We read this week in Leviticus 7:11 the directions for the offering of well-being (zevach sh’leimim) that a person is too make an offering of thanksgiving (zevach ha’todah). Look please at this linkage between sh’leimim and todah. The link is between the root for peace or wholeness and thanksgiving or gratitude. Now that is a sermon!
The tradition tells us that we are to give thanks after four serious encounters: when one has safely completed a dangerous journey, recovered from illness, been released from confinement or survived additional dangers. In our contemporary world, this tradition has been reborn in the traditional Gomel blessing. It is very profound and meaningful.
But his is more than just reciting a blessing. There also can be a significant psycho-spiritual aspect to this. To come through a harrowing experience, especially illness, reminds us of the fragility of life. Certainly we have seen this with Covid. To survive danger, or illness or coming close to death speaks to the desire for us to seek a life of sh’leimut of wholeness; a wholeness or completeness of self and soul. This is what all of us wish for, and when that is threatened, and we emerge from this threat, we are obliged to offer a prayer of thanksgiving. Indeed, that is why so many of us were trained as young people that when something good happens with send an offering of tz’dakah to our synagogue or charity.
Tradition also understood that this idea of giving thanks, of gratitude for life, transcends the bounds of the sacrificial system. In Leviticus Rabbah, the great Midrash for Leviticus, we read (7:9) that though in the future sacrifices may be ended, “the offering of thanksgiving will never cease” and that even though prayers may end, the “prayers of thanksgiving will never cease”.
So as you study and reflect on Tzav, consider the value and place of giving thanks. We remind ourselves every morning of this as we wake up and say modeh ani, thank you for another day, another gift of life.
Rabbi Richard F. Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.