The Value of Thankfulness – Tzav 5782

D'var Torah | Leviticus

Having just celebrated the joyous holiday of Purim, the words of the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Proverbs 9) sound very much like an ardent wish: When all the other Jewish holidays disappear, Purim will remain. More likely, it is a cynical observation that antisemitism – embodied by the villainous Haman ­– is a fact of Jewish life, a constant against which we are fated to struggle, and a sad statement of human nature. But rather than address the grim consequences of the observation in the Midrash, as a literary device it is a template for a similar style of observation.


A certain Rabbi Menahem of Galia (perhaps Gaul, that is France, see Yevamot 23a) said: “In the future, all the sacrifices will be canceled except for the thanksgiving offering” (Midrash Rabbah, Leviticus 9:7). Note the similarity of structure between both midrashim. And just as Yalkut Shimoni required an explanation, so does Midrash Rabbah. If all the sacrifices were canceled, why would any remain? And what is so special about the thanksgiving offering that warrants its continuation?


To be clear, Rabbi Menahem is not advocating an end to sacrifices. He is not arguing that sacrifices are cruel to animals or unnecessary for worship and ought to be terminated. Were that the case, then thanksgiving offerings should also be canceled. Rather, Rabbi Menahem is arguing that being thankful is an essential human value. Thankfulness begins with the realization that we are not alone. There are others who contribute to our successes. Thankfulness is an admission that we cannot be exclusively self-reliant. As much as we might want, we cannot do everything ourselves. Coming to this realization makes thankfulness the essential ingredient for organizing society.


So when we read the requirements of the thanksgiving offering (Leviticus 7:12-15) we should think less about the specifics and more about its purpose: to engender a greater sense of thankfulness thus making us more humble and cooperative.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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