Every year, Jews in America join the rest of the nation in celebrating national Thanksgiving, on the last Thursday in November. However, we Jews have our own “thanksgiving” festival, it is called Pesach!
On a regular (non-leap) year, Pesach is always preceded by parshat Tzav, (my bar mitzvah parsha). The Tur says that whenever there is a festival during the week, it is hinted at in the parsha that precedes it. It is not hard to find the hint in this week’s parsha.
“And this is the law of the Peace Offering. If he brings it as part of a Toda (Thanksgiving) Offering, in addition to the animal sacrifice, he will offer Challot Matzah (matzah loaves) mixed with oil, Rekikim Matzah (matzah wafers) spread with oil and Murbechet Matzah (loaves that are boiled, baked and fried) with oil. In addition to the above, he will bring Chametz loaves. (Vayikra 7, 11-13).
Everyone knows that Pesach has its own special sacrifice – the Pascal Lamb. However, there is a second sacrifice that is integral to Pesach and that is the Toda Offering.
The Gemara (Brachot 54b) lists the four categories of people who are obliged to bring a Toda Offering. The common denominator between all these categories is that the person was in some kind of danger, from which they emerged safely – a miracle. To thank HKB”H for this miracle, they are obliged to offer a Toda. The first category is someone who returned safely from a sea voyage. The second is someone who returned safely from a journey in the desert. The third is someone who was critically ill and recovered from their illness. The final, fourth category is someone who was imprisoned and set free.
Usually, a Toda is offered by a person who fits one of the categories above. It is very rare that someone fits all four categories. There was perhaps only one instance in history when this occurred and this is when Am Yisrael left Egypt in the Exodus. We successfully crossed over (through) the (Red) sea and emerged safely on the other side. We journeyed for forty years in the desert and safely arrived in Eretz Yisrael. Before receiving the Torah HKB”H fed us Manna and water from the Well of Miriam that cured all our afflictions incurred during our slavery in Egypt. Finally, we were freed from bondage in Egypt (not necessarily in that order).
Not surprisingly therefore, in addition to bringing the Pascal Lamb offering to recall the night prior to our Exodus, we also are obliged to offer a Toda Offering. Since we have not yet merited the rebuilding of the 3rd Beit HaMikdash, we instead conduct a Pesach Seder in which we re-enact these offerings symbolically. The entire Pesach Seder is structured around elements of both these sacrifices.
Here are some examples.
At the beginning of the Seder, in the Four Questions, the youngest member of the family asks “On every other night we eat chametz together with matzah. On this night it is only matzah!” People mistakenly interpret this question at a simplistic level, that during the year we are allowed to eat both chametz and matzah foods, but on Pesach we are not allowed to eat chametz. In fact the question is much deeper – the son asking the questions is a Talmid Chacham, a learned son. The real question he is asking is why, unlike every other time a Toda is offered – together with chametz loaves, tonight’s Toda is missing the chametz loaves! The learned son sees the three matzos on the table, symbolic of the three types of matzos in the Toda, but he does not see the chametz loaves.
Has anyone wondered why after the four questions are asked, we do not give answers? Some of the answers are to be found in the continuation of the Haggadah, but this specific one only gets a partial answer. We do not eat chametz loaves because of the general prohibition of eating chametz on Pesach (for the various reasons). So how can this be considered a Toda Offering, if the chametz loaves are absent? The answer is that Pesach does not end after seven days – it really ends after fifty days, when we celebrate Shavuot. Shavuot is called Atzeret in the Torah and just like Shmini Atzeret is the culmination of the festival of Sukkot, this Atzeret is the culmination of the festival of Pesach. On Shavuot we bring a special sacrifice – the Two Loaves Offering, consisting of two chametz breads, which complete the Toda Offering begun on Pesach.
The three types of matzos in the Toda Offering all have oil included, but in different ways. The Challat Matzah (a large “pita” type loaf) has oil mixed in the dough before baking. The Rekik (thin, flat, “wafer” like matzos – similar to round, hand-made Pesach matzos) has oil spread over it after baking. The Murbechet (also a large “pita” type loaf) absorbs oil during frying. The element of oil in these matzos symbolizes holiness of various degrees. Rebi Chaim of Volozhin explains the reason behind the various incorporations of oil, that these three matzos, together with the chametz loaf, represent the Four Types of Sons in the Hagaddah.
The Maharsha says we drink four cups of wine in memory of the four types of bread in the Toda Offering.
And the list continues. In fact, each of these requires an entire shiur on its own, to fully understand the significance and the connection between the Toda Offering and the elements of the Pesach Seder. Suffice it to say that the Pesach Seder is a celebration of gratitude. It is our national day of Thanksgiving to HKB”H for freeing our forefathers from bondage in Egypt, but also a continual celebration and expression of gratitude for all the daily miracles we experience in our lives.
Chag Kasher ve’Sameach!