Giving Thanks
March 31, 2023
By Harvey Sanders

The scriptural reading this week is Tzav – meaning commandment.   There are lots of commandments in the Bible – 613 to be exact – so nothing unusual there.  The reading is full of detailed commandments of how to do things:  Details about what clothes are to be worn by the priests conducting the ritual sacrifices and details about the different types of sacrificial offerings.  This portion doesn’t describe the types of animals that could be offered, but we know these could include oxen, sheep, goats, turtledoves and pigeons.  As a carnivore, animal sacrifice does not bother me too much – I love a good barbeque.  But I also like that sacrificial offerings were not only meat, but also meal offerings of flour and oil and spices (a kind of bread or cake) that could appeal to everyone, including vegetarians.  Given that I am deep into preparations for our Passover Seder meals, the descriptions of ingredients has me thinking of recipes.  I never really thought of the Bible as a cookbook.  But in a sense, isn’t it a cookbook for the mind and heart?  With cooking, you take a bunch of ingredients in proportion, add some heat and/or time and hope the result is tasty.  With the Bible, take some text, spend time with a teacher or a chevrutah (study group) and hope you come out a better person with a better understanding of what God wants from us.

One of the sacrifices in this Parsha (weekly portion) is the thanksgiving offering, known as a Todah.  I realize that Thanksgiving is an entirely different holiday than Passover, but bear with me.  In the Bible, this offering was to be given when a person had survived sickness or danger.  The offering would include meal offerings of breads, cakes and wafers and maybe a meat.  Unlike other offerings which could be eaten for up to two days, the thanksgiving offering needed to be finished that day.  The Rabbis teach that this encouraged people to share the meal with others – and to share in the story of their miracle.   As we come together with family and friends for Passover, what better time to share stories of thanksgiving?  Anyone reading this has survived a pandemic that has gripped the world over the past three years, much less the numerous other dangers and challenges we have each faced and continue to face.

The Todah offering is so important, that even in a Messianic era, when all other sacrifices will no longer be needed, we are taught the Todah offering will continue because gratitude is so important.  Even today, when we do not have a Temple in Jerusalem or animal sacrifice, people who experience something that would have justified a Todah offering are called to the Torah and say a prayer of thanksgiving, the Gomel prayer.  This tradition comes from the Psalms and the Talmud.  The person thanks God for treating them kindly and the community responds with a wish that God should continue to show kindness to that person forever.  This makes the person’s thanksgiving a communal experience.  We don’t need to wait for such an occasion to feel gratitude.  Every morning, our first prayer is Modeh Ani (I give thanks). 

Let me close by sharing a link to the Todah song written by my good friend, Dr. Andy Symons:  The chorus goes: “Todah means thanks a lot for everything we’ve got.  For friends and family and everything we see.”  The final verse encourages us to be thankful “For my country proud and free.  From Sea to Shining Sea.  Where you can be just you.  And I can be just me.”  It always puts me in a good mood.  Give it a listen before Shabbat and think about things you are thankful for … and share your gratitude.

Harvey Sanders is a partner at Sanders & Sanders, a law firm specializing in labor and employment law.  He is a Past President of Temple Beth Tzedek and currently serves on the Federation’s Board of Governors.

Giving Thanks - Jewish Thought of the week 2022