The Thanksgiving Offering

  • Rabbanit Sharon Rimon

The thanksgiving sacrifice, mentioned in Parashat Tzav, is offered in thanks to God for His help.  Chapter 107 in Tehillim describes thanks to God: 

(1)        Give thanks to God for He is good; for his kindness endures forever.

(2)        So say the redeemed of God, whom He delivered from the hand of the enemy

(3)        And gathered them from the lands – from east and west, from north and south.

(4)        They wandered in the wilderness, on a desert path; they found no city for habitation.

(5)        Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.

(6)        AND THEY CALLED OUT TO GOD IN THEIR DISTRESS, HE DELIVERED THEM FROM THEIR TROUBLES…

(7)        LET THEM PRAISE GOD FOR HIS KINDNESS AND HIS WONDERS TOWARDS MORTALS.

(8)        For He has satisfied the longing soul, and has filled the hungry soul with goodness.

(9)        Those who sat in darkness and the shadow of death, bound in affliction and in iron…

(13)      AND THEY CALLED OUT TO GOD IN THEIR DISTRESS; HE SAVED THEM FROM THEIR TROUBLES…

(15)      LET THEM PRAISE GOD FOR HIS KINDNESS AND HIS WONDERS TOWARDS MORTALS.

(16)      For He has broken the gates of brass and demolished the bars of iron.

(17)      The foolish were afflicted because of their sinful way and their transgressions.

(18)      Their soul abhorred any food; they were at death's door.

(19)      THEY CALLED TO GOD IN THEIR DISTRESS; HE SAVED THEM FROM THEIR TROUBLES.

(20)      He sends His word and heals them, and they escape their destruction.

(21)      LET THEM PRAISE GOD FOR HIS KINDNESS AND HIS WONDERS TOWARDS MORTALS.

(22)      And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of His works with joyous song.

(23)      Those who go down to the sea in ships, performing their labor in great waters…

(25)      For He commanded and raised a stormy wind, so its waves rose up.

(26)      They ride upwards to the sky and sink down to the depths; their soul melts in anguish…

(28)      THEY CALL OUT TO GOD IN THEIR DISTRESS, AND HE SAVES THHEM FROM THEIR TROUBLES…

(31)      LET THEM PRAISE GOD FOR HIS KINDNESS AND HIS WONDERS TOWARDS MORTALS.

(32)      Let them exalt Him in the public gathering and praise Him in the assembly of elders…

(43)      Whoever is wise – let him note these things and observe the kindnesses of God. 

This psalm describes people in different situations of crisis and trouble; in their distress they call out to God and He delivers them.  In the wake of this wondrous deliverance they give thanks: "Let them praise God for His kindness and His wonders towards mortals."  This verse is repeated four times in the chapter.  In addition, the chapter opens with the exhortation, "Give thanks to God for He is good; for His kindness endures forever," and concludes with the words, "And observe the kindnesses of God." 

In summary, the psalm expresses man's sense of dependence on God, and – as a result – the need to praise and thank Him. 

How does a person express thanks to God? 

The psalm offers different possibilities: 

(Verses 8-9) "Let them praise God for His kindness… for He has satisfied the longing soul…"

(Verses 15-16) "Let them praise God for His kindness… for He has broken the gates of brass…." 

The first stage of the praise (hodaya) is the actual acknowledgment of the good that God has performed.  The person sees that it is God who has satisfied his soul; it is He Who has relieved his suffering.  This is the first, most basic requirement; without it there can be no true praise. 

The next stage expresses this acknowledgment in words, in blessing, in prayer.  In verses 21-22, the psalm continues: 

"Let them praise God for His kindness… AND OFFER UP sacrifices of thanksgiving, AND TELL OF His works with joyful song." 

Here we are already speaking of practical thanksgiving: the person makes an offering to God; he brings a sacrifice of thanksgiving.  In addition, he also tells others about God's actions. 

Verses 31-32 describe another way of praising God: 

"Let them praise God for His kindness… AND EXALT HIM in the public gathering and PRAISE HIM in the assembly of elders."  

This is public praise and exaltation of God; a publicizing of His kindness and wonders. 

