Moshe's father-in-law, Yitro (Jethro) is praised even more than the Jewish people for having blessed Hashem when he heard how Hashem saved Israel from Pharaoh.[i] The gemora points out that the Jews sang and danced and praised Hashem when He saved them, so why does the gemora praise Yitro above the Jews. It is explained that blessings are even greater than praises.
King Dovid gave us specific instructions how to increase our daily spiritual awareness; "…serve Hashem with gladness… come before Him with joyful song… enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courtyards with praise …."[ii]
Although the Psalm seems to be speaking only of entering the Temple in Jerusalem it is also instructing us how we are to proceed in our individual search for Hashem. Hashem is equally everywhere at all times, but He is hiding. Our spiritual work is to reveal His glorious Presence.
First, King Dovid told us to be glad that we are able to serve our Creator and to sing joyfully when we wish to approach Him. Then to come closer, we can enter the outer gates by thanking Him over and over again for all the good that He is doing for us.
Once we are through the outer gates we want to continue closer. Deeper inside, past the gates of the Temple, was the Courtyard. To enter the Courtyard we have to do more than simply thank Hashem, we have to recall some of His greatness. "How great You are Hashem. You fill and surround all. You are without beginning or end. You always have been, and You always will be. You are the very purpose of life…." Praise is higher than thanksgiving so it brings us even closer to the treasured goal of actually revealing Hashem's Presence.
But now what? The closer we get to our goal the more we thirst, but what more can we do than praise G-d? The gemora explains that blessings are even greater than praise.
When we say a blessing we move into a realm that is not found when reciting thanks or praise. We say G-d's Name and we elevate our thoughts into the realm of holiness. If we pay deep attention to the words of the blessing we will reap even more. For those moments we will actually dwell in holiness. This is why we are commanded to say blessings. G-d wants us to be holy.
Thanksgiving comes from our emotions. Praise comes from our intellect. Blessings come from our spiritual heart.
Enter the outer gate, from there move into the courtyard… then proceed into the Holy area, and ultimately when we cleave to the blessing, we will move into the Holy of Holies.