Full of and Leavened with Gratitude
Judah Kerbel ~ Parashat Tzav 5780 ~ Queens Jewish Center
How do you sign your letters or emails? Many common closings include “sincerely,” “fondly,” “warmly,” or “all the best.” I often use the Hebrew version of the latter, which is “kol tuv.” Another common closing is “thanks.” Sometimes I have wondered about using this particular one. If I am making a request in an email, does it make sense to say “thanks” beforehand? Does “thanks in advance” sound passive aggressive if there’s a chance the person might say ‘no’?
Yet, a study shows that people are more likely to respond to an email when there’s an expression of gratitude. Check out this chart from the Boomerang service:
The response rate when there’s an expression of gratitude in the closing is clearly much higher. When closing with a variation of “thank you,” there is an increase of 36% in average response rate. This is one of just innumerable examples where showing our gratitude can go a very long way.
Last week, in the context of Parashat Vayikra, I discussed how most korbanot mincha (flour offerings) may not have chametz, and Sefer Ha-Chinuch famously explains that this is because of the symbolism associated with chametz. We described how chametz represents inflated ego, while matzah represents humility.
However, in Parashat Tzav, we encounter one of two offerings that require chametz. The korban todah, the thanksgiving offering, must be brought in the form of leavened bread, along with unleavened bread. Out of forty loaves brought, ten have chametz, and the other thirty do not.
ויקרא פרק ז, יב-יג
(יב) אִם עַל תּוֹדָה יַקְרִיבֶנּוּ וְהִקְרִיב עַל זֶבַח הַתּוֹדָה חַלּוֹת מַצּוֹת בְּלוּלֹת בַּשֶּׁמֶן וּרְקִיקֵי מַצּוֹת מְשֻׁחִים בַּשָּׁמֶן וְסֹלֶת מֻרְבֶּכֶת חַלֹּת בְּלוּלֹת בַּשָּׁמֶן: (יג) עַל חַלֹּת לֶחֶם חָמֵץ יַקְרִיב קָרְבָּנוֹ עַל זֶבַח תּוֹדַת שְׁלָמָיו:
If he offers it for thanksgiving, he shall offer together with the sacrifice of thanksgiving unleavened cakes with oil mixed in, unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes of choice flour with oil mixed in, well soaked. This offering, with cakes of leavened bread added, he shall offer along with his thanksgiving sacrifice of well-being.
Who brings the korban todah? Rashi, quoting the Gemara in Brachot, explains that this offering is brought by someone who emerged from a perilous situation. There are four categories of such individuals who should bring the korban todah: those who traveled by sea, those who traveled in the desert, those who were held in jail, and those who recovered from illness. These are derived from verses in Tehillim (104:21-22), which describe these categories of individuals who give thanks to God. While we do not have the korban todah today, we have a substitute: the birkat ha-gomel. Individuals who were in these situations are the ones who today are halachically required to say Birkat Ha-Gomel.
Two questions: why does the korban todah require leavened bread, and if it is acceptable to have leavened bread, why does matzah have to appear as well?
Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that the chametz, in this context, represents independence. When we emerge from danger, we feel empowered and capable. Chametz represents the elevation in that sense. However, the matzah reminds us that it is not כוחי ועוצם ידי – it is not just my power and might – but Hashem ultimately was instrumental in saving me from this plight. Perhaps unlike with other sacrifices, in which it is anathema to show up before Hashem with any pretense, here, we are licensed to feel poise and grit. Yet, even then, we are still tempered with a sense of dependence on Hashem. Thus, we need both.
Netziv (R. Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin), in Ha-amek Davar, notes something interesting about this offering. Not only is it strange that this offering includes chametz, but there is a lot of bread to eat in a small amount of time. The reason, according to Netziv, is so that the one bringing the offering will invite many others to join with him or her and partake. When there is an opportunity to praise Hashem, abundance is warranted. It is a kiddush Hashem for an enormous amount of people to be aware of His miracles. Therefore, the offering involves chametz. Matzah, after all, is lechem oni, the bread of affliction. It is through chametz, the leavening, that we express our gratitude and feel the joy conveyed through eating the offering.
Through both Rav Hirsch and Netziv, we see the positive sides of chametz, where embellishment and enhancement are warranted. As much as we describe chametz as haughtiness and yetzer hara, there are some places where we can bring our chametz when we serve Hashem, and that is where gratitude is involved. Our elevated sense of self is acceptable when it results in expressing our gratitude to Hashem and realizing His miracles for us. We can enhance our inner happiness and self-worth in that regard. Likewise, our experience in praising Hashem is meant to be embellished when it is channeled into leavening our appreciation, resulting in many others joining us in the process. There is no need to be skimpy; our gratitude and joy should be abundant and enhanced.
While many Yamim Tovim are devoted to showing our gratitude to Hashem, Pesach is one where it is certainly central. The entire seder is an exercise in thanking Hashem for redeeming us from Egypt and forming us into a nation. The only time we say Hallel at night is at the Pesach Seder. Yet, the weekdays (besides Erev Yom Kippur) in which we do not say Mizmor LeTodah, commemorating the offering of the korban todah, is on Pesach! That is technically because the korban todah could not be offered on Pesach, since it obviously creates problems with possessing and consuming chametz.
But an additional layer of not reciting this psalm or bringing this offering on Pesach is that the essence of the holiday renders it unnecessary. It is like not wearing tefillin on Shabbat and Yamim Tovim. On those days, men do not wear tefillin because tefillin are an אות (a sign), of Hashem’s role in this world; yet, these special days are an אות themselves. Likewise, we do not need to offer the korban todah on Pesach because Pesach itself, in its essence, is a continuous experience of gratitude. One who truly experiences Pesach feels gratitude through and through.
These are challenging times. But with Hashem’s help, we should be reminded of the blessings we are grateful for each and every day as we celebrate Pesach. In ways we do not even realize, Hashem is performing small miracles for us every day, splitting the sea for us without our conscious awareness, even in a world where it feels like so much is going wrong. Beezrat Hashem, while we hope that fewer and fewer people will get sick, those who do will be able to offer their korban todah through birkat ha-gomel when the time comes.
When I daven on Pesach, I will not close my conversations with Hashem with “kol tuv” or “sincerely,” but with “thanks so much.”