In this week’s Torah portion, Tzav (Leviticus 6:1-8:36), we read that of all the sacrifices, why must the one that offers gratitude be eaten that day? Why no leftovers?
Why no leftovers? Amid the details in Leviticus, certain words allow us to look deeper into the understandings of the sacrifice. One such glimpse is offered in chapter 7, verse 15. The thanksgiving offering “shall be eaten on the day that it is offered; none of it shall be set aside until morning.” Of all the reasons for sacrifice (burnt, meal, sin, guilt and thanksgiving), why must the one that offers thanks be eaten that day? Why no leftovers?
The medieval commentator, Abravanel (1407-1508), suggests that since the sacrifice entails a lot of food – not only an animal but four types of bread, and 10 breads of each type, 40 loaves in all, one person could not possibly consume it. Therefore, others will join. Thus it will be a public celebration – and the miracle that occasioned the sacrifice will be publicized.
This is the lesson of “gratitude contagion.” When we hear about someone’s good fortune and see that they are genuinely grateful, it helps us be grateful as well. Perhaps something similar has happened in our lives, and we did not think to feel about it as our friend has. Public thanks attune us to God’s goodness.
Modern rabbis have another answer that touches on gratitude contagion. It is deduced that to eat the entire sacrifice in one day suggests full confidence that there will be more the next day. And this is what one should feel about miracles in general. The thanksgiving offering is given for one who has escaped some danger, for example, or perhaps illness, and we learn that miracles are not a single, unrepeatable event. They are the very foundation of our lives. As we say in the daily worship prayers, “for your miracles which are daily with us.” By finishing the meal, we declare that we know more miracles will come.
When studying these and other responses, I remembered the well-known teaching of Jewish parents everywhere. When children left food on the plate, we were invariably reminded of people who did not have enough. “Clean your plate” may have been unhealthy advice, but it was morally significant. It meant that by finishing what you had, you recognized that others were in need.
Completing the sacrifice in one day may be a reminder of this truth. Cleaning your plate concludes the act of gratitude, for you realize that not everyone has cause to be so grateful at this moment. Gratitude is not just appreciation, but accountability. Don’t leave it for tomorrow – be both grateful and enterprising today.