"If it is offered as a thanksgiving offering…" (Levit. 7:12)

Four are required to bring a thanksgiving offering to the holy Temple (today, to recite the Gomel blessing): (see also Psalm 107)

  • One who safely crosses the sea
  • One who recovers from possibly life-threatening illness
  • One who is released from prison
  • One who safely crosses the desert

In Hebrew, the word for "give thanks"—l’hodot--also means "to acknowledge." In this context, each of these four situations reflects a specific spiritual danger.

  • "The sea" refers to chochma, for the vast expanse of Divine wisdom is called a "sea." (Kehilat Yaakov, s.v. Yam) The experience of Divine insight carries with it the danger of "drowning" in the experience, thereby forgetting to process it in the intellect so that it can eventually affect and remake the emotions.
  • "A patient" refers to bina. The numerical value of the word for "patient" (חולה) is 49, alluding to a person who perceives 49 of the 50 "gates of understanding," and is thereby "lovesick" for the 50th gate.
  • The orderly development of the midot from the intellect can be blocked if we lack sufficient da’at. Da’at reveals the relevance of the intellect to our lives, thereby enabling us to experience an emotional reaction to what we know intellectually. The passageway connecting the intellect, located in the head, with the emotions, located in the heart, is reflected physically by the narrowness of the throat. The "prisoner" refers to the midot when they are trapped, so to speak, in the throat, and are blocked from manifesting themselves in the heart. (Torah Ohr 58b) Malchut comprises our faculties of expression, which, when properly inspired, can inspire others. In the words of the sages, "Words that issue from the heart [of the speaker] enter the heart [of the listener]."1 When our faculties of expression are superficial, not rooted in our hearts, they are "barren," and do not bear fruit. Such emasculated expression is symbolized by the barrenness of the desert.

Accordingly, these four situations encompass the entire spectrum of the sefirot, as well as the corresponding facets of the human soul. If we survive or recover from all four of these dangers — by not drowning in the sea of chochma, by progressing to the 50th gate of understanding, by manifesting the emotions born of our intellect, and by communicating our inspiration to others—we thereby rectify our entire complement of soul-powers.

Yet, even after completing our full self-rectification, we must still acknowledge that God’s infinity transcends our capability to conceive, and that therefore remain before us an infinite number of rungs on the ladder of spiritual ascent.

Adapted from Reshimot (of the Lubavitcher Rebbe) No. 11, pp. 5-7

Reprinted with permission of Chabad of California.