We’ve spent a lot of time looking at Hallel, as part of the concept of הלל והודאה. I want to look at two perakim of תהילים that are specifically about the physical expression of הודאה, the קרבן תודה. The first is תהילים ק, which is titled מזמור לתודה, and was the שיר sung when a קרבן תודה was brought:
The second is תהילים קז, which starts like a “Hallel”: הדו לה׳ כי טוב; כי לעולם חסדו׃ but is actually a long list of situations when a קרבן תודה is brought. The refrain is ויזעקו אל ה׳ בצר להם; ממצקותיהם יושיעם׃ and then יודו לה׳ חסדו; ונפלאותיו לבני אדם׃
ויזבחו זבחי תודה; ויספרו מעשיו ברנה׃. It’s where we get the laws of ברכת גומל today.
So what is a קרבן תודה? It is a kind of שלמים, brought to the בית המקדש but eaten by the owners:
We’ve talked many times about the קרבן שלמים: it is not a sacrifice but a barbecue. Only the inedible חלב is offered on the מזבח; the meat is eaten by the בעל, the כהן, and by the entire community. It is a חילול ה׳ to save the meat and not offer it to others (there’s no way one person, or even one family, can eat an entire cow in a single day). That is why זבחי תודה are connected to ויספרו מעשיו ברנה. I need to tell the story, over and over again, of how ה׳ saved me, what I am bringing this זבח for.
And that leads to a fascinating midrash:
Rav Nahum Rabinovitch explains this based on the gemara:
In the עתיד לבא, we will have a much better understanding of the nature of הקב״ה, which will only serve to emphasize how much we don’t understand, to the point that we will realize that we can never praise ה׳. But gratitude is different. The more we realize ה׳'s role in our lives, the more we will express that gratitude.
The קרבן תודה is similar. When the midrash talks of הַקָּרְבָּנוֹת בְּטֵלִין, it is talking about private קרבנות. When we get to a point of דרגה מעולה של ידיעת ה׳, we will not need to bring קרבנות.
כולו הטוב והמיטיב is a reference to the gemara that says that לעתיד לבא, we will understand ה׳'s role in the world and His goodness in all that He does, and we will appreciate even the apparently negative things in life:
So our goal for the world is to be left with only one form of prayer and one form of קרבן, the תודה. And that is why we stand for מזמור לתודה in פסוקי דזימרא:
With that, let’s look at תהילים ק, the psalm of the thanksgiving offering.
The good news is that it is short, so it should be easy to analyze. The bad news is that it is short, so despite its importance (we stand when we say it), we mumble it quickly and never pay attention to the words. The other bad news is that it isn’t actually easy to analyze; being short just means it is being poetic and ambiguous. Rav Elchanan Samet has a 15 page essay on these 5 psukim.
We won’t spend that much time on it. But it’s importance is highlighted by its authorship: it dates back to Moshe himself:
(I think that דברי נבואה shouldn’t be taken literally; ספר תהילים is in כתובים. Moshe sometimes writes ברוח הקרש, not at the level באספקלריא המאירה.)
These are the eleven:
תפלה למשה איש האלקים
ישב בסתר עליון
מזמור שיר ליום השבת
ה׳ מלך גאות לבש
א־ל נקמות ה׳
לכו נרננה לה׳
שירו לה׳ שיר חדש
ה׳ מלך תגל הארץ
מזמור שירו לה׳ שיר חדש
ה׳ מלך ירגזו עמים
So our מזמור לתודה (at least in some prototypical form) goes back to the time of the משכן.
The perek itself is a chiasm: it starts with a call to all people, הריעו לה׳ כל הארץ and ends with the common refrain, כי טוב ה׳ לעולם חסדו; ועד דר ודר אמונתו. That’s not the קרבן; that’s the verbal praise.
The next line is עבדו את ה׳ בשמחה; באו לפניו ברננה which again, is non-specific. The corresponding second-to-last line is specific: באו שעריו בתודה חצרתיו בתהלה; הודו לו ברכו שמו. Here we have the קרבן along with the verbal praise.
The reason for the change is in the middle section. We go from דעו כי ה׳ הוא אלקים, a universal, intellectual relationship with הקב״ה, to עמו וצאן מרעיתו: we, the Jewish people, are G-d’s people.
The volta is the ambiguous center line: הוא עשנו ולא אנחנו, the כתיב, is a statement about creation. ה׳ created the world and therefore we need to serve Him. הוא עשנו ולו אנחנו, the קריא, is about relationship. ה׳ not only created us but made us His people. That is why the שלמים is a form of עבודה. It’s not about the sacrifice; it’s about sharing a meal, as it were, with הקב״ה. The idea of שלמים was an innovation:
And that is reflected in our perek. The first half is addressed to the world, “serve G-d”. The second half is addressed to עם ישראל and adds “join Him in this holy meal”.
It is only when we have a personal relationship with הקב״ה that the קרבן שלמים makes any sense.
So why have the first, universal, half, if the perek is meant to be a מזמור לתודה? Because our goal is that, through the invitation to join the תודה and the הודו לו ברכו שמו that accompanies it, the entire world will come to acknowlege ה׳.
