Give praise to the LORD, proclaim on his name;
make known among the nations what he has done. — 1 Chronicles 16:8
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.
It’s not unusual on a Friday night at the Kotel (the Western Wall) to hear some of those gathered in prayer spontaneously break out in song. The spirituality of the place is such that emotions can be expected to bubble over.
Indeed, the city of Jerusalem has been witness to such spontaneity ever since the days of King David. The author of Chronicles in Chapter 15 tells us that when the Ark of the Covenant – whose return to Jerusalem David had arranged – entered the holy city, David broke out into joyous celebration along with his subjects. The revelry culminated, as we are told in Chapter 16, with a poem composed by David for the occasion.
The poem begins as follows: “Give praise to the LORD, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done.” Stirring words, to be sure, but a closer look at the directives might seem a bit confusing. Man is commanded to praise God, but to whom is this praise directed? The first half of this verse indicates that the praise is directed “to the LORD." The latter half, however, explains that this praise should be sung “among the nations.” Which is it?
This puzzle can be solved through reference to a fundamental Jewish concept: kiddush Hashem, or “sanctification of God’s Name.” All Jews are commanded to strive for kiddush Hashem, and, conversely, to avoid hillul Hashem, or “profanation of God’s Name.” In other words, God has appointed His people as His agents in this world, and their words and deeds constitute the lens through which others view God.
The idea, therefore, is that when a God-fearing person acts with kindness, maturity and compassion, others will take note and hopefully credit his or her faith in God. If, however, a God-fearing person acts insensitively, or irresponsibly, observers will judge all members of that faith on his or her account. In an acute sense, then, all people of faith are responsible for each other.
This insight explains David’s words. Praise of God is affected precisely when people of faith make known among the nations that biblical values lead to a just, charitable, compassionate, and ethical lifestyle. This message becomes crucial nowadays when religious individuals and institutions are under more scrutiny than ever before. Often, it seems, the despicable actions of a single individual can tarnish an entire group’s reputation.
We must therefore remember, as David did, that the admirable actions of a single individual may go a long way to glorifying God’s name throughout the world – to making a kiddush Hashem.
Download our complimentary study on David and the Psalms for how Israel’s greatest king expressed his deepest emotions to God through his words of thanksgiving, confession, petition, and praise.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President