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BEHIND THE SCENES

by Daniel Lasar    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

The Jewish people, in Hebrew referred to as Yehudim, derive their appellation from Judah, the fourth of Jacob's sons from Leah. The root of the name, Yehuda, is hodu, which denotes "giving thanks". This article aims to explore a vital aspect of our people's historic trait of gratitude.

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The Jewish people, in Hebrew referred to as Yehudim, derive their appellation from Judah, the fourth of Jacob's sons from Leah. The root of the name, Yehuda, is hodu, which denotes "giving thanks". This article aims to explore a vital aspect of our people's historic trait of gratitude.

In this week's portion of Vayikra, the Torah delineates the various categories of offerings that are brought in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Included is the korban asham, guilt offering. How is this particular offering distinguished from the korban Chattat, sin offering? According to the Ramban, a classic 13th century commentator, the word Chattat conveys an inadvertent, moderately severe error, while the word asham connotes "desolation", implying a sin to a higher degree such that the existence of the one committing the sin is threatened. Thus, it is apparent that guilt offerings are brought in response to very serious transgressions.

Moreover, it is written, "If a person commits treachery (me'ilah) and sins unintentionally against Hashem's holy objects, he shall bring his guilt offering to Hashem. . .For what he has deprived the Sanctuary he shall make restitution" (Leviticus 5:15-16). According to Rashi, the fundamental commentator on the Torah, the me'ilah spoken of in the verse refers to utilizing sanctuary property without permission. Because a guilt offering is warranted for this treachery and misappropriation, it obviously is a serious wrongdoing.

There is a connection between me'ilah and thanking Hashem for one's food. The Talmud (Tractate Berachot 35) states that it is forbidden for people to enjoy food without first reciting a beracha (blessing) over it, and that not making a beracha is akin to me'ilah, improper use of sacred property. By equating the unauthorized use of Temple property with failing to make a beracha, we clearly see that eating without uttering a blessing is a very grave matter.

Let's explore a little further the idea of saying a blessing. The Talmud also explains that when one says a beracha, he transforms the food from being considered consecrated material and thus off-limits, to permissible matter from which he may eat without transgression. Thus, a powerful concept in uttering a beracha is that the act of formally acknowledging that Hashem is the ultimate Provider of this food enables us to consume it. Not only do we make blessings over wine and bread, but also over such items as apples, fish, cheese, milk - everything we consume. Particularly in our modern era, when we are so far removed from the farmer, it is easy to ignore the origins of what we eat. An apple pie doesn't just pop out of thin air. The apples come from an apple tree. The apple tree comes from a seed. The seed comes from an apple tree before it, in a chain going all the way back to Creation. Additionally, Hashem provides the weather conditions that effect the food's development. When we make a beracha, we are recognizing Hashem's active role in this world. This act reminds us of Hashem's constant involvement with Mankind.

The recent festival of Purim also expresses this idea of Hashem's control of events. In the entire Megillat Esther, the name of Hashem is not written even once! Read in bits and pieces, one could conclude that the various events recalled in the Purim story are mere convenient coincidences: Queen Vashti just happened to get booted, Esther just happened to be selected queen, Mordechai just happened to overhear the courtiers plotting against the king, Esther's revelation to King Achashveirosh that she was Jewish and her people were threatened by the evil Haman just happened to be well-received by the king. These weren't mere coincidences; all of these events manifested Hashem's guidance and direction of everything that happened. Nonetheless, we live in a world where Hashem works "behind the scenes" such that it may not be so easy to recognize His involvement. Were it obviously apparent, our free choice and ensuing merit from choosing to serve Hashem would be significantly diminished.

Our challenge is to strive for a greater awareness of Hashem, and whenever we thank Hashem for our food, we are accepting that everything that happens stems from Him. The next time you sit down, salivating and hastily preparing to down a scrumptious piece of apple pie, open up your prayer book and first acknowledge the One who enabled you to enjoy this delicacy. It is wonderful to think that in as simple an act as eating, we are affirming the fact that Hashem is not only our Creator, but also our Provider.

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Daniel Lasar, an alumnus of Emory Law School in Atlanta, writes from New Jersey.

You are invited to read more Parshat Vayikra articles.

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