In Parashat Emor’s discussion of the Korban Todah, the Torah states, “VeChi Tizbechu Zevach Todah LaHashem LiRtzonechem Tizbachu,” “If you will bring a thanksgiving offering to Hashem, it shall be offered willingly” (VaYikra 22:29). According to the Meforshim who translate this phrase literally, the Torah’s command is puzzling. Why would the Torah put such emphasis on the fact that the Korban must be brought willingly? Isn’t it obvious that a thanksgiving offering is brought willingly?
The Ketav Sofer provides an ingenious answer to this question, based on an understanding of the circumstances referred to in the text. According to the Gemara, among the four types of people who thank Hashem via Korban Todah is a person who survived precarious situations such as a serious illness or some type of turmoil. After such a frightening experience, says the Ketav Sofer, one might be inclined not to give a Korban to Hashem, since the person would have been happier without the suffering in the first place! Therefore, Hashem specifically commands us that in such a case one must bring a Korban Todah willingly, even if he has no desire to give thanks to Hashem, for whatever Hashem does is for the best.
A story is told of two brothers, Reb Shmelke and Reb Pinchas, who wanted to learn exactly how one is supposed to thank Hashem for inflicting suffering upon him. They went to speak to Reb Zushe, a great Chassid. Upon reaching his completely rundown home, they asked Reb Zushe the question. While in his tattered clothes, Reb Zushe answered that coming to his extremely modest shack was a mistake. They should instead direct their question to someone who has experienced suffering, since he himself had never suffered a day in his life. Reb Zushe understood the message of the Korban Todah; suffering is not really suffering at all.
Through this seemingly superfluous command, the Torah is trying to teach us that we have to thank Hashem even for the suffering we must endure. We are expected to recognize that there is a higher purpose to our suffering, and not lament the past anguish. Upon reaching this realization, we should turn our suffering into a positive experience. May we all become as pious as Reb Zushe so that we will all be able to thank Hashem for our suffering “willingly.”