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The seventh Aliyah of this week’s Torah Portion of Re’eh is read outside of Israel on the last day of yom tov for Pesach, Shavuos and on Shemini Atzeres. Most of it discusses the shalosh regalim, these 3 holidays, but it starts off with the mitzvah of donating the firstborn domesticated animal to the Mikdash, the Holy Temple. What is the connection?
The Sforno answers that after the Torah enumerates different acts of kindness concerning grains with tithes for the poor, money with the mitzvah of annulling debts during shmita and tzedaka, and regarding other possessions through compensating Jewish slaves. Following this, the Torah discusses mitzvos that have to do with gratitude towards The Exalted and All Powerful Hashem, which include donating the firstborn, specifically for those who own cattle, in order to acknowledge that from His hand the cattle was given to us. The Holiday of Matzos (Pesach) is in order to acknowledge freedom through the sacrificial lamb and the matza, and the spring by waving the omer. The Holiday of Shavuos acknowledges “the appointed weeks of the harvest” (Yirmiyahu 5:24) which were guarded for us. Finally, the Holiday of Ingathering (Sukkos) is to acknowledge the ingathering of produce. For each one a gift is brought to The Master, as it says: “And they shall not appear before Hashem empty” (Devarim 16:16). For this reason it does not mention [here] which month and which day of the month but rather it mentions “the spring,” “the weeks,” and “the ingathering”. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The connection between the donation of the firstborn and the yom tovim is that they show acts of gratitude towards Hashem. But why does showing gratitude require a gift; especially giving to Hashem who doesn’t need it? Everything is His, there is nothing you are doing for Hashem by giving him an animal, grain, or fruit. So why isn’t verbal recognition, with proper, authentic, whole-heartfelt gratitude enough to express our thanks to Hashem for what he has given and done for us; especially since Hashem, The All Knowing can look into our hearts and tell whether we are genuine or not? Why does Hashem require of us to sacrifice so much money for the holidays, giving away our hard-earned firstborn animals, and first fruits at certain times, in addition to expecting us to kindly give away money to the poor, forgo debts every 7 years, and give some sort of compensation when a Jewish slave goes free, as well as any other acts of kindness Hashem expects of us?
We must say then that the mitzvah of giving for the sake of gratitude is for the sake of the giver; for themselves to actualize their gratitude. Literally, thanksgiving! By giving something as a means of showing thanks, it shows you really mean it. The action of self-sacrifice for the sake of acknowledging what Hashem has done for you means you actually have, and feel you have, to do something to express the gratitude one should be feeling and verbally expressing.
This actualizing of gratitude towards Hashem is what we should be feeling when we spend money for our matzos, sedarim, milchigs, floral decorations , lulav and esrog, and sukkahs, during the festivals in this day and age.. Without the performance of these mitzvos, it is as if we would be coming before Hashem empty handed.
This concept can logically be taken one step further, in that it should also be true when expressing gratitude towards other people. By giving something, the giving is more of an acknowledgement of thanks than a heartfelt verbal thank you (of course everything must be done within one’s means).
The act of giving is not only needed to show kindness but it is the preferred method of appreciation as well.