Parashat Tzav continues the catalogue of sacrifices brought by the Israelites to the Ancient Temple. In addition to the burnt, guilt, and sin offerings mandated in Scripture, reference is made to the zevach ha-todah, the offering of Thanksgiving.
The offering of Thanksgiving was a subset of the sacrifice of Wellbeing – the Torah’s way of telling us that gratitude is a pre-requisite or at least an essential component of healthy and purposeful living. There are in fact a number of scientific studies that vindicate just this very proposition. Grateful people it seems have a longer life expectancy of about 7 years.
There is the classic story, though, of the Jewish mother and her young son who were playing by the seashore. Suddenly a huge wave came and took the child out to sea. Terrified the mother called out, “God, save my child!” A second enormous wave came rolling in just then and washed the boy back to shore. The mother looked up into the heavens and said, “He had a hat.”
Giving rise to the question: Are we human beings naturally inclined to gratitude or is the very opposite the case?
I think that Judaism is of two minds on this question. The fact that it is mitzvah, a good deed and a commandment to recite a blessing before you eat is indication of how easily it is to take just about anything and everything for granted.
A Rebbe once asked his disciples, “Do you know the difference between you and me? You say a blessing so you can eat the apple. I eat the apple in order to say the blessing.” In other words, every brachah is either Judaism’s ritualized invitation or mandated subpoena to pause and take note of the blessings you are about to enjoy. I guess it depends on the person.
We Jews take our name and the name of our religion from our ancestor Judah, Yehudah, the fourth son of the Matriarch Leah. We call ourselves yehudim. The name Judah and by extension the word Jew and Judaism are both derived from the Hebrew verb meaning “to give thanks.” ”And Leah conceived and bore a son and declared, ‘This time I will give thanks (odeh) to the Lord. And she called his name (yehudah) Judah.” Gratitude then is a quality encoded into the very core of our Jewish being.
I would like to think that including a sacrifice of Thanksgiving on the list of Levitical offerings was the Torah’s way of acknowledging and anticipating a natural Israelite inclination to express gratitude to God. I would like to think that we too are a people inclined to Thanksgiving, but I know for a fact that gratitude is a quality that must be continually nurtured, appreciated and affirmed. Why? Because grateful people are happier and healthier people, to say nothing of the healthier society they can collectively and purposefully help to build.
I don’t think this turn of a phrase will work in Italian, but TGIF, Thank God It’s Friday.