Parashat Tzav

March 17, 2011 | Filed in: Divrei Torah, News, Vayikra

By Cantor Robin Joseph

So, there was this man . . . who was so unhappy with his life . . . he grumbled, complained, and was not grateful for anything. One day the Angel of Death came to him and said, “OK-time’s up; you’re coming with me.” The misanthrope suddenly perks up and pleads with the Angel of Death to spare him. “I’ll do anything!” he says. “Just please don’t take me now!”

The Angel of Death makes him a deal: “Every day that you find something to bless in your life, everyday that you find something different to thank God for, is another day that I’ll let you live. But as soon as you stop, I will come back for you.”

The man agrees and the Angel of Death departs.

Amazingly enough, this man does find something different to bless and be thankful for every day, and this turns his life around. He is filled with gratitude and lives happily.

The day he turns 120, he decides enough is enough. He’s had a long, fulfilling life and has a deep appreciation for all of God’s gifts. He decides that he will not say a new blessing that day. And sure enough, the Angel of Death comes back.

“You didn’t say a blessing today,” the Angel remarks.

“I have learned a lot and have been grateful for all God’s blessings, but I am tired. I am ready to go,” the man replies.

“Then I will take you,” says the Angel.

“Thank God for that,” says the man.

The Angel of Death throws up his hands and turns away saying, “See you tomorrow!”

How do we learn to be grateful? And why is it that sometimes it seems easier to beat our breasts over our failings than proclaim our blessings?

In this week’s parashah, Tzav, it seems to me that we are confronted with just this situation. There is a long list of the sacrifices we must offer for our sins and just one itty-bitty sacrifice for well-being. One would think that Jews only focus on suffering.

One would think that given the disproportionate number of sin-offerings which are commanded, Jews would have nothing to be grateful for.

I am going to suggest, however, that the well-being offering-the zevah sh’lamim-is the heavyweight in this arena and, while small in number, is mighty in deed.

Of the other sacrifices-meal, sin, guilt, burnt-these are all ultimately offered by the kohanim. But the sacrifice of well-being has no intermediary. “HaMakriv et zevah shelamav l’Adonai yavi et-korbano l’Adonai mizevah shelamav. Yadav t’vi-enah eit ishei Adonai . . .“-“The offering of the well-being sacrifice to the Lord, must be presented by him who offers his sacrifice of well-being to the Lord; his own hands shall present the Lord’s offerings by fire. . .” (Lev. 7:29-30) We get to do this one ourselves-but why?

In Leviticus Rabbah (9:4), R. Phinehas explains that this is like a king who will receive homage from his tenants and entourage only through an agent, but from one who is simply there to pay homage, and is not beholden to the king in any way, from such a person will the king receive homage in person. In other words, if you are coming before God under no obligation and with no strings attached, then step right up-the King will see you now. Gratitude, we learn, is rewarded with a more intimate encounter with God.

The other important element of gratitude in the zevah shelamim can be found in the alacrity with which it is eaten after it is offered. “U’vesar zevah todat shelamav beyom korbano yei-aikheil, lo yani’ah mimenu ad-boker.”-“And the flesh of his thanksgiving sacrifice of well-being shall be eaten on the day that it is offered; none of it shall be set aside until the morning.” (Lev. 7:15) Why so quickly? And why is this directive given to this specific kind of well-being sacrifice?

Abravanel (on Vayikra 7:11) gives my favorite response. He says that if one only has one day and night to consume the well-being sacrifice for thanksgiving, then that person will of course have to invite family and friends over to partake in the feast, otherwise it would go to waste. Oh, and while said guests are over, the host would naturally have to “recount the Divine wonders” to explain the reason for the dinner party. So, adding to this attitude of gratitude, the owner is now reinforcing it with a public display of appreciation.

How do we learn to learn to be grateful? When we sacrifice our myopia to look at the bigger picture. And when our sacrifice comes from our own hands, and when those hands reach out to share our thankfulness with those around us.

Cantor Robin Joseph (AJR ’96) serves Temple Beth Shalom in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY. She counts and “recounts” her blessings every day.