Parashat Hashavua for Tzav (Shabbat HaGadol)
Reverend Sam Zwarenstein
Emanuel Synagogue, Woollahra, NSW
Continuing in the vein of “Sefer HaKohanim”, the Book of the Priests (another name given to the book of Leviticus), we learn that Aaron and his sons are taught additional laws relating to their service in the Temple. Most of these laws pertain to the sacrificial system, yet they still contain lessons for us today.
One that bears mentioning at this time is the Korban Todah, the thanksgiving offering. It is no coincidence that the word Jew is a translation of the Hebrew, “Yehudi”, which comes from the same root as the word “l’hodot”. L’hodot has two basic meanings; “to give thanks”, and “to admit”. Admitting and giving thanks also have something in common. When we say thank you to somebody, we are, in essence, admitting our gratitude to that person. We’re admitting that we have received something, and saying thank you is a recognition of that.
We learn that four types of individuals are obligated to offer thanks to God through a Korban Todah. These are; people who recovered from illness, were freed from jail, crossed the sea, or crossed the desert. The offering of a Korban Todah was a sublimely joyous experience. One way that this simcha was expressed was that the Korban Todah was accompanied by a wine offering, which was poured onto the altar.
The sacrifice had to be eaten the same day as it had been offered, and it was to be eaten with 40 loaves of bread. The reason for the haste and the quantity of food was so that the person who brought the sacrifice would see that there was so much food there, that they would invite their friends to dine with them, to celebrate their safety from any of the four circumstances they had found themselves in. At the meal, the main topic of conversation would be this great deliverance, after all it was the reason for the meal. Subsequently, the host would recount the miraculous circumstances of their delivery and offer words of thanks and gratitude for their safe delivery.
For many of us, when we have to get up in front of a crowd, the usual result is that our heartbeat quickens, our palms become moist, and possibly our throats become dry. Essentially, this nervousness will lead to a greater encounter of what happened to that person. In turn, everyone at the meal learns the magnitude of the occurrence. It also gives the person who had the occurrence a better understanding of what had been done for them, and allows them to give thanks .
All sacrifices, not just the Korban Todah, had to be the best offering that each person could bring, and it had to be offered separately from everybody else’s. It was as if theirs was the only one that mattered at that time. When we look at the circumstances that led to someone bringing a Korban Todah, we acknowledge that for them, this wasn’t just about bringing a sacrifice and giving thanks, it was almost like a new lease on life.
Following the destruction of the Temple, and the abolition of the sacrificial system, the Korban Todah has been replaced with the Birkat HaGomel, which is found in the Torah service. It is also reflected in Psalm 100, a Psalm of Thanksgiving, as well part of the Amidah (Modim).
The Birkat HaGomel is today’s public declaration of being delivered safely from any of the four situations that would have warranted a Korban Todah. The community supports and celebrates with the person giving thanks, it is indeed a wonderful opportunity to give thanks. Moreover, it is respected in the same way the Korban Todah was, as it stands alone as we acknowledge its importance.
When we pray together (especially now, using Zoom and other media) we have an opportunity to support one another, even if it is physically distant support. Allowing people who have overcome various dangerous situations to give their thanks and know that their community marks that transition with them, adds to their gratitude and our happiness and appreciation in their journey.