This week’s Torah portion of Tzav concludes the categories of personal offerings that were brought on the alter. The last offerings discussed were the korban shelamim, the peace offering which includes the korban todah, the thanksgiving offering.
The Medrish Tanchuma (Parshas Tzav, paragraph 4)
records an interesting discussion between Bilaam, the non-Jewish prophet, and the nations of the world. The nations of the world were jealous of the Jewish people, who were allowed to bring a peace offering, while all the other nations were only allowed to bring burnt offerings to Hashem: “Another interpretation of ‘And this is the laws of the peace offering;’ This is what the verse in Tehillim chapter 85, verse 9 is referring to when it says: ‘I will listen to what the Lord, Hashem is telling, for he is speaking peace with his nation and with his righteous.’ The nations of the world said to Bilaam: ‘Why did G-D tell the Jews to bring sacrifices but not us?’ Bilaam replied to them: ‘The offerings are only for peace and those who accepted the Torah which writes about it, must bring sacrifices. You originally invalidated it [you did not want to accept the Torah] and now you are requesting to bring offerings?’ The one who accepted it brings the offerings as it says ‘Hashem gives strength to his nation, Hashem blesses His nation with peace’ (the last pasuk in Tehillim, chapter 29). That is why [the earlier quoted pasuk] says:‘I will listen to what The Lord tells…’ What does he tell? ‘And this is the laws of the peace offering.’ Why is it called a peace offering? Because it makes peace between the alter, the kohanim, and the rest of the Jews. How? The burnt offering does not have peace written by it. Neither does the sin offering or the guilt offering, only the thanksgiving offering [which is a subcategory of the peace offering]. Come and see, the burnt offering is completely burned in the fire. By the sin offering the blood and limbs are burned on the alter and it’s skins and meat are given to the kohen. But the yisrael did not get any benefit, nor by the guilt offering. But by the thanksgiving offering the blood and limbs went onto the alter, the kohanim received the cheek bone and thigh areas, and the yisrael kept the skins and meat. We find that it made peace between the alter, kohanim, and the yisrael; therefore it is called the peace offering, for it makes peace between everyone.”
The Etz Yosef explains this medrash as follows: “[Hashem’s] intention is to give the peace offering which makes peace in the world as a kindness only to His nation. For this reason the nations were jealous that they were not allowed to bring a peace offering like the Jews. Bilaam told them the reason which is because there is only peace for the Jews who accepted the Torah which is a Torah of kindness, as it is written, ‘and the Torah of kindness on the tongue,’ but the other nations of the world who did not accepted the Torah are treated with strict judgement, with G-D’s name of Elokim… And even though the Torah does allow non-Jews to bring sacrifices those are only burnt offerings not peace offerings as mentioned in a gemara in Menachos.” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)
The Midah [attribute] of peace is one of the most important Middos in the world. Every day we pray for peace in kaddish, when we take our steps back in shemone esray, as well asat the end of birkas hamazon when we say: “He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace upon us, and upon Israel.” The Maalos HaMiddos
in his chapter on peace says that peace is one of the loftiest attributes, for one of the names of Hashem is ‘Shalom,’ as it says in Shoftim 6:24: “And he called to Him, Hashem Shalom.” The Maalos HaMiddos recounts that peace is so important that the Torah even changed the words of conversations by Sarah and Yosef for the sake of peace. The gemara in Yevamos 65b says: one can switch his words for the sake of peace. G-D’s Holy name is burnt for the Sotah waters for the sake of peace between husband and wife. The last paragraph in shemone esray asks for peace, and the concluding blessing of birkas kohanim is: “And He shall place peace upon you.” The gemara in Berachos 17a even says one should be quick to greet another even non-Jews for the sake of peace. No one greeted Rabban Yochanan ben Zachkai with shalom, before he greeted them, even non-Jewish people in the marketplace. Even the dead need peace, as it says in Yeshaya 57:2: “May shalom come and he will rest in his resting place.” (This might very well be where the expression R.I.P – Rest in Peace comes from). There is also a mitzvah of making entreaties of peace before going to war against an enemy nation.
If peace is such a lofty attribute, and so central for the existence of everything in the universe, then why doesn’t Hashem allow the nations of the world to bring peace-offerings? Why make them jealous of the Jewish people? Why not give them an equal chance to serve Him if they really want to? Why is it fair that only the Jews are given an opportunity to make peace with Hashem, and everyone else is left out? If peace and unity is so important, everyone should have an equal opportunity no matter their background, no matter what position they are coming from?
We see from here that true Divine Peace is a privilege, not aright. It has to be earned; there are strings attached. It is not an inherent, automatic right for every human being.
Pesach is upon us. Pesach commemorates the time when we became a nation, when we left Egypt. Hashem took us as his children and servants, and he became our personal Father and King. We then earned the right to be separate and special from the rest of the world, when in unity we accepted the Torah at Har Sinai. But this was not before Hashem went to every nation and offered them the Torah, and they rejected it. One might say: it is not fare;why wouldn’t the Jewish people accept Hashem’s Torah? Hhe just saved them from slavery!? However, this was not the beginning of when we earned our special relationship with Hashem. It dates back to Avraham Avinu, the first Jew, and the first person to recognize Hashem’s existence all by himself. He earned the right for his descendants to be Hashem’s holy and intimate nation, as Hashem promised him. No one else came to that realization. No wonder we are the only people allowed to sacrifice the peace offering to Hashem!
May we take this as a lesson on Pesach: to appreciate our roots, where we came from, who we really are and what we can be: a priestly nation, a nation of princes. Not slaves of Pharaoh, but servants of Hashem! We should feel proud of who we are, and use that pride as an impetus to serve Hashem in the proper manner.