Parashat Tzav 5779
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
Korban (offering) Sh’lamim: About Complaining and Thanksgiving
In this week’s parashah, Parashat Tzav, just as in the previous one, we find a description of the different Korbanot (sacrifices or offerings) that had to be offered at the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Among them, there is one called Korban Sh’lamim, which had the purpose of thanking God for the outcome of some situation people were going through.
According to tradition, this sacrifice was made at times when someone survived a dangerous situation, such as having been cured of a serious illness, getting out of prison, crossing an ocean, or surviving a journey through the wilderness. This practice is the biblical origin of the Birkat HaGomel prayer, recited in our synagogues when someone has survived a dangerous situation. The person is called for an Aliya and then, she or he recites this prayer.
It is interesting to note that in Vayikra Rabba, the sages say: “At the end of the days, all sacrifices shall be nullified, except for the sacrifice of thanksgiving; all prayers shall be nullified, except for the prayer of thanksgiving.” (Vayikra Rabba 9, 7)
The question raised by this text is why this kind of sacrifice is different. What makes it so special, being the only one that will not be cancelled?
Some people say that all offerings are done to rectify something that we ourselves have failed to accomplish. The guilt sacrifice (asham) is brought for several transgressions. The atonement sacrifice (chatat), for involuntary sins. The holocaust sacrifice (olah), for evil thoughts. But the korban todah is different from all others. This offering is brought to the Temple without the mediation of any transgression; it is pure giving. For this reason, our sages say that in the future, all offerings will be cancelled except the peaceful sacrifice. The nature of this sacrifice is unique and incomparable.
In fact, the name of this Korban comes from the word Shalom or shalem, which means to be at peace or complete, whole, with oneself. Only in times of peace and wholeness, can we appreciate our surroundings and give thanks for what we have.
We, human beings, usually complain about almost everything. This means that we feel entitled to be given everything we desire and choose, and we fail in humility.
Thinking about this, I recall the last episode appearing in the Book of Jonah, which we read on Yom Kippur. Jonah was in the hot wilderness and suddenly, a gourd tree grows and gives him shade. Jonah enjoyed the shade but said nothing about it. He didn’t give thanks for this supernatural phenomenon, but neither did he realize it was such. He acted as if this event was nothing unusual—that when you are in the desert, a shrub will grow just to shelter you. There is nothing to give thanks for, it is to be expected. But later on, the gourd disappeared, and it was then that Jonah became angry, complained, and even said that his life was worth nothing.
When the gourd appeared, Jonah enjoyed its shade without saying anything. But when it disappeared, without his having worked or struggled for it to exist, he just complained.
How many times do we act in the same way? We do not give thanks for everything we experience and have in our lives. But when we feel there is something missing, no matter how small or unimportant it is, we do not hesitate to complain, as if we really were worthy of receiving everything we wish for.
I invite you to reflect, on this Shabbat, on how we usually conduct ourselves. Do we usually give thanks for all the presents life gives us, or do we complain for what slips through our hands, for what we don’t have?
Undoubtedly, a noble spiritual level is needed to be able to be thankful for what we have and not complain about what we lack. For that, we need to develop our spiritual potential and be at peace with ourselves and with the world around us, as the Korban Sh’lamim teaches us. It is just in that situation that we will be able to truly give thanks instead of complaining, to be humble instead of arrogant.