How do we live a life of gratitude?
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.
What does the Torah have against leftovers? Drawing on the commentator Isaac Abravanel, Rabbi Shai Held suggests that by requiring celebrants to finish the thanksgiving offering in one sitting, our portion encourages them to share the meal with friends and family. He writes:
The nature of gratitude is such that it is inherently outward-looking. 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 adds: Teach us, O God, to give thanks for what we have by sharing it with others.
The Hebrew term from gratitude—hakarat ha-tov—translates as “recognizing the good.” We experience myriad small acts of kindness every day, but we quickly tend to take them for granted. We forget that, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught, “just to be is a blessing.” The trait of gratitude calls us to pay close attention to the gifts in our life, even—or especially—when we also experience difficulties.
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.
Mussar Practice for this Week (from Every Day, Holy Day)
This week, make a special effort to thank every person who does even the slightest thing that is helpful or beneficial to you.