It is from this psalm that Chazal derive the guidelines pertaining to Birkat Ha-gomel (recited in thanks for God's deliverance from a dangerous situation): 

Rabbi Yehuda said in the name of Rav, FOUR (types of people) are obligated to give (public) thanks (to God): those who go out to sea, those who go through the wilderness, a person who was ill and was healed, and one who was confined in jail and was then freed. 

From where do we learn (the obligation) concerning seafarers? As it is written (Tehillim 107), "Those who go down to the sea in ships…," and it is written, "Let them give praise to God for His kindness, and His wonders towards mortals." 

From where do we learn it concerning those who walk in the wilderness? As it is written (Ibid.) "Those who wandered about in the wilderness, on a desert road… Let them give praise to God…." 

One who was ill and then was healed: as it is written, "He sends His word and heals them… Let them give praise to God for His kindness." 

One who was confined to jail and was then freed: "Those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death… Let them give praise to God for His kindness." 

WHAT BLESSING DO THESE PEOPLE RECITE? RAV YEHUDA SAID: "BLESSED IS HE WHO PERFORMS BENEFICENT KINDNESSES." 

ABAYE SAID: THE BLESSING MUST BE RECITED IN THE PRESENCE OF TEN PEOPLE, AS IT IS WRITTEN (Ibid.): "LET THEM EXALT HIM IN THE PUBLIC GATHERING…." (Berakhot 54b) 

Birkat Ha-gomel, recited in the presence of a quorum, constitutes – to Abeye's view – a public praise of God.  Why is the public forum necessary? Because when a person recites Birkat Ha-gomel in public, people want to know what happened, and the person has the opportunity to describe what took place.  Thus the miracle is publicized, and God's Name is exalted.  This is no longer a private acknowledgment and expression of thanks; rather, the entire congregation gives thanks and praise to God. 

Psalm 107 mentions another way of thanking God: "Let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving." 

There are different ways of expressing thanks.  One commonly accepted way is to express it verbally.  But sometimes a person feels a need to give thanks in a way that is beyond words.  He wants to give something of himself to God Who has given him so much. 

The desire to give something to God in thanks is the idea underlying the concept of sacrifices. 

Kayin and Hevel thank God for their success, and quite naturally they express their gratitude by giving to God. 

Noach emerges from the Ark, builds an altar, and offers a sacrifice to God.  The Midrash explains the reason for this act: 

"Noach sat and contemplated and said: the Holy One has saved me from the waters of the Flood, and brought me out of this confinement; am not obligated to offer up sacrifices and burnt offerings? What did Noach do – he took some of the pure beasts… and rebuilt the first altar, upon which Kayin and Hevel had offered their sacrifices.  And he offered four burnt sacrifices, as it is written, 'Noach built an altar to God'…." (Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, chapter 23) 

The first sacrifices to be offered in the world were not offered out of obligation, or as a way of seeking atonement, but rather as an expression of thanks for God's goodness towards man.  In the wake of this sense of gratitude man wants to give something of his own to God. 

THE THANKSGIVING OFFERING IS THEREFORE THE "OLDEST" TYPE OF SACRIFICE, AND REPRESENTS THE MOST ORIGINAL FORM OF THE ACT. 

This is the same thanksgiving offering that is mentioned in Parashat Tzav: 

(Vayikra 7:11) This is the law of the peace offerings which he shall offer to God. 

(12) If he offers it for thanksgiving, he shall offer along with the thanksgiving offering unleavened loaves mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and loaves of fine flour, well soaked, mixed with oil. 

(13) Together with loaves of leavened bread he shall make his offering, these to be added to his peace offering of thanksgiving. 

(14) And he shall offer of it one out of each offering as a teruma to God; it shall be for the kohen who sprinkles the blood of the peace offering. 

(15) And the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offering for thanksgiving shall be consumed on the day that it is offered; he shall not leave any of it until the morning. 

Is the thanksgiving offering obligatory, or is it a free-will offering? Is a person who was ill and then recovered, or who was delivered from some other trouble, OBLIGATED to bring a thanksgiving offering? Or, does this person DECIDED ON HIS OWN INITIATIVEE TO VOLUNTEER a thanksgiving offering, so as to express the gratitude that he feels towards God? 

