TORAH FOR THE NATIONS
The weekly Torah portion and its lessons for all people
Tzav, Leviticus 6:1-8:36
Our portion continues to fill in the details of the various procedures for Temple offerings in each of the four main categories of sacrifices: the whole-burnt (olah), meal (minchah), sin (chatat), guilt (asham) and peace (shelamim) offerings. One particular kind of peace offering is the Thanksgiving Offering:
"And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace-offerings which one may offer to HaShem. If he offers it for a thanksgiving." (Leviticus 7:11).
It is striking that the Torah introduces the portion about the thanksgiving offering with the word IF. This implies that making an offering as an expression of gratitude to God is not an absolute obligation that the Torah imposes upon us. Rather it is a voluntary act that we carry out because we have become aware of His goodness and kindness to us through His many miracles, and we seek some way to acknowledge Him.
In Temple times Israelites would bring the thanksgiving offering specified in our portion (Lev. 7:11-15) for one of four kinds of miraculous deliverance enumerated in the lengthy psalm of thanksgiving in Psalms 107: deliverance from being lost in the wilderness (Ps. 107, vv. 4-9), held in captivity (vv. 10-16), sick with a dangerous illness (vv. 17-22) and threatened with shipwreck (vv. 23-32).
"Give thanks to HaShem for He is good, for His mercy endures for ever. So let the redeemed of HaShem say. Let them give thanks to HaShem for His mercy, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! Let them exalt Him also in the assembly of the people, and praise Him in the seat of the elders" (Psalms 107, vv. 31-32).
It is deeply humbling to experience an amazing rescue from a critical life-threatening situation, knowing that one's life was hanging by a thread and was snatched from the claws of death only by a fluke event. The proper response is to reflect on how this fluke can only be a sign of how God is invisibly watching over us constantly, protecting us with loving care. What could we possibly "give" to God in return for such kindness if not our thanks? In the case of very striking miracles, the beneficiaries should give their thanks publicly "in the assembly of the people and. in the seat of the elders" - for telling the story of the miracle to many others provides a graphic illustration of the wonders of God's ways, strengthening their faith.
Great miracles may not be visible every day. We live in a world governed by the regularities of nature: gravity pulls everything down to earth; the sun rises, passes over and sets; earth's tilted orbit causes hot weather in summer and cold in winter; the rains fall, the plants grow, the animals and humans eat and get fat, the factories produce, electricity makes all the gadgets work. we are born, live our lives and die.
The deeper we reflect, the more we may see how the multitude of natural laws and processes that govern the world are in themselves totally amazing, and the complex, subtle ways in which they interact to create all the manifold details of the creation in general and in the personal life of each and every one of us is itself an expression of God's kindness and mercy to all.
Thinking about the many kindnesses God has shown one personally and giving thanks to Him for them is the first step towards deeper knowledge and understanding of His ways - for while God intrinsically is unknowable, His dealings with each and every one are signs and indications of His unceasing watchful presence.
Before asking God for what one needs, one should first start counting and reflecting upon some of His many goodnesses to us so far, such as the miracles of our bodily functioning, health, vision, hearing, taste, smell, touch, the fact that we have survived all the years and all the vicissitudes, eaten and enjoyed many benefits and blessings. In the words of Rabbi Nachman: "When a person wants to pray to God and ask for what he needs, he should first thank God for all of His past kindnesses and only then ask for what he needs. Because if he starts by asking only for what he needs, God says, 'Have you nothing to thank Me for then?'" (Siach Sarfey Kodesh 1-2).
We may be disappointed with certain aspects of our lives or think ourselves to be in desperate need of certain things we feel we lack. Yet if we are willing to examine negative aspects of our lives in the wider context of other positive aspects, we may come to understand that even the negative stems from God's watchful care. Again in the words of Rabbi Nachman: "When a person knows that everything that happens to him is for his own good, this is a foretaste of the world to come. To be serene and patient regardless of what you encounter in life is the highest level of knowledge and understanding of God. Have faith that everything is for your ultimate good" (Likutey Moharan I, 4).
Giving thanks to God for His visible kindnesses to us leads us to deeper humility before Him, enabling us to acknowledge the negative within ourselves, to seek to rectify it, and to accept in faith the wisdom of His inscrutable dealings with us through all that He has sent us in our lives. "For His mercy endures for ever!"
"I will not reprove you for your sacrifices; and your burnt-offerings are continually before Me. I will take no bullock out of your house, nor he-goats out of your pens. For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains, and the wild beasts of the field are Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine and its fullness. Do I eat the meat of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God the sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Most High. And call upon Me on the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall honor Me.. Whoever offers the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; and to the person that orders his way right I will show the salvation of G-d" (Psalms 50: 8-15; 23).
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