Shabbat Shalom! This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Tzav. Like much of the Book of Leviticus, this parasha describes sacrifices: the different types of offerings one might bring for different reasons, how thoroughly burnt they are to be, how the priests are to dress for different stages of the sacrifice ritual, and so on. Reading through Leviticus it can feel like there is no end to these arcane rules!
One such rule is of an offering for thanksgiving, that is a sacrifice made to God as a show of gratitude for the blessings God has bestowed upon the person bringing the offering. There is one sort of burnt offering, also described in this parasha, that must be completely incinerated as an offering totally to God. But most of the sacrifices brought to the Mishkan, and later to the Temple, were only set to the aish tamid, the ever-burning flame, enough to cook the meat, which the priests and their families could then eat. This is especially equitable in the time of the Temple, when all the other tribes of Israel are allotted land to farm to tend and be their livelihoods, but the tribe of Levi is not allowed to own any land or farm for their own sustenance. Some of these sacrifices may be kept for a couple days, for the priests and their families alone to enjoy at their leisure until they’ve eaten it all or it’s gone bad from lack of refrigeration. However, the thanksgiving sacrifice must be eaten the same day it is offered up. Anything still left the following morning must be burnt thoroughly.
Portuguese Rabbi Abravenel of the 15th century comments on this that it is because gratitude fills us with the urge to share with others, to pay-it-forward so to speak. So the urgency of having to eat this whole sacrifice in one evening encourages the priests and their families to invite their more distant relatives, their friends, and their neighbors to join in the feast with them, to share their joy and blessings. To some extent, this should be a natural instinct. Think of a time when you have been shown generosity or simply lucked out with something and you found yourself feeling immensely grateful with your bounty. Didn’t you feel the urge to share that with your loved ones? To say, “Wow, this is truly more than I really need right now, what an opportunity to celebrate X with my family or to be able to give a little extra to Y Tzedakkah cause this month).”
But lest we forget, or we ignore that voice of yetzer hatov inside us, the Torah takes the precaution to command such a sharing with the rules of the thanksgiving offering. And for those of us who may lean more toward the “Let me use this as an opportunity to celebrate with my family,” and possibly forget the “Let me give a little extra to those in need” the Torah later commands us concerning our festival feasts: “You shall rejoice in your festival with your children, your employees, the strangers in your midst, the orphans and the widows.”
As we look forward to celebrating the Passover holiday, let us prepare by inviting in those who may not have much to eat or celebrate at this time. Although our sign-up for Hava Seder, Needa Seder has passed, I’m sure if you realized tonight, perhaps during this d’var Torah, that you indeed have another seat at your seder, you could still talk to Jillian or Howard and get your name on the list. When we call out at the beginning of the Seder, “Let all who are hungry, come and eat!” and as we open the door to welcome in the Prophet Elijah, let these be more than metaphor. As Philip will tell you from our firsthand experience, opening your home to strangers can certainly make your Seders more … interesting, but for sure they will be memorable holidays you won’t ever forget, and you will have done a mitzvah, both in the colloquial sense of a good deed and in the literal sense of a commandment.
May you keep the aish tamid, the eternal flames, of gratitude ever-burning in your hearth, heart, and home, and may you share the warmth of your offerings with all those around you. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.