Friday, March 29, 2024 / 19 Adar II 5784

Shalom Chaverim,

This week’s Torah portion, Tzav, includes a description of the zevach todah, the “thanks offering” that was part of the ancient sacrifice rituals. You might wonder: What were the circumstances for which one needed to bring a todah, a “thanks offering”?

The Torah does not list any specific circumstances for the “thanks offering”…though the rabbis later come up with four categories of personal salvation for which one should give thanks: being released from captivity, surviving a trip overseas, a trip through the desert, and recovery/escape from illness or accident.

Actually, tradition also debates whether one is “obligated to bring” a “thanks offering” — just as one is obligated to bring the other offerings at various times or as a consequence of events or deeds/misdeeds – or whether one can choose to bring the zevach todah.

I think that we today also feel the ambiguity over whether gratitude is obligatory or not: Yes, saying ‘thank you’ is a societal expectation – almost a requirement – and even if you feel thankful but don’t bother to express it in words or show it in deeds or attitude, then how can we ever be sure that ‘thankfulness’ exits? Yet the feeling of thankfulness, appreciation, and gratitude comes from recognizing and knowing with what you have been blessed, and also understanding how extraordinary and fragile or lucky and uncertain that blessing is. Is it a ‘choice’ to dwell for some time within that feeling of humble respect, care, love, relief and utter thankfulness, and to outwardly acknowledge and express that gratitude, or are we compelled to do so?

In regard to the zevach todah, the Torah suggests that it is brought by one who “needs to bring” the thanks offering. ‘Needs to.’ Perhaps the Torah highlights that expressing true gratitude is not so much a duty or task as it is an ineluctable psychological and spiritual human need: “I thank, therefore I am.”

Since this Shabbat is Shabbat Parah, an indicator that Passover is coming up soon. We can start our spiritual preparation for the holiday already: Let’s turn our thoughts on this matter of ‘obligation’ versus ‘need’ to a similar debate found in the Passover Haggadah. Recall that towards the start of the seder we hold up the matzah and say “Ha Lachma Anya – ‘This is the bread of poverty and affliction. Let all who are hungry come and eat, let all those in need come and partake of this Passover…”

Try to think of the reasons – the reasons THIS year in particular – you might feel obligated to participate in the seder. What are the reasons you feel you need to participate in the seder this year? Are these reasons the same or different for ‘obligation’ and for ‘need’? Are these reasons more for yourself or for the Jewish People or for the world or for God?

What are you – personally – feeling you “need” from this year’s Passover holiday?


Rabbi Michael Schwartz