Zevach Sh’lamim–Learning to Celebrate Life”

Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Tzav, we learn of the Peace offering–Zevach Sh’lamim, that was brought as a gesture of thanksgiving.

At times, the Sh’lamim–Peace offering was brought in fulfillment of a neder–a vow or n’davah–-a free-will offering. The Todah, however, was brought specifically as an offering of thanksgiving by a donor who had survived a life-threatening crisis. By bringing the thanksgiving offering, the donor expresses his gratitude to G-d and his recognition that it is G-d who saved him from the crisis. Our rabbis in Berachot 54b, teach us that four people are required to bring the thanksgiving offering: those who traverse a desert, those who are released from imprisonment, those who are healed from a severe or serious illness, and those who survive a dangerous voyage–such as on the sea.

We live in the most wondrous of times. Modes of transportation become faster and more efficient every single day. Advances in communication are measured in hours. Most Americans have “treasure troves” of food upon which to feast. In fact, the world seems to be moving ahead so rapidly that we hardly have time to acknowledge the great benefits that we constantly derive from the knowledge explosion and the great advances in technology.

Despite all this, we still often hear the plaintive cry of those who ask: Where was G-d during the Holocaust? But seldom do we hear the voices of those who acknowledge the incredible advances made by modern medicine to heal the sick. We fail to acknowledge that over the last century virtually 35-40 years have been added to the average life span of North Americans! Why is no one asking: “Where is G-d? I’d like to give Him a yasher koach, a big thank you for everything He’s done to advance human life through His wisdom and kindness.”

Few of us stop to think, even for a moment, how blessed we are, and how great the benefits we receive daily.

It is now possible to walk around carrying a tiny iPod that contains thousands of songs, speeches, messages, and teachings. Food is available in great abundance in countries of enormous wealth. Vacationing has become an art form, not only for senior citizens, but even for teenagers and college students.

Despite these many advances, living in contemporary times is still a great challenge. There is virtually no place on earth that is totally safe from terrorists. Global warming has become a universal concern, as have the quixotic changes in climate and the new ominous weather patterns. People around the globe are shuddering just thinking about the potential havoc that can be wreaked by a bird flu pandemic.

For certain, part of each person’s life includes the inevitable reality that each of us will at one time or another face our own perilous “desert” or other potentially hazardous journey. Each of us may face a serious illness that can devastate us in a moment. How often do we set forth on voyages whose destinations are unknown? Notwithstanding the infinite amounts of information at our fingertips, we still cannot predict the vicissitudes of the storms ahead of us.

That is why the ancient Jews offered a sacrifice known as Zevach Sh’lamim–the Peace offering. It is an offering of joy and gratitude. It is to remind the people that there is very much for which we must be grateful. It is meant to teach us how critically important it is for us to learn to express our gratitude! That is why in Leviticus Rabbah 9:7 we learn that, although all the sacrifices may be discontinued in the End of Days (for, in the Messianic era, people will be sinless), “the offering of thanksgiving will never cease. While all the prayers may be discontinued, the prayer of thanksgiving will never cease.”

Must we wait until we suffer a setback or a serious challenge to enjoy the great gifts that we are given? I urge you to think about it. Try it! Just press your hand to your heart, and feel your heart beat! Take a deep breath and savor the miracle of inhaling freely! Jump up and down and shout out: Thank You G-d, thank You for the ability to see, to hear, to talk, to smile!

All human beings, but especially Jews, need to learn to celebrate life, to savor each moment, each breath, each heartbeat. We dare not lose the ability to express our thanks through prayer and sacrifice. For it is only through this unique ability that humankind can ever hope to bring universal redemption and our own personal redemption.

May you be blessed.

The first days of Pessach will be celebrated on Wednesday evening, April 12th, and Thursday and Friday, April 13th and 14th. Wishing everybody a happy and kosher holiday.