On one hand, a thanksgiving offering that is brought by a person of his own free will testifies to a far more profound acknowledgment. The person is not obligated to bring the sacrifice; rather, he does so out of a genuine feeling of thanks to God for the good that He has performed. 

Indeed, Rashi's commentary would seem to indicate that he views the thanksgiving sacrifice as voluntary rather than obligatory [1]: 

"If he offers it for thanksgiving' – if it is out of thanks for a miracle that was performed for him – such as seafarers, or those who walk through the wilderness, or those who were imprisoned, or those who were ill and then were healed (all of whom are obligated to give thanks, as it is written concerning them [Tehillim 107:21-22] "Let them give praise to God for His kindness and His wonders towards mortals; and let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving."  IF IT IS IN ONE OF THESE INSTANCES THAT HE VOWS THIS PEACE OFFERING, THEN IT IS A PEACE OFFERING OF THANKSGIVING." (Rashi on 7:12) 

According to Rashi, a person is allowed to choose whether or not to vow to bring a thanksgiving offering. 

Another point that emerges from Rashi's explanation is that, to is view, a person is not completely free to offer a thanksgiving offering whenever he so wishes.  He cannot bring such a sacrifice any time that he wants to give thanks to God, but rather only in certain specific circumstances. 

On the other hand, the Gemara sets down that these four categories of people "MUST give thanks" – meaning that they are obligated to do so [2]. 

What is the advantage of a thanksgiving offering that is obligatory? 

Not everyone achieves the level of gratitude on his own.  It is possible that by means of this offering the Torah wants to educate people to acknowledge God's goodness.  The obligation to thank teaches a person to pay attention to those things for which he must thank God. 

In summary, it would seem that IN THE PRIMARY, FUNDAMENTAL SENSE, A THANKSGIVING OFFERING IS VOLUNTARY.  A person feels within himself a sense of gratitude towards God, and he decides to express this by bringing a sacrifice.  But later on, Chazal obligated us to thank God for deliverance from certain situations, and it is possible that this obligation concerns not only Birkat Ha-gomel, but also the thanksgiving offering.  Even if this is the case, however, the essence of the obligation remains the sense of gratitude towards God; as a result of this gratitude, one brings the sacrifice.  The Sages wanted to educate a person to acknowledge and be grateful, and therefore they defined it as an obligation. 

There is an obligation to FEEL thanks towards God, and as a result the person should (voluntarily, out of his own will) bring a sacrifice. 

EACH TYPE OF SACRIFICE EXPRESSES A CERTAIN IDEA OR EMOTION ON THE PART OF THE PERSON WHO BRINGS IT.  THE HALAKHIC DETAILS DIFFER FROM ONE TYPE OF SACRIFICE TO ANOTHER, IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE UNIQUE IDEA THAT EACH IS MEANT TO EXPRESS.  

WE SHALL FOCUS ON THE THANKSGIVING OFFERING, AND THE HALAKHIC DETAILS THAT PERTAIN TO IT. 

Thanksgiving Offering as a Peace Offering 

The thanksgiving offering is a type of peace offering.  The peace offering is unique among all the sacrifices in that it is categorized as "kodshim kalim" (i.e., having minor sanctity) [3].  Let us review the following comparison: 

Kodshei kodshim:

Place of slaughter:         northern part of the altar

Who consumes it:         the altar alone, or the altar and the kohanim

Where is it eaten:          in the azara

Time for eating:             on the day of the sacrifice and that night

 

Kodshim kalim:

Place of slaughter:         anywhere in the azara

Who consumes it:         the altar, the kohanim, and THE OWNER of the sacrifice

Where is it eaten:          anywhere in Jerusalem

Time for eating:             day of the sacrifice, the night, and the next day 

The most striking characteristic of the peace offering is that it is not burned in its entirety upon the altar, nor are the kohanim alone partners in its consumption.  There are three partners in its consumption: THE ALTAR, THE KOHEN, AND THE PERSON WHO BRINGS THE SACRIFICE. 

