Thursday, April 16, 2020

A Psalm of Thanksgiving During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A regular part of our morning prayers is the recital of Psalm 100:
1 A Psalm of thanksgiving. Shout unto the LORD, all the earth.
2 Serve the LORD with gladness; come before His presence with singing.
3 Know ye that the LORD He is God; it is He that hath made us, and we are His, His people, and the flock of His pasture.
4 Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise; give thanks unto Him, and bless His name.
5 For the LORD is good; His mercy endureth for ever; and His faithfulness unto all generations.
This is a major theme in Judaism: to be thankful for what is, for the blessings you have received. This of course is diametrically opposed to those who are always complaining about what they lack, and are therefore in an almost constant state of depression to some degree. The thankful person lifts up the spirits of those close to him, while the chronic complainer is like air pollution to those who can see him or are in earshot.

Interestingly enough, during the seven days of Passover (and on the day before the holiday), Psalm 100 is not recited. The reason being is that part of the Thanksgiving Offering associated with this Psalm contains chametz, "leavened bread", which is forbidden to be consumed during this time:

And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace-offerings, which one may offer unto the LORD. If he offer it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the sacrifice of thanksgiving unleavened cakes mingled with oil, and unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes mingled with oil, of fine flour soaked. With cakes of leavened bread he shall present his offering with the sacrifice of his peace-offerings for thanksgiving. And of it he shall present one out of each offering for a gift unto the LORD; it shall be the priest's that dasheth the blood of the peace-offerings against the altar. And the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace-offerings for thanksgiving shall be eaten on the day of his offering; he shall not leave any of it until the morning.
But that does not mean that we refrain from being thankful. The opposite is true! Passover is the ultimate expression of thankfulness. It is during Passover that we remember God's kindness and mercy towards our nation, from the times of our forefathers, through the slavery in Egypt and the following redemption, His giving us the Torah and the land of Israel, up to the building of the Holy Temple. Even after the destruction of our Temple and the expulsion from the promised land, we are grateful that the Nation of Israel was able to survive against all odds dispersed around the globe.

Our generation has an even greater reason and obligation to be thankful than previous ones. We have merited to live in an era of renewed Jewish sovereignty in the land of our forefathers. Similarly we are witness to a generation where the Torah is being learned in perhaps unprecedented numbers.

We have to remember all this especially this year, when our feeling of being free men was somewhat cramped by the restrictions imposed upon us as a result of COVID-19. Yes, we really did miss celebrating the seder with our extended families. We would have loved to travel and enjoy Israel's beautiful flowering landscapes that come to life at this time of year. We certainly miss the throngs of Jews visiting the Old City of Jerusalem, giving us a taste of what the festival will be like when the Temple is finally rebuilt. The things we lack cannot stop us, and will not stop us, from serving God with joy.

"For the LORD is good; His mercy endureth for ever; and His faithfulness unto all generations."

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