Shabbat Shalom Weekly
Torah Portion: Tzav (Leviticus 6-8)
Ancient Wisdom & Modern Psychology
by Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Schiffman
In a series of fascinating studies, Dr. David DeSteno and colleagues demonstrated that when people feel grateful for receiving a benefit, they are more likely to pay that goodwill forward, either with time or money. As he delineates in his book, Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride, this applies not only to reciprocating towards the benefactor of the initial good, but they are even more likely to pay it forward to others.
Additionally, gratitude is contagious. It can spread virally through social spheres, creating an upward, virtuous cycle. Even seeing someone else express gratitude can create a positive emotional momentum, leading to more gratitude, compassion, and kindness.
Detailed in Parshat Tzav are various peace offerings, known as shelamim. As a general rule, these sacrifices were able to be eaten by the one who offered them on the day that it was brought, in addition to the following night and day. The one exception is the thanksgiving offering, known as the toda. The thanksgiving offering was brought when one wanted to extend gratitude and praise to God, generally, although not necessarily, after being saved from a dangerous situation. Unlike the other peace offerings, the thanksgiving offering was only allowed to be eaten the day it was brought and the following night. The leftovers were not allowed to be eaten the subsequent day. Also, unlike the other peace offerings, the thanksgiving offering was also different in that it was required to be accompanied by 40 loaves of bread. Why the differences?
Seforno suggests that the increased amount of food and decreased amount of time to eat incentivized the inviting of guests. Unlike other sacrifices which may be more private in nature, the ideal thanksgiving offering is a public endeavor. The social setting allowed the benefactor of God’s graces to recall the details of God’s wonderous deeds to a larger audience, hence making God’s name great amongst the attendees.
Perhaps, based on Dr. DeSteno’s research, we can suggest that besides for the benefit of creating a context for the spreading the word of God’s beneficence, the public meal provided two other essential functions. First, keeping in mind that inviting guests to a festive meal is itself an act of kindness, the thanksgiving offering is an opportunity to pay the gratitude forward. Not only is the gratitude being acknowledged towards the benefactor (God), it is being used to precipitate doing good for others. In a sense, there is no better way to show gratitude for all that God does for us, than by using His gifts as opportunities to do for others.
Second, while from a certain perspective, a private moment of deep gratitude may be even more powerful and humbling than a public gesture, the public demonstration has an essential social function, serving as a signaling device to others. When we see others perform acts of gratitude, we ourselves get caught up in the positive contagion, and are more likely to act virtuously. The thanksgiving offering needed to be done in public, not just to praise God, which is a worthwhile pursuit on its own, but also to increase moral virtues amongst the participants.
Without the actual sacrifice in contemporary times, it is important to create other opportunities to demonstrate gratitude in public. By making gratitude a social good, we can create an elevating spiral of positive energy that can help propel us forward to continued virtue in service of God and other people.
Language of Tomorrow
How to Grow through Tough Times
by Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein
This week is Shabbat HaGadol -– The Great Shabbat, so named because it is the Shabbat before Pesach, and a time to prepare spiritually, intellectually and emotionally for this festival.
The Dubner Maggid, one of our great sages from 19th century Eastern Europe, asks a very simple question about Pesach, which necessitates taking a step back and re-examining everything we thought we understood about the festival.
He asks: What are we thanking God for? The Dubner Maggid, famous for his analogies, gives the following parable to illustrate his question: Suppose you break your arm, God forbid, and a doctor sets the bones, puts it in a cast, and helps you make a full recovery. You would be grateful and give thanks to the doctor. But, what if it was the doctor who broke your arm in the first place? Would you still be grateful to him for healing you?
The analogy is clear. Why, asks the Dubner Maggid, should we express gratitude to God on Pesach if He put us into slavery in the first place? We were not taken as slaves by an invading army. We had been in the Land of Israel and God orchestrated a series of events that saw Jacob and his family land up in Egypt. Remember, Joseph was sold, then there was a famine, and Jacob and his family went down to Egypt and were reunited with him. And even on the way down to Egypt, when Jacob hesitated and expressed certain reservations, God reassured him and told him to press on – that this was part of the plan and that He would be with him. God had even foretold the plan to Abraham in the famous vision of the ‘Covenant Between the Pieces’: “Your children will be strangers in a land that is not theirs. They will be enslaved and oppressed.”
Clearly, this was God’s plan from the beginning. And if He put us into slavery in the first place, why do we thank Him for taking us out of it?
This question strikes at the very heart of Pesach. And the Dubner Maggid offers the following extraordinary answer: On Seder night, we give thanks to God not only for our freedom, but for the slavery! Because it was the slavery that forged us into a nation; it was the slavery, along with the resulting freedom, that made us into the Jewish people, that prepared us for receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, changing the course of human civilisation.
