The Original Thanksgiving

The Fellowship  |  November 18, 2018

A man standing in a grassy field looking into the sunrise.

“‘The meat of their fellowship offering of thanksgiving must be eaten on the day it is offered; they must leave none of it till morning.'” — Leviticus 7:15

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.

According to Jewish tradition, when the Holy Temple is rebuilt, none of the sacrifices outlined in Leviticus will be offered anymore – except for one: the thanksgiving offering. The Jewish sages continue to explain that none of the prayers we say now will be said in the future either – except for one: the thanksgiving prayer.

The point that the sages are making is that in messianic times, humankind will reach a higher state of being and will no longer need to atone for sins or lack anything they need. Greed, war, hunger, and transgressions will have long gone. But the act of thanking God is timeless!

There is something else unique about the thanksgiving offering. It had to be accompanied by 40 meal offerings, all of which had to be consumed by sunset on that day. In fact, it was impossible for those bringing the thanksgiving offering to finish all the food by themselves in the required time. Why did God make it this way?

The sages explain that the impossible requirements were quite intentional. God wanted the worshipper to be unable to complete the task on his own so that he would invite others to join him. Those bringing the offering would be forced to share their meal with others, who inevitably would ask why. This would give worshippers the opportunity to share their story and gratitude with others. And that’s precisely the point of the offering: To express genuine, heartfelt gratitude to God. In this way, the offering would be complete.

The importance of thanking God for our blessings, especially in the presence of others, is something that will certainly never change. For good reason, too – not only is it pleasing to God, but it also does wonders for us. Gratitude has the power to completely change our outlook on life – from one of pessimism to optimism, from sadness to joy.

Saying “thank you” to God isn’t just a gift we give to Him; it’s the greatest gift we can give to ourselves!

Thanksgiving comes only once a year on the calendar, but Judaism says, why wait until then? Whenever something great happens in life – like the birth of a child or healing from an illness – people are encouraged to host a meal of thanksgiving. Some families make it a habit to share what they are thankful for around the family table every Friday night on Shabbat. In this way we carry out the tradition of the thanksgiving offering; it is part of our past and it will be part of our future, so it should be part of our present as well.

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