"And if they shall bring a thanks offering . . . " We give
thanks for great miracles, such as being taken out of Egypt,
and for daily life. Are these the same thing?
"There are four [categories of] people who must give thanks:
those who go down to sea, and those who traverse the deserts,
those who are released from prison and a sick one who has
been healed. They must give thanks, as it is written, `They
shall thank Hashem for His kindness and they shall offer up
thanks offerings'" (Rashi quoting Chazal).
Only four types of people must give thanks? And no more? Is
not everyone obliged to thank Hashem for the miracles we
experience daily, and for His wonders and kindnesses towards
us at all times? Truly, we all recite the psalm of
thanksgiving Mizmor leSodah together in our daily
prayers. This is the psalm that represents the Thanks
Offering that was sacrificed in the Beis Hamikdosh. Everyone
says it, without exception, not only those four types
enumerated in the other psalm whose lives were in danger but
were spared. Everyone says it daily, whether he was
threatened in any way or not. "A psalm of thanks: Shout for
joy unto Hashem, the entire land." Why?
We find a similar situation in Parshas Vayeitzei. Leah
Imeinu was so overjoyed at the birth of her fourth son that
she exclaimed: "This time I will offer thanks to Hashem."
Only this time? Says Rashi: "Since I have taken more than my
share." [She knew that Yaakov was destined to produce twelve
tribes through four wives.] The natural question arises why
she had not been prompted to thank Hashem for her `due
portion,' that is, for the three sons she had already borne?
Was this `portion' something to be taken for granted,
something Hashem owed her, as it were? Is not everything a
kindness from Hashem, Who showers His goodness upon us at all
times, every single moment? What was her guarantee?
This time I shall thank Him (odeh) -- and she called
R' Meir Simcha gives us the key to the answer in his work
Meshech Chochmah. He quotes the saying of Chazal:
"Whoever recites the Hallel Hagodol every day is
considered a blasphemer." He then presents the statement of
Chazal that says: "Whoever recites Tehilla leDovid
(Ashrei) every day is guaranteed a goodly portion in the
World to Come." How are we to understand the distinction
between these two statements? Why is a daily Hallel
considered blasphemous, while an Ashrei is mandatory,
and to be praised and rewarded to such a vast degree? Is not
the content of both prayers identical in meaning? They are
both praise unto Hashem!
He replies: "Hashem created the world to operate in a natural
fashion, according to set rules which can be the vehicle for
untold blessing and happiness so long as man is cognizant
that nature is really divine Providence in disguise. These
general laws are applied in a very individual way to each
person, each living thing. Nature is no less than a
continuous chain of successive miracles which, because of
their regularity, inure a person to them to the point that
they become invisible.
To assure that a person will not err and forget the Creator,
Who governs, administers and supervises, and lest he think
that nature is self perpetuating, that it is separate from
the Creator, that the routine is well oiled to function
automatically -- Hashem occasionally performs miracles,
But these are, by far, not ends in and of themselves. These
are not meant to prove that He exists, but only to
occasionally remind a person that Hashem is There, that He
operates the world in the natural way through an active
Guiding Hand, all the time, that He is behind everything that
happens on earth.
Therefore, concludes the Meshech Chochmah, whoever
recites Hallel Hagodol every day (which enumerates the
overt miracles of the exodus from Egypt and similar events),
demonstrates his feeling that only outright wonders are
worthy of thanksgiving, whereas the natural course of things
is run separately, automatically, without the intervention or
ongoing supervision of the Creator, G-d forbid. Such an
outlook is certainly heretical.
On the other hand, someone who praises Hashem daily through
Ashrei, a psalm which speaks of the order of nature in
the world, is cognizant of Hashem's ongoing role as the
moving and determining Force in the world. Such a man
recognizes his Creator as constant Provider and is guaranteed
a good portion in the World to Come.
We see, thus, that there are distinctions in thanksgiving.
The normal course of life behooves us to thank Hashem, to be
sure, but in a general, overall manner. We cannot single out
one aspect or another lest this make the overall picture fall
short since it limits or modifies Hashem's kindness. What do
you mean by thanking Hashem for one lone aspect or act, when
every single breath a person takes obligates us to thank Him?
Everything in this world reflects Hashem's compassion,
Actually, any form of thanks must necessarily fall short
since it is restrictive. This and no more? As Dovid Hamelech
puts it, "Who preempted me that I should repay him?"
Hashem is the Source of all giving and our acknowledgement is
but a dim reflection of our true obligation; the very lips
that express the thanks are, after all, being vitalized and
activated by Hashem!
To offer thanks? Certainly. That is our obligation. But to
single out this aspect or that? No. Only when something is
extraordinary, like a portion beyond `expectation,' then
"This time shall I thank Hashem: And she called his name
To highlight a single act is required only when it is beyond
the expected norm, for then we clearly see that the kindness
is special and singular. An outstanding event is expressly
designed "to arouse the hearts of people over the wonders of
Hashem that occur in nature." Extraordinary events teach us
to view the ordinary ones as ongoing miracles, as well.
This principle governs the rules obligating the Thanks
Offering. Only four categories are included, and these entail
extraordinary events. It is clear that one cannot continually
bring Thanks Offerings for every kindness Hashem performs.
"With what shall I come before Hashem," says the prophet
Micha, "and bow myself before the high G-d? Will Hashem be
pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of
rivers of oil?"
If we begin to thank Hashem via thanks offerings for His
kindnesses, thousands of rams and rivers of oil will not
suffice. We pray, "We cannot suffice to thank You, Hashem,
for even one thousandth or ten thousandth part of the
bounties, miracles and wonders."
Only the four types whose lives were in danger and who
survived are obligated to thank Hashem, for they experienced
an outright miracle, and they must acknowledge this favor and
admit that nature, and the regular course of things is no
more than "consecutive miracles to which the eye of the
beholder becomes accustomed."
Nevertheless, a standard expression of thanks was established
in our daily prayers. Routine and all encompassing: " . . .
for Your miracles of every day, with us, and Your wonders and
Your favors at all times."
This is what we say in Modim: "We thank You and we
shall retell Your praises for Your miracles of every day with
us, and Your favors at all times, evening, morning and
afternoon." All in all, even we, with our limited intellect,
recognize and see this. It is certainly true that Hashem
performs numerous hidden miracles and great wonders of which
we are not even aware. Nevertheless, according to what is
explained in Yoma (that one should not recite
"hagibbor vehanora" unless he sees it tangibly), the
words we utter before Hashem must express things which we
experience in reality.
This is because what is considered a miracle, that is, a
supernatural occurrence, is something a person cannot help
acknowledging since it is clearly not a normal thing, while
what occurs in an ongoing manner, through a routine process
of cause and effect -- is what people refer to as nature.
Many people believe that this is the routine course of
events, a self-perpetuating cycle that simply runs on course.
The truth, of course, is that nature is no more than a chain
of miraculous events, and that even cause and effect are
consecutive miracles, a miracle within a miracle!
All daily events a person undergoes -- his successes,
experiences, his pleasure and pain, and all of his actions
and movements -- are governed by Heaven. In truth, he should
really praise Hashem for every single breath he takes!
(from Bircas Peretz: Parshas Eikev)