Thanksgiving Torah

Thanksgiving Values—Dr. Seth Ward—Nov. 2016.

From time to time Thanksgiving has provided an opportunity to study various perspectives of Thanksgiving from Biblical and Jewish traditions. This brief study guide is adapted from my classes reading Hebrew and what I now call “Wyoming Union Torah Study. It looks at a few Psalm texts (Including Ps. 100 the “Thanksgiving Psalm.” The KJV translation of v. 1 is more famous than the one used here: “Make a joyful noise.” This sheet goes on to cover prayer texts, the biblical “Thanksgiving Offering,” and the Thanksgiving Blessing as it is constituted in post-Biblical Judaism. 

Originally just a source sheet or a source sheet with a few web links, it has been possible only to add a few comments—more complete commentary on these texts is certainly indicated! But the comments I’ve added are about what I can manage at present. I hope those interested in studying Torah in honor of Thanksgiving Day will find this useful!


Thanksgiving Psalm–Psalm 100 (with the JPS1917 translation) Mechon Mamre website

א  מִזְמוֹר לְתוֹדָה: הָרִיעוּ לַיהוָה, כָּל-הָאָרֶץ. 1 A Psalm of Thanksgiving. Shout unto the LORD, all the earth.
ב  עִבְדוּ אֶת-יְהוָה בְּשִׂמְחָה; בֹּאוּ לְפָנָיו, בִּרְנָנָה. 2 Serve the LORD with gladness; come before His presence with singing.
ג  דְּעוּ–    כִּי יְהוָה, הוּא אֱלֹהִים:
הוּא-עָשָׂנוּ, ולא (וְלוֹ) אֲנַחְנוּ–עַמּוֹ, וְצֹאן מַרְעִיתוֹ.
3 Know ye that the LORD He is God; {N} it is He that hath made us, and we are His, His people, and the flock of His pasture.
ד  בֹּאוּ שְׁעָרָיו, בְּתוֹדָה–חֲצֵרֹתָיו בִּתְהִלָּה; הוֹדוּ-לוֹ, בָּרְכוּ שְׁמוֹ. 4 Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise; give thanks unto Him, and bless His name.
ה  כִּי-טוֹב יְהוָה, לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ  וְעַד-דֹּר וָדֹר, אֱמוּנָתוֹ. 5 For the LORD is good; His mercy endureth for ever; and His faithfulness unto all generations. {P}

Some performances: settings by Janowsky:

Lewandowsky (apparently sung as originally published, in German, but I am not sure)  (S. Adler published an edition with the Hebrew text).

Leonard Bernstein, most of the 1st movement of Chichester Psalms is Ps. 100. beginning at about 1:19.

Ps. 118 (short selection) again from the Mechon Mamre website:

א  הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה כִּי-טוֹב:    כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ. 1 ‘O give thanks unto the LORD, for He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever.’
ב  יֹאמַר-נָא יִשְׂרָאֵל:    כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ. 2 So let Israel now say, for His mercy endureth for ever,
ג  יֹאמְרוּ-נָא בֵית-אַהֲרֹן:    כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ. 3 So let the house of Aaron now say, for His mercy endureth for ever.
ד  יֹאמְרוּ-נָא יִרְאֵי יְהוָה:    כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ. 4 So let them now that fear the LORD say, for His mercy endureth for ever.


T’filat Modim

מוֹדִים אֲנַחְנוּ לָךְ שֶׁאַתָּה הוּא ה’ אֱלֹהֵינוּ וֶאֱלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ לְעוֹלָם וָעֵד,
צוּרֵנוּ צוּר חַיֵּינוּ, מָגֵן יִּשְעֵנוּ אַתָּה הוּא לְדוֹר וַדוֹר.
נוֹדֶה לְךָ וּנְסַפֵּר תְּהִלָּתךָ עַל חַיֵּינוּ הַמְּסוּרִים בְּיָדְךָ
וְעַל נִשְׁמוֹתֵינוּ הַפְּקֻדּוֹת לָךְ,
וְעַל נִסֵיךָ שֶׁבְּכָל יוֹם עִמָנוּ,
וְעַל נִפְלְאוֹתֶיךָ וְטוֹבוֹתיךָ שֶׁבְּכָל עֵת, עֶרֶב וּבֹקֶר וְצָהֳרַיִם.
הַטּוֹב – כִּי לֹא כָּלוּ רַחֲמֶיךָ, וְהַמְּרַחֵם – כִּי לֹא תַּמּוּ חֲסָדֶיךָ, כִּי מֵעוֹלָם קִוִּינוּ לָךְ.

