Tzav (Shabbat HaGadol) 5783
Lev. 6:1 – 8:36
Rabbi Gary Pokras
It is easy for contemporary Jews to get lost in the descriptions of the various sacrifices found in the opening chapters of the book of Leviticus. While the act of offering sacrifices may seem foreign to us, the underlying principles still resonate. A clue may be found in the structure of the first two parshiyot. Last week, in VaYikra, we learned about four different sacrifices brought by individual Israelites. This week, in Tzav, we spend a great deal of time with the details of the most well know offering, the olah, which was made only by the priests. Then, almost as a footnote, we get a final personal offering permitted to the Israelite individual: the todah (thanksgiving or gratitude) offering. (Lev. 7:12)
Rabbi Amy Scheinerman wonders why the todah offering is not listed with the other four personal offerings in last week’s parasha. She looks to Rashi for the answer, who taught that the four sacrifices from last week are brought by “one who experienced a personal miracle.” Rashi also offered specific examples: surviving dangerous travel by land or sea, being released from jail, and recovering from a serious illness. Today, we still acknowledge these “personal miracles” by offering a special prayer called gomeil instead of offering sacrifices. Even if travel is not as dangerous as it once was, we offer thanks for surviving a real or potential risk.
So, what makes the todah offering different? Rabbi Scheinerman writes:
Perhaps this is to awaken our consciousness to the silent, unnoticed miracles we experience every day, the ones that the Nisim B’chol Yom bring to consciousness: we didn’t wake up ill, blind, or unable to walk; we have sufficient food for our needs; our loved ones are healthy; we have a job; we make it to work without incident or accident – whichever of these pertain to our lives. These comprise a different sort of miracle, yet no less important, and no less worthy of our gratitude.1
I very much appreciate her interpretation of the todah offering, and hope she is correct. It is human nature to pay more attention to the dramatic events of our lives, and to focus our gratitude on the “big things.” Yet, I find it far more meaningful to refocus our gratitude on the myriad “little things” of life. One of the most beautiful aspects of the Modeh Ani prayer, which we offer when first we wake, is that it reminds us that each day is not a given, but a gift: “I offer thanks to You, ever-living Sovereign, that You have restored my soul to me in mercy. How great is Your trust.”2
We no longer offer the todah sacrifice. However, we can still fill our days with many todah moments; instead of focusing only on unmet or unrealistic expectations, we can recognize our good fortune and express our gratitude heavenward. Such is the Jewish approach to cultivating happiness.