June 12, 2024
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Four Aspects of Thanksgiving

The korban todah, Thanksgiving offering, is basically a shelamim, a peace offering. But unlike any other shelamim it is brought with four different types of flour offerings, 10 of each type. Three are types of matzah, and the fourth is chametz. In addition, the normal timespan within which the shelamim had to be eaten—two days and one night—is reduced to one day and one night for the todah.

The Gemara (Berachos 7b) relates that from the day Hashem created the world, no one thanked Him until Leah thanked Him for the birth of her fourth son Yehudah. At first glance, this Gemara defies understanding. Didn’t Adam, Noach, Avraham, Yitzchak, Ya’akov, Sarah, Rivka and Rachel have countless reasons and opportunities to thank Hashem? And why didn’t Leah herself thank Hashem for her first three children?

Thanksgiving is a recognition of receiving something undeserved and feeling indebted to repay the giver with gratitude. The more one feels that the bounty received was indeed earned or deserved, the less necessary the show of gratitude.

From the time the world was created, no one ever felt that the bounty given to them by Hashem was totally undeserved. Even the greatest people thought that what was given to them was part of God’s plan for the world, and therefore not completely undeserved. But God’s plan could have been equally fulfilled if the fourth son born to Leah had been born to any of her sisters. Thus, Leah felt his birth was totally unearned, and required the full measure of gratitude.

Usually we offer thanksgiving to God for a salvation from a misfortune or calamity. But, if we truly believe that everything that occurs in this world is the result of Divine Providence, then it is hard to understand why we should thank Hashem for saving us from misfortune, since He Himself caused that misfortune.

The answer is that we have chosen the wrong analogy. Consider an orthopedic surgeon who notices someone walking in a manner that is symptomatic of a rare, crippling bone disease. The condition can only be cured if the bones are broken and reset before the disease progresses to the point of no return. Realizing that the patient’s gait reveals that not too much time is left before his condition is irreversible, the surgeon takes an iron pole and swiftly breaks both of his legs and then proceeds to set them and nurture the patient back to health. In this instance the surgeon deserves thanks both for breaking and setting the legs.

So, too, when we cause ourselves spiritual illnesses because of our sins and shortcomings, Hashem brings misfortune and calamity to atone and correct the situation. Thus, our gratitude for the salvation can only be significant if it includes a confession that the misfortune and calamity was also deserved. Full, uninhibited thanksgiving required both confession of the justice of the misfortune and admission that the salvation was undeserved.

One’s feelings of gratitude must be expressed publicly. That expression of gratitude then becomes a lesson to others in recognizing God’s goodness and intimate involvement in the events of this world. We say in Shemoneh Esrei: “nodeh lecha—we will thank You, Hashem, u’nesapair tehelasecha—and we recount Your praises.” It is not sufficient to thank Hashem quietly; one must recount his debt of gratitude to others.

In Eretz Yisroel today we must both thank Hashem for the magnificent present of a Jewish state, and at the same time recognize that the travails and misfortune, especially now at time of suffering and war, are all part of the Divine plan and deserve deep contemplation, self-searching and improvement.


Rabbi Zev Leff is the rabbi of Moshav Matityahu, and a renowned author, lecturer and educator. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau (www.mizrachi.org/speakers).

The RZA-Mizrachi is a broad Religious Zionist organization without a particular political affiliation.

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