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|This is the law of the… peace offering… if he shall offer it as a
thanksgiving offering… (7:11-12).
The Talmud (Berachot 54b) brings the following tradition, based on Psalm 107:
Four categories of people are required to bring a thanksgiving offering: those who survived a sea journey, those who survived a journey in the desert, someone who recovered from a dangerous illness, and someone who survived dangerous imprisonment.
The text, as explained by the Talmud (Menachot 77b) states that the animal brought as a thanksgiving offering (todah) was accompanied by forty loaves, ten of each of the four varieties mentioned in the text. Half the todah’s flour was used to prepare the thirty unleavened loaves (matzot), which included oil. The rest of the flour made up the ten leavened loaves (chametz), which did not include oil. R. Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that the chametz is a symbol of growth and unrestrained freedom. The matzot represent food, and the oil suggests well-being – two essentials for living. So the combination of chametz and matza in a todah shows that the person has emerged from the constricting danger to unrestricted life (chametz), but at the same time he has recognized that he owes everything – his food and well-being – to G-d, and he rededicates himself to Him (matza).
Indeed, this explanation can be taken further, as an insight to the importance of the commandment of eating matzot on Pesach. (Indeed – the need to recognize a debt of gratitude to the Almighty for the Exodus is implied in the First Commandment: “I am the L-rd your G-d Who brought you out of the Land of Egypt”.) The Torah does not just forbid the eating of chametz, but it also obligates everyone to eat matzot on the first night of Pesach (Ex. 12:18). For this re-enacts the progress of the Israelites: from the spiritually relatively unrestrained, but physically constricting way of life before the Exodus, to the all-embracing discipline of being His Chosen People. Both the survival and well-being of the Israelites - through narrowly escaping falling back into Pharaoh’s hands, and the miracles of the Red Sea, give us a spectacular example of His concern for our welfare. And the Israelites’ ‘rededication’ of themselves to the Almighty - to the values of the Patriarchs, is summarized by G-d’s early communication to Moses about the purpose of the Exodus: “when you bring the people out of Egypt, you shall serve G-d on this mountain” (Ex. 3:12).
However this leaves us with the following question. Why, according to the Talmud, does the Torah obligate a person to bring a Korban todah only on emerging from danger? Surely, we ought to display our gratitude to the Almighty in other circumstances? As we say in the Amidah: “We gratefully thank You… for your miracles that are with us every day, and for your wonders and favors in every season – evening, morning, and afternoon.”
My father, Harav Norman Solomon, is fond of saying that the world contains two types of people: those that think that the world owes them a living, and those who think that they owe the world a living. It is to both those types that the special circumstances of bringing a todah are addressed.
The first type of person is never satisfied. Nothing is ever good enough! Such people are always constantly complaining and criticizing, taking everything for granted, and never showing the slightest degree of recognition and appreciation towards those who put themselves out for them. They think about what they miss, they are blinded to what they have. While they could, and should, be extremely happy through the good things that happen to them, they instead turn into self-centered negative clods of grumbles.
The second type breath gratitude. They are sincerely humble - realizing that G-d has His plans in directing their fortunes. They realize the world owes them nothing, and they therefore feel satisfied with what they have. They get joy from helping, and seeing the happiness of others. One of my learned teachers, R. Moshe Schwab ztl., had many of pictures of his children and grandchildren on the walls of his home. When asked about it, he said, “I want to remember constantly the great kindness that the Almighty has bestowed upon me” (Maarchai Lev, p. 47).
The first type of person has to bring the expensive todah offering to correct his own spiritual deficiencies. Such a person during a dangerous illness will be saying, “If G-d saves me, I will be a better person…” However, after the danger has passed he may well forget it all and revert to type. So he has to go to the expense of bringing the todah to impress on himself that he survived only by G-d’s grace, and that a ‘thank you’ is needed. And having learnt to thank G-d by this experience, he might well go on to appreciate other favors that are done to him on a more day-to-day basis – from both G-d and Mankind.
The second, more grateful type need the todah as a means of expressing their genuine gratitude to G-d. They say – and mean – “Baruch Hashem” for each and every item of His largesse. However on being delivered from the highly dangerous situations quoted from the Talmud, the todah gives them the means to express their own, special, memorable, “Baruch Hashem” in a special, memorable way. So the act of bringing a todah assists them in coming even closer to the Almighty…
I am much indebted to R. Zelig Pliskin for the ideas contained in Chapter 2 of his book, “Gateway to Happiness” (1983).
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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