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In a series of fascinating studies, Dr. David DeSteno and colleagues demonstrate that when people feel grateful for receiving a benefit, they are more likely to pay that goodwill forward, with either time or money. As he delineates in his book Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride, this applies not only to reciprocating back to the benefactor of the initial good; in fact, people are even more likely to pay the good forward to others. Additionally, gratitude is contagious. It can spread virally through social spheres, creating an upward, virtuous cycle. Even seeing someone else express gratitude can create a positive emotional momentum, leading to more gratitude, compassion, and kindness.

Parshat Tzav details various peace offerings, known as shelamim. As a rule, one who offered this type of sacrifice could eat it on the day that it was brought, on that night, and on the following day. An exception is the thanksgiving offering, known as the todah. The thanksgiving offering was brought when one wanted to extend gratitude and praise to God, generally, although not necessarily, after being saved from a dangerous situation. Unlike the other peace offerings, the thanksgiving offering was only allowed to be eaten the day it was brought and that night; on the following day, the leftovers were forbidden. Another difference between the thanksgiving offering and the other peace offerings is the requirement that it be accompanied by forty loaves of bread. Why the differences?

Sforno suggests that the increased amount of food and decreased amount of time to eat incentivized people to invite guests. Unlike other sacrifices which may be more private in nature, the ideal thanksgiving offering is a public affair. The social setting allowed the benefactor of God’s graces to recall the details of His wonderous deeds to a larger audience, glorifying God’s name among the attendees.

Perhaps, based on Dr. DeSteno’s research, we can suggest that beyond the benefit of proclaiming God’s beneficence, the public meal provided two other essential functions. First, since inviting guests to a festive meal is itself an act of kindness, the thanksgiving offering is an opportunity to pay the gratitude forward. Bringing the sacrifice is not only an act of gratitude and acknowledgment of the benefactor (God), but is also a means of doing good for others. In a sense, there is no better way to show gratitude for all that God does for us than by using His gifts as opportunities to do for others.

Second, while a private moment of deep gratitude may be even more powerful and humbling than a public gesture, the public demonstration has an essential social function, serving as a signaling device to others. When we see others perform acts of gratitude, we ourselves get caught up in the positive energy, and are more likely to act virtuously. The thanksgiving offering needed to be done in public, not just to praise God, which is a worthwhile pursuit on its own, but also to increase moral virtue amongst those present.

In contemporary times we lack the actual sacrifice, but we can create other opportunities to demonstrate gratitude in public. By making gratitude a social experience, we can create an increasing spiral of positive energy that can help propel us forward to continued virtue in service of God and other people.


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