Why is the thanksgiving offering categorized as a peace offering? We would perhaps expect that a person for whom a miracle is performed, and who wishes to thank God, would bring a sacrifice that is offered in its entirety to God, not that he himself would also partake of it?! 

In order to answer this question, let us try to deepen our understanding of the peace offering. 

WHAT IS THE SIGNFICANCE OF THE NAME "PEACE OFFERING" (shelamim)? 

The Rashbam, commenting on Vayikra 3:1, writes: 

"The name 'shelamim' implies a vow, and one must pay (le-shalem) one's vows; i.e., it is derived from the concept of payment (tashlumim)…." 

In other words, the peace offering is special in that it represents PAYMENT OF A VOW, rather than an obligation. 

Rashi, commenting on the same verse, presents a different view: 

"'Shelamim' – because it brings peace (shalom) to the world.  An alternative explanation: because it is for the benefit (shalom) of the altar, the kohanim, and the owner."  

            Thus, Rashi derives the name "shelamim" from the word "shalom."  This sacrifice is special in that EVERYONE HAS A SHARE IN IT, and thus it expresses peace between everyone. 

            A person who brings a peace offering is in a completely different position, with different emotions, from one who brings a burnt offering or a sin offering. 

            A person who brings a burnt offering or sin offering stands before God in submission.  He brings his sacrifice out of obligation, sometimes in the wake of sin - and the offering in its entirety is given to God (i.e., burned on the altar), or a small part is given to the kohen.  The owner of the sacrifice has a sense of man's smallness before God; he feels the great distance between himself and God.  THIS IS A SACRIFICE BROUGHT WITH AWE. 

            The person who brings a peace offering is in a completely different psychological place.  The Rashbam interprets "shelamim" as relating to "tashlumim": the essence of the sacrifice is payment of a vow.  In other words, it is fundamentally NOT AN OBLIGATORY SACRIFICE BUT RATHER A FREEWILL OFFERING [5].  The person himself has decided to offer a sacrifice in honor of God.  This freewill offering arises from man's desire to give to God, as an expression of his love for Him.  THIS IS A SACRIFICE OF LOVE. 

            This mutual love also finds expression in the joint consumption of the sacrifice, as Rashi points out, and as described by Rav David Tzvi Hoffman: 

"… This sacrifice is a meal shared by the altar, the kohanim, and the owner.  It is called a 'peace meal' - 'zevach shelamim. '  It describes the harmony between the person who offers it and God and His servants." 

            THE JOINT EATING, AS IT WERE, BY MAN AND HIS CREATOR, LEADS TO A SPECIAL CONNECTION AND SYMBOLIZES LOVE BETEWEEN MAN AND GOD. 

            Now we understand why the thanksgiving offering is specifically a peace offering.  The thanksgiving offering is brought when a person feels that God has performed some special good for him.  He feels that God loves him, and wants to give something in return to God, thereby expressing his love for God.  The peace offering is the most appropriate sacrifice for expressing the sense of love. 

Bread of Thanksgiving 

"… He shall offer along with the thanksgiving offering unleavened loaves mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and loaves of fine flour, well soaked, mixed with oil.  Together with loaves of leavened bread he shall make his offering…." 

The thanksgiving offering includes a special law pertaining to bread that is brought along with the sacrifice [5].  This is not the same as the meal offering, which accompanies many other types of sacrifices. 

The person bringing the sacrifice must bring four types of bread: 

a.         unleavened loaves mixed with oil

b.         unleavened wafers anointed with oil

c.         loaves of fine flour, well soaked, mixed with oil

d.         loaves of leavened bread 

Ten loaves of each type must be brought, such that a total of FORTY LOAVES accompany the thanksgiving sacrifice.

The loaves are made from twenty one-tenth measures of fine flour, and a log of oil [6].

A tenth measure (isaron) is 22 cups of fine flour.  Twenty isaron is 440 cups of fine flour!

A log of oil is 3 cups.

