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Using Up Merits

Tzav (Leviticus 6-8 )

by Rabbi Ozer Alport

"V'zot torat zevach hashelamim asher yakriv Lashem im al today yakrivenu." (Lev. 7:11-12) Parshas Tzav contains the laws governing the Korban Todah (Thanksgiving Offering). The Talmud (Berachos 54b) rules that a Korban Todah is brought by four groups of people to express their gratitude to God for being saved from potential danger. In the absence of the Temple, they instead publicly recite a blessing known as Birkas HaGomel.

It is curious to note that after hearing somebody make a blessing we answer simply, "Amen," with one exception. After hearing a person say Birkas HaGomel, we respond, "Omein, mi shagamalcha kol tov Hu yigamelcha ko tov selah" - "He who has bestowed upon you all good should continue to bestow upon you all good." As this lengthy response is found nowhere else, it clearly needs an explanation.

In his introduction, the Shalmei Nedorim offers a beautiful insight based on a fascinating episode related by the Talmud (Shabbos 53b). The wife of a poor man passed away shortly after giving birth. The pauper lacked the means to hire a nurse-maid for his newborn, but the baby's life was saved when the man's body miraculously became capable of nursing the baby.

The Amora Rav Yosef praised the man, saying that he must have had great merits to have brought about such an open miracle. Abaye, on the other hand, remarked how lowly he must have been for needing a miracle performed on his behalf. The Shalmei Nedorim explains that Abaye's intent was not to say that the man was wicked. After all, he merited an extraordinary miracle to save his child's life. Rather, Abaye was lamenting that the miracle used up so many of his merits (see Rashi Bereishis 32:11).

In light of this insight, he explains that Birkas HaGomel is recited after a person has been saved from potential danger. While we are happy that he survived, we are also afraid that it may have come at the expense of his accumulated merits. As a result, a simple "Amen" won't suffice, and we add a special supplication requesting that his good fortune should continue and not be depleted through this miracle.

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The Torah teaches (Leviticus 6:21) that an earthenware vessel in which a sacrifice has been cooked must be broken. Rashi explains that this is because particles from the sacrifice become embedded in the walls of the earthenware. After the passage of one day and one night, the taste of those particles, which would enter any offering subsequently cooked inside of the vessel, legally becomes "nosar" and is forbidden.

Tosefos in Avodah Zara (76a) points out that this explanation is difficult to understand. Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam both maintain that after the passage of one night, the taste of food absorbed in a utensil goes bad and is Biblically permitted in consumption. If so, why does the Torah require the earthenware vessels to be broken?

Rabbi Yosef Shaul Nathanson brilliantly answers this question based on a Mishnah in Avos (5:5). The Mishnah relates that one of the ten miracles which occurred in the Holy Temple was that the meat of the sacrifices never spoiled. As a result, the particles which remained overnight in the walls of the earthenware vessel became "nosar," and their consumption was prohibited. Because the Mishnah teaches that the taste was miraculously retained without spoiling, it caused anything cooked inside to become Biblically forbidden, and there was no choice but to break it.

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