What do released prisoners, recovering patients, seafarers and
caravan travelers all have in common? These people have all been in
perilous situations, their very lives endangered, and having come
through safely, they are required to express their gratitude to Hashem
by bringing a thanksgiving sacrifice to the Temple in Jerusalem. The
procedure for the thanksgiving offering, the korban todah, is described
in this week’s portion.
The Midrash provides us with a rather surprising bit of information
about the thanksgiving offering. In the End of Days, when the Presence
of the Creator will fill the world with holiness and people will live in
eternal bliss and serenity, all sacrifices will be discontinued - except
the thanksgiving sacrifice. This immediately leads us to ask: How can
this be? If, as the prophets repeatedly assure us, people will be safe
and secure, protected from all physical harm and danger, from sickness
and imprisonment, how will it be possible for a thanksgiving sacrifice to
be brought? The conditions that necessitate such an offering will simply
Let us think for a moment about a phrase most polite people use
very often and very casually. What exactly do we mean when we say
“thank you” to someone who has done us a good turn? What have we
actually given him by thanking him? And why is he gratified? The
answers lie in a deeper understanding of gratitude and thanksgiving. In
essence, an expression of gratitude is an acknowledgment. By saying
“thank you,” we declare that we recognize what the other person has
done for us, that we value it and that we do not take him for granted.
This is all he needs in return for what he has done - recognition, no
more, no less. But a sincere expression of gratitude can only result from
a genuine appreciation of the value of what we have received. Without
this appreciation, the words ”thank you” are but an empty, meaningless
If this holds true in our relationships with other human beings, how
much more so in our relationship with our Creator. We are endlessly
beholden to Him for all the good He does for us, and as a result, we
should be endlessly grateful. Unfortunately, however, we live in a
benighted world of illusions and delusions, and we often fail to
recognize the innumerable gifts and bounty that flow to us from
Hashem’s generous hand. And even when we pay lip service to it, how
deeply do we actually feel it? How real is it to us? The only things we
face with stark reality are life-threatening situations. In the face of
danger, our affectations and pretensions quickly dissipate, and we
realize how dependent we are on our Creator for our safety. As the old
adage goes, “There are no atheists in a foxhole.” It is only when we are
ultimately delivered from danger that we are capable of expressing
In the End of Days, however, the Presence of the Creator will
illuminate the entire world and dispel all the foolish delusions which so
becloud our vision and befuddle our minds. Then we will see Hashem’s
hand with perfect clarity, and our acknowledgments of His guidance and
benevolence will carry the ring of true conviction. At that point, we will
no longer have to face life-threatening situation to inspire genuine
gratitude in our hearts. We will thank Him endlessly for every minute
detail of our lives and bring thanksgiving sacrifices to give expression to
the transcendent feelings of gratitude that will permeate our souls.
A great sage once ordered a cup of coffee in an elegant restaurant.
When the bill came, he saw he had been charged an exorbitant sum.
“So much for a cup of coffee?” he asked the waiter.
“Oh no, sir,” the waiter replied. “The coffee cost only a few cents.
But the paintings and tapestries on the walls, the crystal chandeliers,
the Persian carpets, the luxurious gardens, the marble fountain, these
cost a lot of money, and every patron must pay his share.”
“Aha!” said the sage. “You have taught me an important lesson.
When I recite a blessing over a glass of water, I must thank the Creator
for the ground on which I stand, the air I breathe, the blue sky over my
head, the beauty and scent of the flowers, the twittering of birds, the
company of other people. Thank you.”
In our own lives, we all too often take for granted all the blessings
we enjoy, and we forget to express our gratitude to our Creator, the
Source of all this bounty. Indeed, when we experience hardship, we are
inclined to confront Hashem, saying, Oh, why do we deserve this? But
when we experience good fortune, are we as inclined to thank Him?
Common courtesy, of course, requires that we acknowledge Hashem’s
bounty, but if we offer words of gratitude to Hashem in all situations, we
will also discover a deeper dimension to our appreciation and enjoyment
of the blessings of life.