Thus, A VERY LARGE QUANTITY OF BREAD IS BROUGHT ALONG WITH THE THANKSGIVING OFFERING.  [7] 

Why is such a great quantity of bread brought specifically as an accompaniment to the thanksgiving offering? 

We shall attempt to answer this question below. 

Leavened Bread 

Another detail that makes the thanksgiving sacrifice unique is the BRINGING OF LEAVENED BREAD.  In chapter 2, describing the meal offerings, we read: 

(8)        Any meal offering that you offer to God SHALL NOT BE MADE WITH LEAVEN, FOR YOU SHALL BURN NO LEAVEN NOR HONEY IN ANY OFFERING MADE TO GOD BY FIRE.

(9)        The offering of the first fruits – you shall offer them to God, but they shall not be burnt on the altar for a sweet savor. 

This prohibition is repeated in Parashat Tzav (Vayikra 6:9-10): 

"…Aharon and his sons shall eat that which remains of it; it shall be eaten with unleavened bread in the holy place, in the courtyard of the Tent of Meeting they shall eat it.  IT SHALL NOT BE BAKED WITH LEAVEN."

 Even the remainder of the meal offering, eaten by the kohanim, must be unleavened. 

BUT HERE, IN THE CASE OF THE THANKSGIVING OFFERING, IT IS SPECIFICALLY LEAVENED BREAD THAT IS BROUGHT! 

Admittedly, the bread of the thanksgiving offering is not itself a meal offering, is not burnt on the altar, and thus there is no real contradiction between the two laws.  Still, in general, the Torah is opposed to sacrifices of leavened bread, while here it is specifically leavened bread that must be brought. 

In order to understand the uniqueness of the thanksgiving offering, we must understand the reason for the general prohibition against offering leavened bread in the Mikdash, and the emphasis on the meal offerings being unleavened. 

What characterizes leaven, and what is special about matza? 

LEAVENED BREAD is superior bread, that which is obtained at the end of the bread-making process.  Therefore leaven symbolizes wealth, success, and – along with it – pride. 

UNLEAVENED BREAD – MATZA, in contrast, is created by halting the process in the middle.  Before the dough is able to ferment and rise – i.e., achieve its final, complete state – we stop the process.  Matza is inferior bread, the bread of the poor man who is unable to prepare any thing better.  Therefore matza expresses lack of completion, destitution, and – accordingly – modesty. 

When a person brings a sacrifice to God, he does not bring leaven; he brings matza, thereby expressing his imperfection and incompleteness in relation to God.  He cannot come before God bearing leaven – the symbol of his power and wealth.  HE MUST HAVE A SENSE OF HUMILITY, a sense of "the afflicted, when he faints, and pours out his prayer before God" (Tehillim 102), NOT A SENSE OF PRIDE. 

Why, then, is leavened bread brought with the thanksgiving offering? 

The thanksgiving offering, as noted above, expresses a different emotion than that represented by the burnt offering or sin offering.  The thanksgiving offering expresses a great love between a person and God, and thanks and praise for all that good that God has done for him.  Thus, he brings both matza – symbolizing the distress in which he previously found himself and the process of emerging from that distress, but also leavened bread – expressing thanks for the deliverance.  God brings a person to a situation of salvation, and this great good must be acknowledged.  Specifically in this situation, if leaven is NOT brought, if the person remains overwhelmed by his deficiency alone, it may be interpreted as ingratitude.  The thanksgiving offering expresses joy over a certain situation of completeness that God has helped the person to achieve. 

Therefore, in the case of this sacrifice, it is appropriate that leavened bread also be brought, so as to symbolize the completeness and goodness that God has bestowed on man. 

Eating of the Sacrifice until Morning 

"The flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offering for thanksgiving shall be consumed on the day that it is offered; he shall not leave any of it until the morning."  

The thanksgiving offering is a type of peace offering; it is defined as "kodshim kalim" – i.e., bearing minor sanctity.  Most "kodshim kalim" may be eaten on the day of the sacrifice, during the night, and throughout the following day.  The thanksgiving offering, however, must be eaten on the day of the sacrifice or during the night; none must remain for the next day.  Why does the Torah limit the time for eating the sacrifice? This question is further reinforced in light of the great quantity of bread that accompanies it. The person who brings the sacrifice is left with vast quantities of food, which must be consumed within the same day and night! 

