“And the flesh of his thanksgiving peace offering shall be eaten on the day it is offered up; he shall not leave any of it over until morning.” (Vayikra 7:15)
Among the various sacrificial details contained in this week’s Parsha, the Torah teaches us the laws of the Korban Todah (thanksgiving offering). This offering was brought when a person was saved from a life-threatening or inherently dangerous situation. It was a sacrificial rite which enabled the individual to thank God for deliverance and salvation.
The Imrei Emes (Rav Avraham Mordechai Alter of Gur, 1866-1948) raises a fascinating question. Every korban (sacrificial offering) has a consumption window. You are permitted to eat the sacrifice for a certain amount of time. After that permitted time has elapsed, the korban becomes nossar (left over) and prohibited. Most of the sacrificial offerings were consumed for two days and one night. Yet, the Korban Todah could only be consumed for one day. This is especially intriguing given the fact the Todah is a very large offering comprised of multiple loaves. Why does the Torah only allow a shorter time for consumption?
The Rebbe provides a beautiful insight:
“Korban Todah, mi’viin oso al ha’nes, v’harey b’chol yom va’yom misrachashin itanu nissim chadoshim. V’eych yochlu mi’nes shel emesh al neys shel ha’yom.”
Meaning: “The thanksgiving offering is brought for a miracle (which God has performed for the individual). Each and every day God performs new miracles for us. How can we eat and celebrate yesterday’s miracle, when we have to celebrate today’s miracle?”
We experience miracles every day. Sometimes they are supernatural, but more often, they are cloaked in the ordinary and mundane circumstances of daily living. Our job is to discern the miraculous events which surround us. You can only eat of the Korban Todah for one day (the day on which it is offered), for tomorrow you must not focus on the miracles of yesterday, you must devote yourself to seeing and discerning the miracles of today.
We are in the midst of the month of Nissan, a month of incredible miraculous activity. There were plagues, manna from the heavens, a well which followed us during our sojourn in the desert and a variety of other jaw-dropping feats from Above. We might not have seen these great miracles, but we do have a front row seat for the miracles which occur for us every day. Just think: I opened my eyes, I flexed my fingers, I stood on my own two feet. I can speak, I am able to think and I am able to take care of my bodily needs. I have a warm coat, shoes without holes and a full stomach. I have some money in my wallet and parents who love me. There is a roof over my head and clothing in my closet. Are these events any less miraculous than the splitting of the sea? Truth be told, I should have to bring a Korban Todah each and every day, to thank God for the incredible miracles He has bestowed upon me. Every day generates its own distinct Todah obligation. I have the obligation to actively look for my daily miracles. I must carve out time to contemplate the incredible blessings and events which unfold around me every day.
We don’t yet have the opportunity to bring an actual Korban (sacrifice), so we must do the next best thing; offer our thanks with our words. Take the time to say, “Thank you Hashem for all of the miracles. I know that I often focus on what I lack and what is deficient and broken. But I want You to know, if I could, I would bring You a Korban Todah every day. Until that day comes, I give You one simple word, Todah; thank You for the miracles of my past, thank You for the miracles of my present and I thank You in advance for the miracles which have yet to unfold.”
Numerous Parshios are devoted to the creation and fabrication of the Mishkan and its utensils. The details contained in these Torah portions are not simply the architectural framework for this sacred space and its vessels; these details contain the roadmap for successful, enriched and meaningful living.
“Betzalel made the ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. And he overlaid it with pure gold from inside and from outside, and he made for it a golden crown all around (Exodus 37:1-2).”
The Talmud (Yerushalmi Shekalim 6:1) explains that the Ark was unique in its construction. It was comprised of three separate boxes. The innermost box was made of gold, the larger one which held it was made of wood, and the largest exterior box (which held the smaller two) was made of gold. This construction was quite unique. There were utensils made of solid gold and others made of wood coated with gold. Why did the Aron (Ark) have this unique construction of wood enveloped by gold?
The Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760) explains that the Aron was supposed to represent paradigmatic man. Every aspect and detail of the Ark teaches us how to self-actualize and live a meaningful and successful life. The male and female Cherubim (angelic figures perched on the lid of the ark) teach us to be passionate in our relationship with each other and with God. Their upstretched wings teach us that we must aspire to climb higher and accomplish more. The Luchos (tablets), resting in the center, remind us that the Torah and its values must be the foundation, core and center of the decisions we make and things we do. The poles that remained inserted, even when the Aron was at rest, teach us that the Torah and its values are transplantable and must follow us and inform the way we live – wherever we may go.
While both wood and gold can be used for construction their properties are fundamentally different. Gold is inanimate; it is mined from the earth and can be manipulated but cannot grow and cannot change. Wood is alive. The tree takes in nutrients; its branches grow and bear fruit. The tree changes with the seasons and through the years. The Aron contains both of these materials to teach another very important lesson.
