D’var Torah: Parshat Tzav – Remembering to Give Thanks

About a third of the way into this week’s parsha, Tzav, we read about zevach ha-todah: the Thanksgiving offering.

One of my favorite aspects of the seders on Pesach is the way that, time and again, the rituals of the seder seem designed to push us to question the meaning behind the rituals. Why are we doing all of these random things, all this dipping and leaning and so forth? Of course, they’re not random at all – all of our Jewish rituals are designed with a purpose.

Again and again, the Pesach seder nudges us to think about WHY we’re doing what we’re doing. We ask mah nishtanah – why is this night different from all other nights? We hold up the symbols of Pesach (pesach/the shankbone, matzah, and maror) and ask “Al Shoom mah?” Why is it that our ancestors ate the Pesach sacrifice, and that we eat matzah and maror? We ask question after question. (Beyond the traditional Haggadah text, all of the English in my family’s Haggadah (created over many years) is structured around the didactic method, with questions posed and answered.)

As we made our way in recent weeks through the second half of the book of Shmot (Exodus), we encountered parsha after parsha devoted primarily to a description of the construction of the Mishkan, the portable Tabernacle the Israelites carried with them in the desert. As parsha stretched into parsha, perhaps you found yourself occasionally asking, as I sometimes did, WHY are we spending so much time on this? What was the purpose of the Mishkan?

Moments such as the Thanksgiving offering remind us of the answer. I personally don’t approve of animal sacrifice, but I love the idea that one of the purposes of our Jewish rituals is to remind us of the supreme importance of gratitude – of giving thanks for all that we have.

Our kayitz 2020 theme, as I’ve mentioned here before, is b’rachot (blessings), and a major focus of this theme will be an exploration of gratitude. When I think about all of our plans for the summer, now uncertain, it’s easy to get upset or frustrated. I am sure others feel the same. Is it a bitter irony that we’d planned to study gratitude at camp this summer? No. I think it’s beautiful that we’d planned a theme that is now more important than ever.

Many of us are struggling right now, and there is much uncertainty in our lives. It can be scary. It is an especially important time to try to focus on all that we have to be grateful for. Personally, a wonderful silver lining of our social isolation is that I have reconnected (via Zoom and other technology) with so many family and friends. There are lots of people I love who I used to seldom see, but who I am now in regular touch with, through new traditions that have sprung up – such as the pre-Shabbat l’chaim Zoom call with my extended family, or the weekly online gathering of my college buddies. One of my friends has started assembling a daily collection of coronavirus isolation-related memes on his Facebook page, and it always makes me laugh at the end of the day. I’ve enjoyed watching John Krasinski (from The Office)’s new #Some Good News video network, which shares heartwarming stories of positivity from around the globe. These are just a few examples. I hope you too can find similar moments of joy and connection. I know it helps me to remember to keep gratitude in my heart. Shabbat Shalom.