What does an attitude of gratitude ask of us?
This week’s Torah reading, Tzav, raises this question in an indirect but important manner. The portion continues last week’s lengthy and detailed description of the sacrifices offered up by our Israelite ancestors. Our focus this Shabbat is on a class of offerings known as shlamim—offerings of well-being. In this list, the todah—the sacrifice of gratitude—stands out in one significant way. Whereas other sacrifices of well-being may be eaten until the third day, "the flesh of [the] thanksgiving sacrifice of well-being shall be eaten on the day that it is offered; none of it shall be set aside until the morning" (Leviticus 7:15). Whatever is left over until the following morning must be destroyed.
Given our propensity to associate American Thanksgiving with leftovers, why does Torah uniquely forbid the consumption of leftover gratitude offerings?
Drawing on the medieval commentator Isaac Abravanel, Rabbi Shai Held suggests that by banning leftovers, Torah strongly encourages the celebrant to share the meal with friends and family. He writes: “The nature of gratitude is such that it is inherently outward-looking. Think of a moment in your life when you have had an overwhelming sense of gratitude to God or to another person. Imagine especially a moment when you received something - whether a much-needed meal, a kind word, or a gesture of deep love - that you were not at all sure would be forthcoming. You may well notice that when you fully inhabit the sense of gratitude, you feel an urge to share the gifts you have received with others. When we are moved to the depths of our being by having been given something, we seek to become givers ourselves. A grateful heart overflows. . . . The simple requirement that there not be any leftovers from the thanksgiving offering thus teaches us a fundamental theological and spiritual lesson. We are not meant to rest content with being recipients of God's gifts but are asked to becoming givers ourselves. God's gifts are meant to flow through us and not merely to us.”
In other words, gratitude and hoarding are completely incompatible. As one of my favorite prayers in our Reform siddur, Mishkan Tefilah, teaches: Teach us, O God, to give thanks for what we have by sharing it with others.
This coming Shabbat is known as Shabbat Ha-Gadol, the Shabbat before Pesach. It’s fitting that we read about the gratitude offering, as Pesach asks that we open our homes and our hearts to others. “Let all who are hungry, come and eat.” Indeed. To be grateful is to share.