Man must be gold and he must be wood.
I must possess golden principles that I will stand by and stand up for no matter what. I must possess a sense of right and good and be able to maintain them no matter how much external pressure I face. I must be rigid in my adherence to the tenets of my faith and the principles of my people. I must have gold-like, immutable resolve to uphold the ideas and ideals I hold sacred.
Yet, man must also learn to be a tree, to be wood-like in his approach to life and others.
I must learn the art of change and recognize that just because I have been a certain way until now does not mean I must continue to be that same person going forward. I must learn to adapt to new circumstances. Life doesn’t always go the way I planned or hoped – I can be wood, I can grow, I can change, I can adapt. Wood is pliable. I must learn that when dealing with others I cannot always stand my ground, I must learn when to yield for the sake of shalom (peace).
Man must be gold on his inside and his outside.
I must have the principles, ideas and ideals that I will live and die for. I must know what I believe and stand ready to defend those beliefs no matter how fierce the opposition may be. But I must possess an inner layer of wood and learn the art of compromise, change, accommodation and collaboration.
The Ark is only fit for service in the Temple if it has these multiple layers. Man can only be successful if he possesses them as well.
We were confused and overwhelmed. Moshe was gone for over forty days (according to our ancestors’ calculations) and the nation feared the worst. We built the Golden Calf, proclaimed it as our god and committed one of the most severe relationship trespasses in the history of our people. Hashem in His divine wrath, ordered Moshe to descend the mountain. But before Moshe left, God told him of His plan to destroy the Jewish people and begin again with Moshe. Moshe, the loving advocate of the Nation of Israel beggede and pleaded for Divine mercy for the fledgling Jewish nation.
Moses pleaded before the Lord, his God, and said: “Why, O Lord, should Your anger be kindled against Your people whom You have brought up from the land of Egypt with great power and with a strong hand?” (Exodus 32:11)
What exactly was Moshe saying to God? “Why are You so angry?” Did Moshe not understand God’s anger and pain? Had Moshe somehow missed the severity of this act? How could he minimize what his beloved nation had just done? Furthermore, why does the Torah convey this exchange? What are we to learn from it? How are we to grow from this episode?
Rabbi Moshe Alshech (born in Turkey in 1507, and died in Safed in 1593) answers this question with a simple phrase, “HaBeyt u’reeh mey’heychan ba’u (look and see from where they came).” When someone we love makes a mistake we have two options. We can focus exclusively on the misdeed and mistake or we can take a step back and look at the person in totality, reminding ourselves of his/her positive traits and deeds. Moshe says, “Hashem, I know you are upset and I understand Your feelings of betrayal and sadness. But look how far they have come. This nation left Egypt just a few short months ago and in that short amount of time they have accomplished so much. They followed You into the desert. They followed You into the sea. They sang the magnificent words of Az Yashir with a united soul. They said Naaseh V’Nishma (we will do and we will listen) as one people with one heart. I know they messed up, but don’t just look at their mistakes, look at their accomplishments as well. Don’t just dwell on their failures, be cognizant of their successes.” Moshe was not minimizing God’s pain – he was trying to frame it appropriately and put it into a proper perspective.
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov explains that we are obligated to “Dan es kol haAdam l’kaf zechus (Judge every person favorably).” We generally understand this to mean that we should try our best to give every person the benefit of the doubt. But the rabbis were ask us to do so much more. We must try to find the good in every person. We must seek out the redeeming qualities within the other – even when the other is profoundly compromised. We must condition ourselves to not only judge favorably; but to see that which is favorable within the other. The Rebbe explains that this is not only true with others – this is true with ourselves as well. We must strive to see the good we possess despite the multitude of mistakes we have made. The ability to see the good in others and the ability to see the good in myself requires one very important thing – perspective. We are able to judge both others and ourselves favorably when we are able to not only to see the negative shortcomings, but the beautiful qualities as well.
In Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers, Chapter 2, Mishna 13) Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai asks his students, “What is the proper path a person should choose for himself?” In other words, what is the most important trait to possess? Rabbi Elazar responds, “Ayin tova (a good eye)”. Rabbeinu Yonah explains that a “good eye” refers to proper perspective. The ability to maintain proper perspective in life allows one to navigate all of life’s tumultuous circumstances and maintain relationships with all kinds of people.
It is in this gripping exchange between Moshe and God that the Torah teaches us the all-important need for proper perspective. Don’t just see the calf, see all of the holiness. Don’t just see the mistakes; look at all of the accomplishments. We don’t control many of the situations and circumstances in life – but we absolutely control the way we choose to look at ourselves, at others, and at life.
This shiur was given at the Women’s Institute of Torah.