We thank you in that you are the LORD our God and the God of our ancestors for ever. Our Rock and Rock of our lives, the shield of our salvation are You for all generations. We give thanks to you and tell of Your praise over our lives that are bound to your hand, and our souls that are in your care, and on your miracles with us daily and your wonders and beneficence at all times, evening, morning, and noon. The All Good, for your mercies have not ceased, and the All Merciful, for we have always hoped in You.

This is hardly the only “thanksgiving” that is part of the daily prayer service. The Thanksgiving Psalm (Ps. 100) is included almost every weekday as well, for example. Psalm 118, a portion of which is given above, is part of Hallel, a Service of Praise recited on Hanukkah, Festivals, and Rosh Hodesh. We should not only ask for what we need—health, success etc.—but be grateful for what we’ve received. Most Jewish prayer books have a “thanksgiving blessing”—birkat ha-gomel—see below. And traditional prayerbooks include a chapter from Mishnah Zevahim about various characteristics of the Temple offerings, and of course the Thanksgiving Offering is found there as well. 


The תודה Todah Thanksgiving Offering is the first in the list of שלמים , shelamim, often translated as “fellowship” offerings.  These were clearly designed for personal or family celebrations with most of the offering consumed by those making the offering rather than completely burned or given to the priest.

The traditional understanding in Jewish texts — written down after the second Temple was destroyed– is that the Thanksgiving offering was made in recognition of various miracles, of surviving a journey by sea or through wilderness, being released from prison, or being cured of a dangerous illness– this reconstruction is based on Ps 107 21-22. If someone offers a Shelamim peace offering based on one of these occurrences it is a Thanksgiving offering and these rules apply.

Today there is no Qorban Todah (Thanksgiving Offering) and Jewish practice includes a short benediction recited within three days of an overseas journey, release from hospital etc. during the Torah reading. We will return to this in a moment.

The Biblical Todah offering–Leviticus 7:12ff.

“ ‘These are the regulations for the fellowship offering a person may present to the LORD:

12 “ ‘If he offers it as an expression of thankfulness, then along with this thank offering unction is based on he is to offer cakes of bread made without yeast and mixed with oil, wafers made without yeast and spread with oil, and cakes of fine flour well-kneaded and mixed with oil. 13 Along with his fellowship offering of thanksgiving he is to present an offering with cakes of bread made with yeast. 14 He is to bring one of each kind as an offering, a contribution to the LORD; it belongs to the priest who sprinkles the blood of the fellowship offerings. 15 The meat of his fellowship offering of thanksgiving must be eaten on the day it is offered; he must leave none of it till morning.

So we see four types of bread offerings! Rabbis ruled that there were ten of each type.

  1. Cakes of bread without yeast mixed with oil
  2. Cakes of fine flour mixed with oil
  3. Wafers without yeast
  4. Bread made with yeast.

    The first three are all basically different types of “matzah” although probably more like what we would make at home with a bread dough or cake dough or semolina, without yeast.

See also Lev. 22:29-30. (JPS 1917).

29 And when ye sacrifice a sacrifice of thanksgiving unto the LORD, ye shall sacrifice it that ye may be accepted. 30 On the same day it shall be eaten; ye shall leave none of it until the morning: I am the LORD.

  1. An interesting Catholic article.

English Wikipedia on Todah references an interesting piece that connects the Eucharist “thanksgiving” to the Todah offering. . (This is not an official Catholic website run by the Vatican or an archdiocese).

The author of this piece suggests that the Todah offering might be a model for the Eucharist, although he stops short of adopting it completely. And of course it is rejected by Christian liturgical practice, at least to the extent that Lev. 7 11ff. require *both* leavened and unleavened bread (actually four different types of bread). Catholics use a single type: unleavened, and Greeks use leavened, I am not aware of any Christian tradition that uses both. Nor do Christian traditions address the volume expected in the bread of the Thanksgiving offering.  Note that these observations may not be significant as Christian tradition generally is not particularly interested in this level of legal detail in Old Testament sources. It is noteworthy though–as the article notes–the archetypical offering of Christian worship is called Eucharist “Thanksgiving” in Catholic and Greek traditions.  Nevertheless, it may well be that “giving thanks” here is a references to what today Jews would call “saying the blessing” that begins Barukh atta… “Blessed are you….”, giving thanks to God for “bringing forth bread from the earth.”

Leavened bread is required for the Thanksgiving Offering, and for this reason, Ps. 100 “The Thanksgiving Psalm” is not recited on the morning before Passover or during Passover.

