Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.Nehemiah 8:12

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a renowned Jewish theologian, once said, “It is gratefulness which makes the soul great.” This is one of 12 devotions focused on gratitude during this season when families gather to give thanks. For more on praising God for our many blessings, download our complimentary study on the Psalms.

Rebecca just was promoted at work. As soon as she leaves the office with her new paycheck, her first stop is the car dealership down the block. She drives away with a brand new car.

Tom just celebrated a milestone birthday. In honor of the occasion, he drives over to the jewelry store and buys himself a snazzy, new watch.

These stories sound familiar to most of us, and chances are that most of us either have done something like this, or know others who have. And, in fact, there’s nothing wrong with these actions. People certainly are entitled to mark happy occasions with personal celebrations. Turning to the Bible, however, we see there is an additional component to celebration that we might have overlooked.

In the wake of Ezra the Scribe’s success in reviewing the Bible’s teachings with the large crowds that had gathered, the people declared a holiday marking their spiritual achievements. Strikingly, the resulting festivities were marked by people sending to those less fortunate “portions of food” (in Hebrew, manot) as gifts.

This recalls a similar mass act of giving recorded in the book of Esther, where we are told that in commemoration of God’s salvation of the Jewish people from the hands of the evil Haman, the Jews of Persia sent “presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor” (Esther 9:22).

In both these examples, we find a celebration of thanksgiving marked not just by self-indulgence, but also by a desire to ensure that one’s neighbors and friends – as well as those in need – are included in the joyous occasion. Indeed, what more appropriate reaction to God’s abundant kindnesses could there be than to share the bounty of His goodness with others who have less than we do?

Over the course of our lives, we hopefully will have the chance to experience success or joy, even if only small or fleeting. When we do, let us remember these biblical examples and share our happiness with others. In turn – and perhaps more importantly – let us commit to rejoicing with our coworkers, spouses, children, next-door-neighbors when they succeed.

As we learn from the books of Nehemiah and Esther, when we spread happiness and good tidings with others, we are engaged in the truest form of gratitude to and worship of our God.

Download our complimentary study on The Psalms of Davidfor how Israel’s greatest king expressed his deepest emotions to God through his words of thanksgiving, confession, petition, and praise.

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