SEEMINGLY, THIS LAW IS MEANT TO CREATE A SITUATION WHEREBY THE PERSON CANNOT FINISH ALL THE FOOD HIMSELF, AND HE IS FORCED, AS IT WERE, TO INVITE OTHERS TO EAT WITH HIM.  Thus the consumption of the sacrifice becomes a great feast, with many participants.  The host explains to all the participants the reason for his bringing the thanksgiving offering, and THUS THE FEAST BECOMES A FEAST OF THANKSGIVING (se'udat hodaya), with a recounting of the wonders and kindness of God and extolling His praise:  "Let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of His works with joyous song." The thanksgiving offering gives rise to a feast of thanksgiving, where God's works are recounted in public.  "Let them exalt him in the public gathering." 

Thanksgiving Offering and Pesach 

The thanksgiving offering, then, involves a feast of thanksgiving, eaten with bread, and nothing can be left of it until morning.  These details are reminiscent of the requirements pertaining to another offering – the Pesach sacrifice [8]. 

The Pesach sacrifice, too, is a peace offering; it, too, is eaten by a group of people so as to finish all of it by morning.  And this sacrifice, too, is eaten with (unleavened) bread – matza. 

The Pesach sacrifice is a national thanksgiving offering.  Just as a private person who brings a thanksgiving offering holds a thanksgiving banquet and recounts the story of his personal salvation, so when the Pesach sacrifice is brought the entire nation sits at a banquet of thanksgiving where they recount the story of their deliverance from Egypt and praise God. 

But the considerable degree of similarity between these two sacrifices also serves to emphasize the difference between them. 

Both must be eaten with bread, but while the (individual) thanksgiving offering is eaten with matza as well as leavened bread, the Pesach sacrifice is eaten only with matza; leaven is strictly forbidden.  If the Pesach sacrifice is a national thanksgiving offering, why do we not bring leavened bread with it, as befitting a thanksgiving offering? 

The Pesach sacrifice is offered on the 14th of Nissan, and is eaten during the night that follows.  What was going on in Egypt at that time? On the day of the 14th, Bnei Yisrael slaughtered their Pesach sacrifice and painted the blood on the doorposts of their houses.  That night Egypt was struck by the plague bringing death to the firstborn.  The Exodus from Egypt took place the next morning [10]. 

THE PESACH SACRIFICE, THEN, IS NOT MEANT TO COMMEMORATE THE CONCLUSION OF THE REDEMPTION PROCESS, BUT RATHER REPRESENTS A STAGE DURING THE COURSE OF IT.  THEREFORE IT IS NOT APPROPRIATE TO BRING LEAVENED BREAD; WE BRING ONLY MATZA. 

We must then ask: why, on the 15th of Nissan – the day when we left Egypt – are we still forbidden to eat leaven, and commanded to eat matza? And why does the prohibition against leaven continue throughout the seven days of the festival? 

The redemption from Egypt did not end with the Exodus of Bnei Yisrael from Egypt.  This was merely a STAGE IN THE REDEMPTION PROCESS.  God describes the redemption from Egypt in several stages: 

"… I SHALL TAKE YOU OUT from under the burdens of Egypt, AND DELIVER YOU from their bondage, AND REDEEM YOU with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. (Shemot 6:6) 

(1)        AND I SHALL TAKE YOU to be My nation, and I shall be your God…

(2)        AND I SHALL BRING YOU to the land…" 

The first three stages – "I shall take you out… I shall deliver you… I shall redeem you…" are the deliverance and the exodus from Egypt.  The next stage is "I shall take you…" – turning Am Yisrael into the nation of God.  This is the revelation and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.  The final stage of the redemption is "I shall bring you…" – leading Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael. 

ON PESACH WE EAT THE MATZA RATHER THAN LEAVEN, BECAUSE ON PESACH WE ARE CELEBRATING NOT THE FULL AND COMPLETE REDEMPTION, BUT RATHER A STAGE IN THE REDEMPTION [11]. 