The rabbinic understanding of the Thanksgiving Offering also suggests that the celebrant prepared 40 loaves, ten of each type, with one of each type going to the Priests—but the rest, like the meat—to be consumed immediately. The Todah schedule involved limited time for consumption–and no leftovers “he shall not leave any of it for morning.”  (Unlike our Thanksgiving dinners today, that usually have plenty of leftovers.)  

One of the sources cited by this article is a passage in Pesiqta deRab Kahana, in which the Thanksgiving Offering is considered the only Offering that will persist in “the age to come” – presumably a reference to the reestablishment of Temple worship. This may either be contrasted with many rulings that the entire worship service of the Temple will be reconstituted, or be compared with similar discussions of the limited preservation or cancellation of various offerings and observances in “time to come.”

Pesiqta deRab Kahana, 9:12

here in a translation by the late Jacob Neusner (with Neusner’s assessment of how the Pesiqta d.r.Kahana understood Jeremiah 33:11.)


Hebrew text, end of Ch. 11,  p. 79a.


The blessing and response

The person giving thanks says: Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d, King of the universe, Who bestows kindness upon the culpable, for He has bestowed goodness to me.

Those who hear the blessing being said should answer Amen followed by: “May He who has bestowed beneficence upon you always bestow every beneficence upon you.” 

It is found in most prayer books.

Traditional sources advise that it is said by

  1. a) One who has crossed the ocean (an overseas flight travel, etc.)
  2. b) One who has crossed the desert
  3. c) One who recovered from a very serious illness
  4. d) One who was released from prison.

In many communities, women traditionally also say Birkat HaGomel after giving birth.

This is based on this Talmudic passage, which in turn is based on a passage in Ps. 107.

  1. Berakhot 54B

Rab Judah said in the name of Rab: There are four [classes of people] who have to offer thanksgiving: those who have crossed the sea, those who have traversed the wilderness, one who has recovered from an illness, and a prisoner who has been set free. Whence do we know this of those who cross the sea? — Because it is written, They that go down to the sea in ships … these saw the works of the Lord … He raised the stormy wind … they mounted up to the heaven, they went down to the deeps … they reeled to and fro and staggered like a drunken man … they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distresses. He made the storm a calm … then were they glad because they were quiet … Let them give thanks unto the Lord for His mercy, and for His wonderful works to the children of men.18  Whence for those who traverse the desert? — Because it is written: They wandered in the wilderness in a desert way; they found no city of habitation … Then they cried unto the Lord … and He led them by a straight way … Let them give thanks unto the Lord for His mercy.19  Whence for one who recovers from an illness? — Because it is written: Crazed because of the way of their transgressions and afflicted because of their iniquities, their soul abhorred all manner of food … They cried unto the Lord in their trouble. He sent His word unto them … Let them give thanks unto the Lord for His mercy.20  Whence for a prisoner who was set free? — Because it is written: Such as sat in darkness and in the shadow of death … Because they rebelled against the words of God … Therefore He humbled their heart with travail … They cried unto the Lord in their trouble … He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death … Let them give thanks unto the Lord for His mercy.21  What blessing should he say? Rab Judah said: ‘Blessed is He who bestows lovingkindnesses’. Abaye said: And he must utter his thanksgiving in the presence of ten, as it is written: Let them exalt Him in the assembly of the people.22  Mar Zutra said: And two of them must be rabbis, as it says, And praise Him in the seat of the elders.23  R. Ashi demurred to this: You might as well say [he remarked], that all should be rabbis! — Is it written, ‘In the assembly of elders’? It is written, ‘In the assembly of the people’! — Let us say then, in the presence of ten ordinary people and two rabbis [in addition]? — This is a difficulty.