Maybe I should say תהילים ק with more כוונה.
The other psalm of the קרבן תודה is תהילים קז. That perek is the beginning of book five of תהילים; the previous perek ends with a coda:
And book five is the real “siddur” of the בית המקדש; it includes all three of the “Hallel”s along with all the שיר המעלות‘s. Our perek is the introduction to that siddur; it describes those who have to offer thanks and praise to הקב״ה. It’s a long perek, that has four parts: a short introduction; the bulk of the perek that describes four individuals who are saved and have to offer הודאה; a description ה׳’s power over entire nations, when the community has to offer הודאה; then a short conclusion.
The introduction is about praising ה׳ for redeeming Israel and gathering them from exile:
It looks like the pasuk is trying to say that ה׳ gathers them from all four corners of the earth: east, west, north and west. What does that mean? The Koren translation cheats:
But יָם doesn’t mean south; it means west. The Targum takes a similar tack:
But the major sea, from the point of view of ארץ ישראל, is in the west. Why mention the Red Sea? Most מפרשים argue that ממזרח וממערב מצפון are directions; ממזרח וממערב is a merism for the entire world:
We see this often in תנ״ך:
And according to Ibn Ezra, north is another populated area, but the land south of Israel is not. ים means literally “the sea”, referring to those lost at sea (which is one of the groups that have to offer a תודה:
I don’t like that. There are plenty of people living south of Israel, and why single out those lost at sea? There are three other groups that are mentioned in this perek.
So I will propose my own explanation. ממזרח וממערב means “from one end of the earth to the other”, as we’ve said. The expression מצפון ומים is its own phrase, an idiom that occurs elsewhere in תנ״ך:
And I remembered my Asimov, that “the ends of the earth” can mean different things:
So ומארצות קבצם…מצפון ומים also means "gathered from one [cultural] end of the earth to the other.
And that vision, of קיבוץ גלויות, is why this perek has been adopted as the “שיר של יום” for יום העצמאות:
The perek then switches from the salvation of the people as a whole, to individuals. The gemara learns many details of the halachot of הודאה from this perek:
When we look at the four cases, they all have a similar structure: 2 to 4 psukim describing their plight, one pasuk describing their prayer, 1 to 2 psukim describing how they were saved, and 2 psukim describing their תודה. But each has different details; for instance, one case has בקהל עם ובמושב זקנים, another has another has ויזבחו זבחי תודה.
The halachic assumption here is not that the cases are distinct, with different halachot for different kinds of salvation, but that they are all the same. The poetic variation emphasizes that ה׳ can save in many different ways. Sometimes His hand is obvious; sometimes it is hidden. And our inclination to respond to that salvation manifests in different ways. It is the role of the halacha to give a consistent structure to that feeling.
So let’s look at the four cases. The first is הולכי מדברות:
The perek starts with those lost in the wilderness, then those imprisioned, then the ill and those lost at sea. The gemara has a different order: יורדי הים, הולכי מדברות, ומי שהיה חולה ונתרפא, ומי שהיה חבוש בבית האסורים ויצא. Some are bothered by that. The בן איש חי says that the gemara is emphasizing the transition from large groups to the individual:
The next case is מי שהיה חבוש בבית האסורים ויצא:
The new twist is that now there is a reason for their trouble: they were punished כי המרו אמרי א־ל; ועצת עליון נאצו. Even so, they need to express gratitude for being saved, יודו לה׳ חסדו; ונפלאותיו לבני אדם.
The next case, מי שהיה חולה ונתרפא, also says that they deserved their fate:
The next case, יורדי הים, is unique. It’s longer, as the description of their plight starts with the backstory (they are עשי מלאכה במים רבים) and they start admiring ה׳'s handiwork, ראו מעשי ה׳; ונפלאותיו במצולה. But despite this positive description, ה׳ still brings the storm that threatens them: ויאמר ויעמד רוח סערה. Life is like that sometimes; we think we’re doing everything right but everything goes wrong. And we still need to express our gratitude.
And there’s another thing that makes this section unique: it’s marked by a series of inverted ׆'s.
No one knows why those marks are there; they are present only in one other place, in פרשת בהעלותך:
In that case, the gemara discusses the reason:
We’ve discussed why this section of ספר במדבר is out of place, אין זה מקומה. But how do we explain this section? Why is it “out of place”?
No one, in my opinion, has a good answer. However, Sforno has an interesting suggestion. He points out that the “wandering in the wilderness” sounds familiar:
And the next two can also be connected to יציאת מצרים:
But יורדי הים באניות doesn’t fit. So Sforno says it is a reference to the future, to the גלות promised in the תוכחה:
And it is “out of place” because it hints at a גאולה that hasn’t happened yet: וינחם אל מחוז חפצם. And when that happens, we will be able to say, וירוממוהו בקהל עם.
That serves as a segue to the next section, which talks about ה׳'s providence over countries, causing drought or bringing rain and prosperity:
And that ties back to the beginning, and the גאולה that starts with קיבוץ גלויות and continues with making the deserts bloom:
And the perek ends with the lesson of the קרבן תודה: we publicly celebrate ה׳'s providence, so that others join us and learn from us:
And that is true for our national salvation as well.