Parashat Tzav

Great at being ungrateful

The Temple was not a ‘nice’ place to be. It was a bloody and ‎smelly place, not the place for the squeamish, blood was ‎everywhere. There were burning corpses of animals already ‎lifted up and offered as sacrifices to G-d, their blood draining ‎away into the gullies and drains around the altar. Blood, and the ‎sacrifices generally, were core to the daily work in the Mishkan ‎and later Temple. Sacrifices have a core function in Judaism, ‎and that is to remind us of something profound: the death of the ‎innocent, the substitution of the guilty by a living creature who ‎didn’t deserve to die. The continual exposure to blood and the ‎demise of innocent life was meant to show a Torah truth to Israel ‎that we sometimes fail even now to grasp: sin causes death. ‎

Reading the first sections of Leviticus/Vayikra it can feel like ‎we’re wading through lists of offerings that have no modern ‎equivalent, or that seem just ancient and irrelevant to us today. ‎Frankly, they may even seem boring and we quickly skip through ‎to find something more ‘interesting’. Such a one however would ‎not be blessed with the deeper understanding reserved for ‎those who diligently seek G-d and don’t give up so easily. ‎

In particular there is one offering amongst all the rest in this ‎portion that is of interest: the zevach todah, the Thanksgiving ‎offering. We are commanded to offer this, so it is assumed you ‎will have something to be thankful for! The Thanksgiving offering ‎belongs to the group of offerings known as the Peace Offerings. ‎It is similar to the Peace Offering but changes them slightly, ‎enforcing the eating of it in one day rather than three. The ‎elements include, amongst others, unleavened bread.‎
Rabbi Elie Munk in his commentaries draws upon Psalm 107 for ‎the reasons why and when to bring this offering. The Psalm, so ‎it is said, was used at the times someone brought this offering, ‎and it specifically talks about surviving great danger, receiving ‎miraculous intervention and recovering health. Of interest is the ‎also the reason that one should bring a Thanksgiving offering if ‎you had been captive and had now been set free. Apparently, ‎this was brought not by someone who merely felt gratitude, but ‎rather who had avoided an impending tragedy, dreadful situation ‎or judgement and had been saved out of it.‎

The Thanksgiving offering involved you giving thanks to G-d for ‎His intervention, or more importantly, also what you had been ‎delivered out of. The concepts that grow organically with this ‎involve therefore the thankfulness one feels after being forgiven ‎and restored to fellowship again. Indeed, we could go further ‎and say that true thankfulness stems from knowing forgiveness ‎and restitution. ‎

Already we can see that just saying ‘thanks’ is utterly ‎inadequate. It says volumes about our society that even a cheap ‎‎‘thanks’ is so infrequently heard today. But the words we say are ‎cheap and do not in any case reveal the true depth of feeling the ‎one offering thanks has. In Judaism thanks is shown not just ‎said. Actions of thanks, as in the offering here, speak to one’s ‎true heart attitude and relationship with the one offering the ‎forgiveness. Offerings, like this one, are not cheap. They cost, it ‎involves the death of an animal which is then eaten in ‎celebration of the deliverance and release. The offering, ‎although commanded when one wants to give thanks, is ‎voluntary. It has to be from a willing and truly grateful heart, ‎something not forced but genuine. Yet a command it is, ‎obedience has to be mixed with genuine volition and emotional ‎expression.‎

A life lived in ungratefulness denies the very real blessings of G-‎d; it is tantamount to denying Him from whom all good things ‎come. Being grateful actually places you into a submitted ‎relationship with the G-d who provides, a relationship of giver ‎and receiver, a relationship founded on the goodness of G-d ‎and His mercy and grace. This is not a case of standing before ‎G-d and saying, ‘I deserve this because I did so and so’, this ‎offering is from an awareness that G-d as sovereign has given, ‎blessed and acted or intervened on my behalf. Thankfulness ‎restores a relationship out of balance because you have to ‎humble yourself before the One whose love and generosity ‎stretch far beyond your own and from whom you receive ‎unwarranted good things.‎

Thanksgiving says you have a healthy relationship with G-d. If ‎you know that being thankful and showing it is not large in your ‎life, it is time for a spiritual check up. Only someone who ‘gives ‎thanks in everything’ truly knows who G-d is, and who they are.‎