אמר רב יהודה אמר רב ארבעה צריכין להודות יורדי הים הולכי מדברות ומי שהיה חולה ונתרפא ומי שהיה חבוש בבית האסורים ויצא יורדי הים מנלן דכתיב (תהלים קז, כג) יורדי הים באניות וגו’ המה ראו מעשי ה’ ואומר ויעמד רוח סערה יעלו שמים ירדו תהומות ואומר יחוגו וינועו כשכור ואומר ויצעקו אל ה’ בצר להם וממצוקותיהם יוציאם ואומר יקם סערה לדממה ואומר וישמחו כי ישתוקו ואומר יודו לה’ חסדו ונפלאותיו לבני אדם הולכי מדברות מנלן דכתיב תעו במדבר בישימון דרך עיר מושב לא מצאו ויצעקו אל ה’ וידריכם בדרך ישרה יודו לה’ חסדו מי שחלה ונתרפא דכתיב אוילים מדרך פשעם ומעונותיהם יתענו כל אוכל תתעב נפשם וגו’ ויזעקו אל ה’ בצר להם וגו’ ישלח דברו וירפאם וגו’ יודו לה’ חסדו מי שהיה חבוש בבית האסורין מנלן דכתיב יושבי חשך וצלמות וגו’ כי המרו אמרי אל וגו’ ואומר ויכנע בעמל לבם וגו’ ואומר ויזעקו אל ה’ בצר להם ואומר יוציאם מחשך וצלמות וגו’ ואומר יודו לה’ חסדו מאי מברך אמר רב יהודה ברוך גומל חסדים טובים אביי אמר וצריך לאודויי קמי עשרה דכתיב (תהלים קז, לב) וירוממוהו בקהל עם וגו’ מר זוטרא אמר ותרין מינייהו רבנן שנאמר (תהלים קז, לב) ובמושב זקנים יהללוהו מתקיף לה רב אשי ואימא כולהו רבנן מי כתיב בקהל זקנים בקהל עם כתיב ואימא בי עשרה שאר עמא ותרי רבנן קשיא רב יהודה חלש ואתפח על לגביה רב חנא בגדתאה ורבנן אמרי ליה בריך רחמנא דיהבך ניהלן ולא יהבך לעפרא אמר להו פטרתון יתי מלאודויי והא אמר אביי בעי אודויי באפי עשרה דהוו בי עשרה והא איהו לא קא מודה לא צריך דעני בתרייהו אמן: (if you look at this, scroll down towards the bottom of 54b).

The references in the Soncino translation edition online (from note 18 in the original) are
18. Ps, CVII, 23-31.
19. Ibid. 4-8.
20. Ibid. 17-21.
21. Ibid. 10-15.
22.Ibid. 32.
23. Ibid.

The formula used today is not exactly the one in the Talmudic passage. Many of the discussions I found on the internet were “not for beginners”—but the Chabad discussion is relatively easy to understand: The pronunciation of Hebrew used by Chabad is eastern European traditional (Tav with no dagesh is pronounced “s” etc.) – not modern standard (Israeli) Hebrew. The formula is found on many placards with the Torah blessings, as it is traditional to recite it when called to the Torah.

HAKARAT HATOV “recognizing beneficence” and other thanksgiving

Before leaving the topic of Thanksgiving, the related ideas of recognizing beneficence, of contentment with what he have been given, of being thankful for the bad as well as the good. A full discussion would include some additional perspectives from the blessings Shehecheyanu and Ha-Tov vehametiv and many other sources, but only a few ideas are possible here.

Avot 4:1

“Who is rich?” and then answers, “Those who rejoice in their own lot.”

Rabbi Salanter drinks coffee, understands a basic principle of Judaism. 

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (1810-1883) once noticed that a fancy restaurant was charging a huge price for a cup of coffee. He approached the owner and asked why the coffee was so expensive. After all, some hot water, a few coffee beans and a spoonful of sugar could not amount to more than a few cents.

The owner replied: “It is correct that for a few cents you could have coffee in your own home. But here in the restaurant, we provide exquisite decor, soft background music, professional waiters, and the finest china to serve your cup of coffee.”

Rabbi Salanter’s face lit up. “Oh, thank you very much! I now understand the blessing of Shehakol — ‘All was created by His word’ — which we recite before drinking water. You see, until now, when I recited this blessing, I had in mind only that I am thanking the Creator for the water that He created. Now I understand the blessing much better. ‘All’ includes not merely the water, but also the fresh air that we breathe while drinking the water, the beautiful world around us, the music of the birds that entertain us and exalt our spirits, each with its different voice, the charming flowers with their splendid colors and marvelous hues, the fresh breeze — for all this we have to thank God when drinking our water!”

Hakarat Ha-Tov and Moses

Moses did not start the plague of the Nile because he was saved in the Nile.
Jethro scolded his daughters for not inviting Moses to dine with them.

Thankful for the Bad

The blessing “Barukh Dayan Ha-Emet” “blessed is the Judge of Truth” is said after the death of a loved one, and according to some, when hearing various other tragic news reports. We are required to be thankful for the good and the bad!

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One Response to Thanksgiving Torah

  1. Laurie Richmond says:

    May I arrive speedily to the day that I may say in truth Barukh Dayan Ha-Emet with a heart of thanksgiving for the bad. As of yet, I still cannot say it in complete sincerity. Thank you, Dr. Ward, as always, for this excellent teaching.

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