally thankful to him for letting you out, or would you be eternally upset at him for having put you through those hours of hunger and discomfort?
The Ksav Sofer (d. 1871) explains that this is really part of the thanks that we are giving through the Todah offering.
R’ Noach responded to the young man’s question, “If Hashem sent the truck, then, what was His point?” by noting, “How else would Hashem have gotten your attention? The truck woke you up!”
When life carries on as “normal,” it is easy to forget the Great Hashem Who is behind the scenes calling all the shots and giving us a normal life. Sometimes we need a wakeup call, to shock us back to the reality that Hashem is running the world, and we need to recognize Him and turn to Him for our salvation. When indeed Hashem sends the salvation, we owe Him double thanks: One for waking us out of our stupor, and the other for saving us from the difficult situation.
Psalm 107 cited above is the source for those who need to bring a Todah offering. One reading of the Psalm understands it as describing the events that the Jewish People experienced as they left Egypt. (1) They were released from bondage – Egyptian slavery, (2) they were recuperating from an illness – they had just undergone a Brit Milah, (3) they went through a sea – the Reed Sea, and (4) they had just crossed safely over a desert as they made their way to Mount Sinai, in the Sinai Desert. So the Jewish people had all four reasons to bring a Todah offering.
This notion explains the four cups of wine at the Pesach Seder. Each cup is raised in thanks to Hashem for one of the four situations requiring a “thank you,” and we are offering it at the Seder when we acknowledge all the kindnesses that Hashem did for us during the Exodus.
The Midrash Rabbah (9:7) in this week’s portion says,
רבי פנחס ורבי לוי ורבי יוחנן בשם ר’ מנחם דגליא: לעתיד לבא, כל הקרבנות בטלין וקרבן תודה אינו בטל; כל התפלות בטלות ההודאה אינה בטלה
Rabbi Pinchas and Rabbi Levi and Rabbi Yochanan in the name of Rabbi Menachem from Galia said, In the future, all sacrifices will become obsolete except the Todah offering, and all prayers will become obsolete except the thanksgiving prayer.
What is it about the Todah and thanksgiving prayers that will not become obsolete? It would seem to be the opposite. In future times when there will be neither sin nor sin offerings; everything will be perfect! There will be no circumstances requiring a Todah offering.
The answer is that in the future, we will bring a Todah offering to thank Hashem for all the suffering and hardship that he put us through! Because only then will we be able to see how each hardship and difficulty was really good for us, and how it brought about the ultimate redemption. At the time, we perceived them as a plague and suffered from them thinking they were not something to thank Hashem for. In retrospect, when we see how they were actually good for us, we will offer a Todah offering in thanks to Hashem.
May we all merit to bring a Todah offering to Hashem when He brings the complete redemption, speedily in our day, and we see in retrospect how all of this was for the good.