Friday, March 29, 2024

The Joy and Purification of Thanksgiving


Following Purim is an amazing Shabbat called Shabbat Parah. This year, due to it being a leap year, it coincides with Parshat Tzav. Parshat Tzav elaborates on the guidelines and details of sacrifices introduced in Parshat Vayikra, including the Korban Todah, or the Thanksgiving offering. The Korban Todah is given by four types of people, each in a different scenario of danger, expressing gratitude to Hashem for the miraculous deliverance. These groups include those who emerged safely from the desert, those released from incarceration, individuals who recovered from severe illness, and those rescued from peril at sea.

Remarkably, the Korban Todah comprises 40 loaves of bread, featuring four distinct types with ten loaves of each. These include Challat Matzot, Rekikin, Murbechet, and actual Hametz. Notably, Hametz’s inclusion is unusual, as offerings typically exclude leavening agents, adhering strictly to Matzah without any souring or yeast. This anomaly underscores the significance of the Korban Todah in its unique composition.

Reb Noson delves into the intricate details of the Korban Todah, elucidating its profound significance and the expansive nature of gratitude. He illustrates how the four types of individuals mandated to offer this sacrifice on a personal level represent diverse scenarios.

Firstly, there are those who feel spiritually adrift, akin to traversing a desert without direction. Despite the arduous journey, when one reaches out to Hashem and emerges from this spiritual desert, gratitude and joy abound. However, this transformation requires a prerequisite of personal fortitude—strengthening oneself amidst adversity.

Secondly, there are individuals who sense confinement, akin to being imprisoned by life’s obstacles. Overcoming such impediments elicits profound thanksgiving, necessitating the cultivation of inner strength and resilience amidst frustration.

Thirdly, there are those spiritually ailing, grappling with confusion and lethargy akin to a debilitating illness. Overcoming such spiritual malaise demands fortitude against succumbing to despair, leading to a renewal of gratitude upon emergence.

Lastly, there are those who face the tumultuous seas of spiritual struggle, experiencing highs and lows akin to being lifted to the heavens only to plummet to the depths. Amidst this daunting journey, maintaining joy is paramount to stave off despair, ultimately culminating in expressions of gratitude upon safe passage.

These narratives underscore the transformative power of gratitude in navigating life’s diverse challenges, requiring inner strength and resilience to emerge with thanksgiving intact.

Reb Noson also delves into the significance of the number ten in Judaism and the Torah, elucidating its profound symbolism. Beyond its association with the Ten Commandments, the Ten Utterances of Creation, the Ten Sephirot, and the ten levels of holiness in the Holy Land and the Temple, Reb Noson expounds on the ten types of melody.

King David utilized ten types of melody in composing the Book of Psalms. These melodies hold a healing power capable of uplifting every Jew, regardless of their circumstances, and instilling them with the light of joy to persevere and continue in life.

Therefore, the inclusion of ten loaves of each of the four types of bread in the Korban Todah serves to activate joy through these melodies. Reb Noson proceeds to elaborate on the four types of bread. The first, Challat Matza, derives its name from the concept of Challah, the portion of dough separated during bread-making, symbolized by the numerical value of its letters (43 – ח=8 ל=30 ה=5).

43 – “Gam” in Hebrew, meaning “also,” emphasizes its connection to Malkhut in Kabbalistic teachings. This phrase, “Gam Zot,” signifies inclusion and completeness.

The ultimate goal is to navigate and overcome the challenges represented by Chametz, reaching a pinnacle of joy and gratitude

Reb Noson further elaborates, drawing from Rebbe Nachman’s teachings in Lesson 24, to explain the sequential stages of joy activation represented by each type of bread in the Korban Todah.

The initial stage involves elevating Malkhut, the Divine Kingship, from the clutches of evil forces through joyous effort. This elevation is symbolized by the first ten loaves of Challat Matzah, indicating the triumph of joy in lifting Malkhut from exile.

The second stage is depicted by the Rekikin, thin flat loaves, which symbolize the flattening of spiritual adversaries through joy. By engaging in mitzvahs with joy, one’s “spiritual legs” metaphorically trample over obstacles.

Moving on to the third stage, Murbechet, boiled bread resembling bagels, signifies the inflamed mind fueled by bodily fluids akin to oil. After elevating the mind through joy and overcoming adversaries, one achieves a heightened receptivity to divine wisdom and intellect.

Finally, the fourth stage introduces Chametz, symbolizing the souring of the mind with negative thoughts and setbacks. Despite its danger, overcoming this stage demonstrates one’s resilience and willpower to endure through faith and joy. Chometz represents a higher level than Matzah, signifying the ability to withstand adversities and emerge with heightened joy.

Thus, each type of bread in the Thanksgiving offering encapsulates a distinct aspect of the journey towards joy and spiritual elevation.

Remarkably, the concept of Chametz aligns seamlessly with Parshat Parah. King Solomon famously remarked about the red heifer, stating its enigmatic nature, that it is impossible to understand. The red heifer possesses the unique ability to purify the impure while simultaneously rendering the pure impure. Understanding how it purifies the impure is comprehensible; it was sprinkled upon those contaminated by contact with a dead body, enabling them to enter the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after a specific purification process.

However, perplexingly, those involved in preparing the formula of the red heifer, the Kohanim, became impure in the process. This paradoxical aspect of the Parshat Parah—making pure impure—defies conventional logic. While many mitzvot in the Torah have reasons or rationales behind them, Parshat Parah stands as an exception, beyond human comprehension.

Indeed, while Torah often offers explanations for mitzvot, the red heifer serves as a reminder that even those with apparent rationales are ultimately beyond full human understanding. Delving into the depths of Torah reveals layers of complexity that challenge our comprehension, echoing the sentiment that the ultimate goal of knowledge is recognizing the vastness of what remains unknown.

This underscores the essence of Torah study. Engaging in rigorous learning not only expands knowledge but also deepens awareness of the limitless depths of Torah wisdom. Through rigorous study and contemplation, individuals come to realize the boundless expanse of Torah knowledge, humbly acknowledging the vastness of what lies beyond their grasp. Thus, far from discouraging learning, this realization fuels an insatiable thirst for knowledge, driving individuals to explore the depths of Torah wisdom despite its unfathomable complexity.

This is the significance of Parshat Parah. The ashes of the Red Heifer purified from the most severe impurities, illustrating that a combination of Torah study and faith—acknowledging what one knows and doesn’t know—can purify even in the direst circumstances. This level of Torah and Emunah – faith – can cleanse a person, no matter the gravity of their transgressions.

Parshat Parah, following Purim, aligns with the progression of spiritual elevation seen in the Korban Todah, moving from joy to overcoming adversity to intellectual attainment and ultimately to purity. Just as the Korban Todah expresses gratitude for deliverance from danger, Parshat Parah signifies reaching a level of purity through faith and Torah study.

The cow, or Parah, chosen for this mitzvah serves as a reminder for humans to emulate its simplicity and obedience. Just as the cow follows instructions without question, individuals facing aspects of Torah beyond their understanding should rely on simple faith. This blend of faith and Torah study serves as the key to purification.

As we observe Shabbat Parah, may we experience a renewed sense of purity and embark on a fresh beginning, guided by the principles of faith and Torah study.

(This article also appears on the BRI website:

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Tizkku L'Mitzvot and Shabbat Shalom
Meir Elkabas
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