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Tzav: Weekly Insights on the Parasha

Nechama Leibowitz
reprinted courtesy of the Jewish Agency for Israel Education Department

Let them praise the Lord for his steadfast love and for his wonderful works to the children of men.

Whereas our studies in Parashat Vayikra dealt with the general meaning of the sacrifices, the present chapter will focus on ” the sacrifice of peace offering” (zevah shelamim), mentioned both in vayikra and in Tzav(7:11-16).

The meaning of this term has been the subject of varied interpretations.

Our sages in sifra156 (lev. 3:1) express different views. We shall cite some of them:

Rabbi Yehuda said: Whoever brings brings shalom (peace) into the world. Another explanation: It harbors “peace” for all parties; the blood and inward parts – for the altar, the breast and shoulder – for the priests, the skin and meat – for the owners. R. Naphtali Herz Weisel elaborates on this theme in his Biur:

It is, as our Rabbis maintained, an expression of peace … Plural in form, it should read shelomim, as in Psalm 69; 23: “Let their table before them become a snare, and when they are in peace (shelomim) let it become a trap … ” The current form (shelamim) serves to designate the sacrifice. Language searches for different forms in which to express different nuances. Semantically, however, it corresponds to shalom … and shelamim. In the singular, shalom expresses prosperity and well-being (cf. Gen. 37:14 and 43:27). Troubles afflict the soul and once the soul is delivered from trouble and suffering, it is at peace. The peace offering reflects an abundance of joy, of gratitude to God for one’s well-being or for deliverance from trouble. By thanking God for his goodness, he brings on himself Divine grace that ensures his welfare. Not so the godless who say “The might of my own has gotten me this wealth” (Deut. 8:17), or: “It was a chance that happened top us” (I Sam. 6:9). They will be tossed about like the sea … there is no peace for the wicked, says the Lord” (Is. 57:20-21).

But this explanation does not cover the case related in Judges, in the war of the tribes with Benjamin:

Then all the children of Israel, and all the people went up, and came unto Bet-El, and wept, and sat there before the Lord, and fasted that day until even; and they offered burnt-offerings before the Lord. (Judges 20:26)

In the light of this, Hoffman, though eventually accepting Weisel’s view, not the following:

However, the most plausible of all is the view of our Sages that shelamim shares its roots with shalom, peace, or shalem, perfect. This may reflect the contentment of the worshipper who recognizes that this is the result of his cleaving to God, and acknowledges this through the peace-offering. Or it may betoken a search for perfection and deliverance of one suffering from despair and longing for Divine succour to keep him intact. This he expresses through the shelamim, whereby he declares that his own peace and well-being are inextricably bound up with cleaving to God.

If we accept the theory of the common root of shelamim and shalom, the connotation would be, as Rashi and others explain, shelamim, an offering that brings peace to the altar, the priests and the offerer. Thus the name would be particularly apt and meaningful, for the shelamim-offering constitutes a meal shared by the altar, the priests and the offerer. This is truly a repast of peace – a peace offering which reflects the harmony between the offerer, the Lord and his servants.

There are three kinds of peace-offerings: todah – thanksgiving; neder – vow; and nedavah – freewill and offering. The Torah begins with the todah:

7:11 And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace-offerings …

7:12 If he shall offer it as thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the sacrifice of the thanksgiving unleavened cakes …

We note that todah (Thanksgiving) appears twice in the verse, evidently in two different meanings. Since the offering is called sacrifice of thanksgiving (zevah todah), we must conclude that in the first part of the verse todah (thanksgiving) signifies no more than a sense of gratitude. Our Sages, basing themselves on Psalm 107, ruled:

Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav. On e has to render thanks in the following four instances for it is written: “After a sea voyage, after crossing the desert, after an illness and on emerging from prison. (Berakhot 54b).

After a sea voyage, for it is written: “They that go down to the sea in ships … these saw the works of the Lord … raised the stormy wind … they mount up to the sky, they go down again to the depths … they cry to the Lord in their trouble. And He brings them out in their distresses … then they are glad because they are quiet … Let them praise the Lord for His steadfast love, and for his wonderful works to the children of men (Ps. 107:23-31).

After crossing the desert, for it is written: “They wandered in the wilderness … hungry and thirsty … Then they cried to the Lord … He led them forth by the right way …let them praise the Lord for His steadfast love …” (ibid. 4-8).

After an illness, for it is written: The foolish were afflicted on account of their sinful way … their soul abhorred all manner of food … then they cried to the Lord … He sends His word, and heals them … let them praise the Lord for His steadfast …” (ibid. 17-21).

On emerging from prison, for it is written: ” Such as sat in darkness and in the shadow of death … because they had rebelled against the words of God … . He brought down their hearts with labor … … ..Then they cried to the Lord … . He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death … ..Let them praise the Lord for His steadfast love …” (ibid. 17-21).

Rashi summarizes the above as follows:

” If he shall offer it as thanksgiving”: If he offers it for an experience that calls for thanksgiving, any miraculous deliverance granted him, such as returning from a sea voyage, a desert journey, coming out of prison or recovering from an illness, for all of which thanks are due, as it is written, “Let them praise the Lord for His steadfast love, and for His wonderful works to the children of men, and let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving” (Ps. 107:21-22) – if he vowed to offer a sacrifice for one of these, they are peace-offerings of thanksgiving, with which bread must be brought and which must be consumed within one day and one night.

It is noteworthy that neither the Gemara nor Rashi employ the standard halakhic term hayav (bound) but tzerikhin (need to). R. Josiah b. Joseph Pinto (called Rif, in his commentary on Ein Yaakov), offers the following explanation: It is no mere Torah obligation; rather those delivered must feel an inner urge to thank the Lord for His gracious love.

Anyone belonging to the four categories mentioned in Psalm 107 must bring a thanksgiving offering and recite the Hagomel (He Who does good … ) blessing, corresponding to the four times that the verse: “Let them praise the Lord” appears in this chapter.

However, the Rabbis have ruled that those emerging from any danger must recite the Hagomel blessing. The recognition of unfailing Divine grace ought to mark the attitude of all creatures towards the Creator.

At the end of Parashat Bo, Rambam dwells on the importance of remembering and recounting the Exodus from Egypt. He stresses that by remembering the miracle of the Exodus, we bear witness “that there is a Creator Who is omniscient, providential and omnipotent … and the great miracles testify to the truth of God’s existence and of the Torah as a whole. “Thus our gratitude to the Creator constitutes the goal of human existence:

All the mitzvot are designed to foster our faith in God and our acknowledgement of Him as our Creator – this, indeed, is the object of the creation. Thus, the purpose of raising our voices in prayer, the establishment of synagogues, and the merit of communal worship, is to provide a place where people congregate to thank the Lord Who created them and brought them into existence, and to proclaim publicly: We are your creatures!

To be sure, out thanksgiving is not confined to miraculous deliverance and extraordinary circumstances that mandate the Hagomel blessing. Rendering thanks to the Creator is a daily duty as pointed out by the Ramban:

Proceeding he perception of the great and manifest miracles, man acknowledges the less apparent implicit wonders; this acknowledgement is a fundamental Torah concept. Faith in Torat Moshe is unthinkable without our recognition that all happens to us individually or collectively is miraculous, rather than being the function of nature and the mechanism of the world.

We can now understand the Midrashic reference to the end of times:

All offerings will be abolished, except the thanksgiving-offering (Vayikra Rabba 9,2).