This is why we eat the maror, the bitter herbs, representing slavery, on Seder night. We don’t suppress the bitterness, we discuss it, in some ways we even celebrate it – because it was part of the process of becoming a great nation. The structure of the Haggadah is revealing. As designated by the Talmud, it begins with the negative, the fact that we were slaves in Egypt, and concludes with the positive, the triumph of our liberation – because it’s all one story, and it has to be told in its entirety. It’s all a part of who we are.
Our slavery was a prerequisite for receiving the Torah, and it prepared us in two ways. Firstly, our faith in God was strengthened because of the incredible miracles that accompanied our liberation. These miracles – the 10 plagues, the splitting of the sea – were only necessary because we had been in slavery. We see this explicitly in this verse: God says (Exodus 10:1-2): “I have made him [Pharaoh] and his advisors stubborn, so that I will be able to demonstrate these miraculous signs among them. You will then be able to tell your children and grandchildren how I did awesome acts with the Egyptians, and how I performed miraculous signs among them. You will then fully realise that I am God.”
Secondly, suffering itself can have a purging effect. At times, people go through tremendous difficulties, but they emerge from them stronger, elevated, transformed almost beyond recognition. So, too, the Jewish people emerged from the unimaginable hardships of the Egypt experience purified and much closer to God. This idea is captured in a magnificent image later on in the Torah, in the verse which describes how Moses, Aaron, and the 70 elders were on Mount Sinai and saw a vision from God, in the form of “brickwork of sapphire and like the essence of the heavens for purity”. (Exodus 24:10) What was this mysterious “brickwork of sapphire”?
The answer is the key to unlocking the meaning of the Egypt experience. The Jerusalem Talmud explains that this brickwork, which lay directly beneath the Heavenly Throne, represented the bricks and mortar with which the Jewish people had been forced to build during their enslavement. It was a sign of God’s solidarity with the Jewish people, that God remembered their pain and was with them in their suffering.
This concept is encapsulated in a beautiful verse in Psalms: “I am with him in his suffering”. (Psalms 91:15) When we undergo great difficulties and suffering, through it all, God is with us; He feels our suffering and the brickwork of our pain lies beneath His Heavenly Throne.
Rav Zalman Sorotzkin, one of our great sages of the previous century, asks: If the purpose of showing them the sapphire brickwork was to demonstrate that He was with the Jewish people throughout the painful Egyptian slavery, why did God only show them this vision on Mount Sinai, after they had been liberated? If He wanted to convey His solidarity while they were in pain, He should have done so during their enslavement?
Rav Sorotzkin explains that with the sapphire brickwork, God was showing them what they had achieved while they were in Egypt, how they were elevated now that they had come out on the other side. The sapphire, as it says in the verse, was “like the essence of the heavens for its purity”. It represents the refinement and spiritual greatness they achieved during their slavery, and that a person can attain, with pain, the catalyst for that transformation.
While they were enslaved, it was possible that the Jewish people thought their pain and suffering was empty; in their minds, they were simply working with bricks and mortar, and they could not see the higher purpose. When they reached Mount Sinai, however, they realised that, in retrospect, their suffering – along with their faith, their prayers, their growing connection to God and the tremendous miracles they had witnessed – had refined them and made them great; had forged them into a people who merited to receive the revelation of Torah.
Through their unrelenting pain and suffering, their blood, sweat and tears as they worked with bricks and mortar, they were actually building the heavenly sapphire brickwork – which, in turn, reflected their greatness.
We see that Pesach is not just about liberation, it’s about the process leading up to it. This is an important lesson for life: sometimes we go through very difficult times and we may feel that the suffering is empty. But, even as we suffer, there is a process of growth taking place, we are becoming greater people and getting closer to God.
We are building incredible heavenly edifices of merit in the next world, which, sometimes, we are not even aware of.
Pesach is about acknowledging the heavenly brickwork of greatness that the Jewish people built during their slavery in Egypt in preparation to receive the Torah on Mount Sinai.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“To be free is not to merely cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the lives of others” — Nelson Mandela
JOKE OF THE WEEK
A teacher was giving a lesson on the circulation of the blood. Trying to make the matter clearer, she said, ‘Now, class, if I stood on my head, the blood, as you know, would run into it, and I would turn red in the face.’
‘Yes,’ the class said.
‘Then why is it that while I am standing upright in the ordinary position the blood doesn’t run into my feet?
A little fellow shouted, ‘Cause your feet ain’t empty’.
Staff: Rabbi Yosef David, Rabbi Shmuel Greenwald, Mimi David, Caren Goldstein, Claire Wolff
Board of Directors: Adam Herman, Brett Fox, Bob Kaiser, Malcolm Klearman, Joy Marcus, Mike Minoff,
Leila Redlich Biel, Mike Towerman, Bruce Waxman, Tziona Zeffren