When is the complete redemption celebrated? At which festival do we thank God for the good land which He has given us? 

(Vayikra 23:10) … WHEN YOU COME TO THE LAND that I give you, and you reap its harvest, you shall bring the omer of the first fruits of your harvest to the kohen

(15) You shall count for yourselves from the day after the Shabbat, from the day when you bring the omer for the wave offering; there shall be seven complete weeks.

(16) Up until the day after the seventh Shabbat, you shall count fifty days and offer a new meal offering to God.

(17) From your dwelling places you shall bring two wave loaves of two tenth measures; THEY SHALL BE BAKED WITH LEAVEN; THEY ARE FIRST FRUITS TO GOD. 

Pesach marks just the beginning of the counting; it is merely the beginning of the process.  The end of the process is at Shavu'ot.  What is the essence of this festival? The Torah gives it two other names: "The Harvest Festival," and the "Day of the First Fruits."  This is the time when the produce of the land ripens, it is harvested, and on Shavu'ot the two loaves are to be brought, symbolizing our thanks for the produce of the good land.  This is also the time when the fruits start to ripen, and accordingly Shavu'ot is the time when we start to bring first fruits – once again, as thanks to God for the produce of the good land: 

(Devarim 26:1) And it shall be WHEN YOU COME TO THE LAND which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, and you shall possess it and dwell in it,

(2) Then you shall take from the first of all the fruits of the ground which you will gather from your land which the Lord your God gives you, and you shall place them in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to cause His Name to dwell there…. 

Thus, the festival of Shavu'ot is the festival of the first fruits; it is the festival of thanks for the good land. 

Attention should be paid to the fact that THE TWO LOAVES BROUGHT ON SHAVU'OT ARE BAKED WITH LEAVEN.  THESE TWO LOAVES, ALONG WITH THE INDIVIDUAL'S THANKSGIVING OFFERING, ARE THE ONLY TWO SACRIFICES THAT INCLUDE LEAVEN. 

The bringing of the two loaves expresses thanks to God for the good land that He has given us, and for its produce.  It is proper that these loaves be leaven, because they give THANKS TO GOD FOR BOUNTIFUL PRODUCE; they symbolize THE CONCLUSION OF THE PROCESS OF REDEMPTION: the good land that God gives to us. 

Shavu'ot is also the festival of the giving of the Torah.  The two final stages of the redemption process are the receiving of the Torah and the entry into the land.  ON SHAVU'OT WE CELEBRATE BOTH SIMULTANEOUSLY: BOTH THE GIVING OF THE TORAH AND OUR THANKS FOR THE GOOD LAND.  IT IS SPECIFICALLY ON THIS FESTIVAL THAT IT IS APPROPRIATE TO BRING LEAVENED BREAD, JUST AS LEAVENED BREAD IS BROUGHT WITH THE THANKSGIVING OFFERING, EXPRESSING OUR JOY AT THE GOODNESS THAT GOD HAS BESTOWED UPON US, AND OUR THANKS FOR REACHING THE CONCLUSION OF THE REDEMPTION PROCESS. 

Let us now summarize the various features of the thanksgiving offering, and the reason and significance of each of them: 

1.        Thanks by means of AN ACTION: Since the time of Creation, man naturally seeks to "give" to God in gratitude for His kindness.  THE THANKSGIIVING OFFERING IS THE "MOST ANCIENT" FORM OF SACRIFICE.

2.        Some opinions maintain that THERE IS AN OBLIGATION TO GIVE THANKS: The Torah educates us by obligating us to give thanks.  A person who does not utter any acknowledgment is not paying attention to the favors bestowed upon him.

3.        Part of the peace offering is EATEN BY THE OWNER – in contrast to kodshei kodshim. The peace offering is A JOINT MEAL, AS IT WERE, WITH GOD.  It is an offering of great love and special closeness.

4.        The thanksgiving offering is comprised of BOTH LEAVEN AND MATZA, in contrast to the meal offering, in which leaven is forbidden: LEAVEN symbolizes a COMPLETENESS AND EVEN PRIDE that is not suited to the reality of standing "before God."  MATZA symbolizes deficiency.  However, when it comes to the thanksgiving offering, we express our GRATITUDE for God having brought us from a situation of deficiency – "matza" – to a situation of completion – "leaven."

