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7 Nissan 5760 - April 12, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Giving Thanks for Great Miracles and for Daily Life

by L. Jungerman

"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 him Yehuda.

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, extraordinary events.

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, kindness, grace.

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 `Yehuda'."

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)

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