The Korban of Gratitude
Adapted from Parasha U’Pishra by Rabbi Moshe Grylak
Have you ever faced your own mortality? Anyone who has faced a life-threatening situation and survived to tell the tale could probably tell you that the joy he felt upon realizing that his life was saved was unparalleled. Happiness bathed his entire being. He filled with a gratitude that sought nothing more than to express itself in thanks and acts of appreciation. In the world of the Jew, there is no more profound thanks than the thanks offered to our Father on High Who watches over us, guards us, and saves our lives constantly. The expression of gratitude, particularly gratitude towards the Almighty, lends a sense of completion to the feelings of joy and relief filling the heart of the survivor.
The gray doldrums of daily life often move a man to lose touch with the more truthful emotional stance he ought to maintain in living. The unspoken wonder of his existence tends to be either forgotten or ignored. What man tends to forget is the value of life itself. Imagine the absurdity: the gifts we have been given, the embarrassment of riches we are walking around with like so much dust falling out of our pockets, forgetting that even the privilege to breath can not be taken for granted!
But take said man and place him beneath even an inch of water, a substance impenetrable to the human respiratory system, and the miracle of every breath suddenly blossoms like a sunrise back into his consciousness. Save him from a watery grave or a grave, cold cell, from an ambush of enemy fire on field of battle or from enemy cells threatening to snuff the life burning in his body during illness – suddenly his doldrums daily existence is illuminated with brightness he thought reserved for another world, a vividness he had not appreciated since childhood. Every sight is gorgeous, every sound is lyric, every face is a song. Simply being alive tastes good, tastes better than he ever imagined. Sitting quietly accompanied by a few friends or a wonderful view thrills the heart, pierces with a deep and hitherto unknown pleasure. The threat that all this might have been taken forever, a very real danger he had faced and been saved from, colors experiences that were formerly boring and minute into experiences of luxury, beauty, and pleasure worthy of the deepest appreciation.
Danger and salvation are transforming. The survivor becomes a person more alive than before, a person engaged in the use of senses and sensitivities that most people go through life missing completely. He is a different man, a more complete human being.
All these feelings are nothing but the most superficial aspects of the emotions the human heart is capable of, though. Those who satisfy themselves with these feelings alone deny themselves the extraordinary. The Jew engages an even deeper quality, an even greater wholeness.
Torah teaches that it was not just life that the survivor was given, not life alone. Life in all it’s glory and color and wonder, amazing as it is, doesn’t come close to the gift of love and meaning the survivor would experience were he just to consider for a moment that all those gifts were and continue to be an expression of intimate, personal love given to him alone out of the infinite bounty of an infinitely loving Creator. How great would his joy be then?
Were he to truly reflect on the way that Creator blessed him, saved him, and granted him every detail of the life he now savors, his happiness would exceed the ability for words to describe. His salvation would no longer be an isolated circumstance, but an expression of a theme spanning the depth and breadth of the universe, a universe created and guided by the Source of life itself. Even his suffering would be reframed as the means to his expanded consciousness, the profound experience of completion he might never have tasted otherwise.
This experience motivates him to express his love and gratitude in a thanksgiving offering called Korban Shlamim. It is by reaching back to the One Who reached out to him and offering up his gratitude that his soul is finally complete.
“This is the law of the feast peace-offering that one will offer to HaShem: If he shall offer it for a thanksgiving-offering, he shall offer with the feast thanksgiving offering unleavened loaves…” (Leviticus 7:11-12).
The thanksgiving offering presented in the Mishkan was called the Korban Shlamim from the word shalem, whole, complete. This offering was not presented in order to atone for sin. As profound as the process of atonement was, this offering gave the individual Jew something even greater: an opportunity to express his deepest emotions, and the deepest truths of his Judaism, to the One Above.