5.        The thanksgiving offering includes a HUGE QUANTITY OF BREAD, and it is to be EATEN WITHIN A SHORT TIME (the same day and the night following): This forces the person bringing the sacrifice to INVITE OTHERS TO JOIN HIM, SUCH THAT THE EATING OF THE SACRIFICE BECOMES A MEAL OF THANKSGIVING.

6.        The PESACH SACRIFICE IS SIMILAR TO THE THANKSGIVING OFFERING IN MANY RESPECTS (the time when it is to be eaten, the fact that it is eaten in company, together with bread): The Pesach sacrifice, too, is a NATIONAL THANKSGIVINIG OFFERING, WHERE WE RECOUNT THE MIRACLE OF THE EXODUS AND GIVE THANKS TO GOD.

7.        DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE PESACH, THANKSGIVING, AND SHAVU'OT LOAVES: PESACH – MATZA; THANKSGIVING – LEAVEN AND MATZA; SHAVU'OT – LEAVEN. The PESACH SACRIFICE is different from the thanksgiving offering because it represents the MIDDLE OF THE REDEMPTION PROCESS; therefore it is eaten with matza.  On Shavu'ot the process is completed by the ACCEPTANCE OF THE TORAH AND THANKS TO GOD FOR THE GOOD LAND; therefore we are able to bring a sacrifice of LEAVEN. 

"Even if our mouths were as full of song as the sea, and our tongues – with joyful song, like its multitude of waves… we could not give sufficient thanks…."

 

Notes:

[1] The same conclusion may be drawn from the Rambam in his Laws of Performing Sacrifices.

[2] The connection between Birkat Ha-gomel and the thanksgiving offering is not mentioned explicitly in the Gemara, but from the wording of the Tur (o.c. 219) we may conclude that the blessing is meant to replace the sacrifice.  According to many of the Rishonim and Acharonim, the thanksgiving offering may be understood to have been obligatory.

[3] Mishna, Zevachim 5:7 "Shelamim are kodshim kalim; they may be slaughtered anywhere in the azara, and their blood requires two sprinklings which are four, and they may be eaten throughout the city, by anyone, with any foods, for the duration of two days and the night [in between]…."

[4] There are, admittedly, some peace offerings that are obligatory (such as the shalmei atzeret and shalmei chagiga).  Nevertheless, the original presentation of the shelamim in Parashot Vayikra-Tzav is as a vow or freewill offering, and this appears to be the primary and essential character of this sacrifice, as the Rashbam explains.  (See above concerning the discussion of whether the thanksgiving offering is a neder or a nedava).

[5] The peace offering of a nazirite likewise requires that bread be brought along with the sacrifice.

[6] Rambam, Laws of Performing Sacrifices, 9:17.

[7] The nazirite, by comparison, brings only two types of loaves, in much smaller quantities.

[8] See at length in an article by Rav Yoel bin-Nun, "Chametz and Matza on Pesach and Shavu'ot and in the Bread Offerings," Megadim 13.

[9] See "Korban Pesach ve-Korban Toda" by Rav Menachem Leibtag, Daf Kesher 697, Nissan 5759.

[10] Shemot 12:51: "And it was, in the middle of that day (or "on that very day"), that God took Bnei Yisrael out of the land of Egypt by their hosts." Rashi, commenting on Devarim 32:48, writes: "In Egypt it says (Shemot 12:51), 'In the midst of that day God took…' – because the Egyptians said, 'If by such-and-such time we still see them here, we shall not allow them to leave; not only that, but we will take swords and weapons and kill them.' THE HOLY ONE SAID: 'I SHALL TAKE THEM OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF TH DAY, and let anyone with the power to object, come and object.'" In other words, Bnei Yisrael left Egypt not in the middle of the night, but in the middle of the day, on the 15th of Nissan.

[11] See at length in Rav bin-Nun's article, note 8 above. 

Translated by Kaeren Fish