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"How to Give Thanks During this Pandemic"

04/02/2020 04:58:05 PM


Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

We read the following in this week's parashah, Parashat Tzav: "And this is the law of the peace-offering that one shall bring to HaShem; if for thanksgiving should he bring it, then he shall bring with the thanksgiving sacrifice unleavened loaves mixed with oil, and unleavened loaves daubed with oil, and fine scalded flour loaves mixed with oil,  With loaves of leavened bread he shall bring his offering, with the sacrifice of his thanksgiving peace offering." (VaYikra 7:12-13)  According to the Torah, the korban todah (thanksgiving sacrifice), as opposed to other offerings, had to be eaten within a 24-hour period of one day and one night.  This meant that family members and friends had to join with the one making the offering to partake of the sacrifice.  According to the Talmud Bavli in Masekhet Berachot 54b, there were four categories of people who were required to make this offering: (1) people who traveled over the sea, (2) people who crossed the desert, (3) one who recovered from a life-threatening illness, and (4) one who was released from captivity.  The Midrash of VaYikra Rabbah 9:7 tells us that in the future, "All sacrifices will be obsolete, except for the korban todah."

Today, birkhat ha-gomel has replaced the korban todah.  This blessing is recited over an open Torah scroll after an aliyah by those who fit these categories.  This b'rakhah (blessing) is derived from the passage​​​​​​​ I have quoted, and it reads as follows: "Blessed are Y-u, HaShem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who bestows good things upon the unworthy, for He has bestowed kindness upon me."  According to Rabbi Menachem Liebtag, the korban todah was not designed as a personal offering of thanksgiving to HaShem.  Instead, it was meant to inspire others to share in a communal offering of thanks.  Rabbi Liebtag stresses that we learn from this passage about the obligation as a community to resp​​​​​​​ond with prayer when we witness great danger or tragedy.  Both the korban todah and birkhat hagomel are blessings of gratitude meant to be expressions to Hashem of our​​​​​​​ gratitude for what He does for us on a daily basis.  But there is more.

We are at the beginning of a global health crisis the like of which has not been seen by humanity since "​​​​​​​The Black Death"​​​​​​​ which decimated Europe in the Middle Ages.  COVID-19​​​​ seems unstoppable, and our "natural" reaction to it may be​​​​​​​ to run and hide.  For the rest of the world, it might be "every man for himself."  But for us, the People Israel, this cannot be and must​​​​​​​ not be​​​​​​​ true.  We learn this from this week's parashah.  We learn that we must show gratitude to Hashem for what He has given us while we also show empathy and concern for those who suffer from the COVID​​​​​​​-19 pandemic.  Let us share that for which we are thankful with those who need it most.

Fri, July 3 2020 11 Tammuz 5780