Shaya Cohen -


Institutionalizing Gratitude

Three times in the Torah, man is saved by a miraculous deliverance, and he bows in appreciation to G-d. A very specific word, kod is used, each of those three times. And three times the Torah uses this very same word kod to describe the eternal fire of the altar. The end result is a connection between the fire of the altar to gratitude for divine deliverance.

Here are the first three:

Avraham has sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac. The servant comes to the right general geographic area, and prays for a very specific outcome:

Here I stand by the spring as the daughters of the townspeople come out to draw water; Let the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please, lower your jar that I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels’—let her be the one whom You have decreed for Your servant Isaac. Thereby shall I know that You have dealt graciously with my master.”

Somehow the deeply unlikely happens, and the mission is successful! The servant

Kod and bowed to G-d, and said, “Blessed be G-d, the G-d of my master Abraham’s [house], who has not withheld steadfast faithfulness from my master. For I have been guided on my errand by G-d, to the house of my master’s kin.”

His prayer was answered, and he is the first person in the Torah who is described using this verb, kod. But it also happens two more times!

When G-d is explaining to the people how they should remember the Exodus – before it happens! – Moses says:

“You shall observe this as an institution for all time, for you and for your descendants. And when you enter the land that G-d will give you, as promised, you shall observe this service. And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ You shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to G-d, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when smiting the Egyptians, but saved our houses.’ Those assembled kod, and they bowed.

Another miraculous deliverance. Another expression of gratitude. And the second kod in the Torah.

The third is found after the sin of the Molten Calf. Moses asks G-d for a revelation:

Now, if I have truly gained Your favor, pray let me know Your ways, that I may know You and continue in Your favor.

And [God] answered, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim before you the name G-d, and the grace that I grant and the compassion that I show,”

And then G-d delivers what we refer to as the 13 attributes of divine mercy, words that we invoke when we desperately need deliverance. Moses’ response?

Moses hastened and he kod the ground and he bowed.

Another divine and miraculous answer to prayer, and once again we find the word kod.

The word by itself seems extraneous to the meaning of the text itself – after all, once someone bows, then what does an additional word add to the meaning?

I think the answer is that kod, as shown in these three verses where it is found, is not merely bowing (an act that shows respect or deference). Its appearance marks an outpouring of gratitude, an acknowledgement of divine deliverance from failure or death.

So it is more than coincidental that the root word is next found in a group of verses describing the fire of the altar:

Command Aaron and his sons thus: This is the ritual of the elevation offering: The elevation offering itself shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night until morning, while the fire on the altar is kod in it. (Lev 6:2)

The fire on the altar shall be kod, not to go out: every morning the priest shall feed wood to it, lay out the burnt offering on it, and turn into smoke the fat parts of the offerings of well-being. A perpetual fire shall be kod on the altar, not to go out.

Clearly the repetition of this commandment is to expressly link these three appearances of the word kod with the three mirrored appearances of this word earlier in the text.

Several possible explanations can be offered:

  1. The elevation offering is linked to kod in these verses because the very first elevation offering in the Torah is brought by Noah in appreciation for divine deliverance after the flood. Noah is the first person in the text to show gratitude. The elevation offering provides a spiritual link between heaven and earth. G-d returns his offerings with 19 verses of praise and the promise of never repeating the flood – teaching us that gratitude is a core building block for a relationship with G-d!
  2. Though Noah does not himself kod, he is the very first person in the Torah to build an altar. The altar is a tool to connect heaven and earth. The imagery is similar to that of the angels on the ladder in Jacob’s dream. If so, then the altar is not just where we show gratitude – it is also a pathway for the divine deliverance in the first place, just as we saw with the response to Noah’s elevation offering.
  3. In Jewish Law, something that repeats three times becomes the law, a chazakah. Three times, man expresses kod in gratitude to G-d. Kod becomes the chazakah, a perpetual institution of appreciation within the relationship between man and G-d. And so, too, does the divine deliverance and answer to prayer that makes the relationship reciprocal!

[an @iwe, @susanquinn, @blessedblacksmith and @kidcoder work!]

Comments are welcome!

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