- HaRav Avigdor Nebenzahl
- Jan 13, 2012
"A new king arose over Egypt who did not know of Yoseph" (Shmot 1:8). Our Sages ask: can it be that he did not know of Yoseph? Even if he were a new king, did he not have some basic knowledge of Egyptian history? What the Torah means is that he knew who Yoseph was, but he did not WANT to know who he was! He lacked hakarat hatov for all that Yoseph had done for the Egyptian people. Chazal comment: "today he does not know Yoseph, tomorrow, he is destined to say 'I do not know Hashem'!" (Shmot 5:2) (Shmot Rabbah Parsha 1). This means that one who lacks hakarat hatov for his fellow human being will eventually deny the good Hashem has done for him.
The Chovot HaLevavot explains using the following comparison: a generous family took in an orphaned little boy, raised him, fed him, paid for his education and gave him all his needs for many years. At the same time, they took a poor adult who had been imprisoned and cared for him until he was able to get back on his feet. The Chovot HaLevavot asks: which of the two will have greater hakarat hatov? The Chovot HaLevavot answers that the former prisoner will have more gratitude than the child, why is this so? The prisoner was taken out of prisoner as an adult when he was able to appreciate all that had been done for him. The child, on the other hand, grew up in the benevolent person's home, he never knew any better. He was given food, education, and all his needs just as any other child was - it all came naturally, he is therefore less grateful.
Hashem provides us with so much, but it all appears so natural. We do not understand how thankful we must be to HaKadosh Baruch Hu for all that He does for us. We say in Nishmat: "Were our mouth as full of song as the sea ... we still could not thank You sufficiently, Hashem our G-d and G-d of our forefathers, and to bless Your Name for even one of the thousand thousand, thousands of thousands and myriad myriads of favors that You performed for our ancestors and for us".
How can we begin to thank Hashem for all He does for us, for every atom in our body. Chazal teach us that kol haneshama tehalel Kah, can be read as kol haneshima - with every breath I inhale I must thank Hashem. We are so accustomed for all that Hashem does for us that we are unable to appreciate how much thanks we owe him.
We owe a debt of gratitude not only to Hashem but to our parents as well - our parents gave us life and they continue giving us food, clothing, and education. This too seems so natural, my parents do not give me any more than my friend's parents. Many young people do not appreciate all their parents have done for them. I would go even further, children of Torah-observing parents have to be grateful that they were taught that the world has a Creator, and about Shabbos, Kashrus, the Seder night and much more. If a child did not become a great talmid chacham and was not close to other Rabbanim throughout his life, it is possible that his parents have the status of a rebbe muvhak - his source of learning was his parents. Later in Yeshiva he may have learned another halacha, he learned more Gemara such as Kiddushin which we are learning this year. In any event a person must be thankful to his parents for having given him olam hazeh as well as olam haba.
Chazal teach us that a person must have hakarat hatov even for a person who opens the door for him, how much more so must he have gratitude for all that HaKadosh Baruch Hu does for him. Chazal state: "What does a good guest say? 'How much trouble my host took for my sake! How much meat he brought before me! How much wine he brought before me! How many rolls he brought before me! And all the trouble that he took, he took only for my sake!'" (Brachot 58a). We must feel that Hashem created the entire universe for each and every one of us individually. Hashem created the sun and the moon for me - "yotzer or uvorei choshech" "Who forms light and creates darkness, "she-asa li kol tzarki" "Who has provided me my every need" - whatever He did was for me! A good guest recognizes this.
"What does a bad guest say: 'what trouble did this host take for me? I ate one slice of bread, I ate one piece of meat, I drank one cup of wine. Every trouble that this host took he took only for his wife and his children" (ibid.). Hashem did not create the world only for me, there are many other people benefiting as well.
We are Hashem's guests in this world and we must do our best to be good guests. It is true that He created the sun, the moon, food, fruits, and trees for other people as well - but why should that concern me? I must view it as if it were given for me to enjoy. It is my obligation to thank Hashem because I am benefiting from all this. I therefore make a bracha before I derive any benefit from this world.
Next week we will read about Hashem teaching Moshe Rabenu about the importance of gratitude even to inanimate objects: The first two plagues against the Egyptians, those of blood and frogs, involved smiting the Nile River. It was Moshe's brother Aharon, rather than Moshe himself, who initiated this plague because Moshe Rabenu had gratitude to the Nile for having saved him has an infant. How could he smite the river that saved him? A river is nothing more than a body of water - did this body of water have any intent of saving Moshe Rabenu? Even so, from Moshe's perspective he owed the river a debt of gratitude. The third plague as well, the plague of lice, involved smiting the ground and was therefore also not carried out by Moshe Rabenu. In this case, Moshe was grateful to the earth for enabling him to bury and thus hide the Egyptian whom he had killed after witnessing him smiting a Jew.
As we mentioned above, a person either has hakarat hatov or he does not, it makes no difference whether it is towards water, a human being, or the
A-mighty. Not being makir tov is a serious character flaw. After so many years of serving as an Egyptian god, the Nile probably welcomed the idea of being used as a tool for sanctifying Hashem's Name and declaring that He is King of the universe, nonetheless the gratitude Moshe Rabenu felt to the Nile prevented him from striking it.
Forty years later, Hashem commands Moshe Rabenu "take vengeance for the children of Israel against the Midianites" (Bamidbar 31:2). The Torah records that Moshe Rabenu, then appoints Pinchas to carry out this task (see ibid. 6). The Midrash explains: "because he was raised in the land of Midian, he thus considered that it is not proper that I cause those who provided me with good to suffer" (Bamidbar Rabba 22:4). Clearly the war was justified as vengeance against Midian for having led the people astray in the incident involving the women of Moav and Kozbi bat Tzur. Nevertheless, because Moshe felt gratitude towards Midian for having provided him with a safe haven when he fled from Pharaoh, and for being the place where he met his wife, he did not wish to lead the nation in war against them.
The time of Yetziat Mitzrayim can be viewed as the marriage between Hashem and Klal Yisrael. Let us take a look for a moment at the marriage so to speak, the relationship between the A-lmighty and His people. Bnei Yisrael are going up from Yam Suf to the desert, their bitachon having already undergone several difficult tests which they passed. One of these trials took place while they were still in Egypt: "the Children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Sukkot ... nor had they made provisions for themselves" (Shmot 12:37-39) - "this tells the praise of Israel, that they did not say 'how can we go out to the wilderness without provisions?' rather they believed and went" (Rashi Shmot 12:39). Almost one thousand years later Hashem recalls this faith: "I remember for your sake the kindness of your youth, the love of your bridal days, how you followed Me in the Wilderness in an unsown land" (Yirmiyahu 2:2). In spite of all the terrible sins the
Jewish people committed over this thousand year period, Hashem fondly remembers that fine hour of the exodus, the early days of His marriage to Am Yisrael.
By the same token a kallah follows her husband, who is generally still a young bachur, without knowing what life with him will bring. Will he become a talmid chacham? Will he become a successful businessman? She could have easily married someone else. The husband must always be grateful that his wife followed him without knowing what was in store for her, he should not wait one thousand years to feel this gratitude.
A man and his wife must feel the same way. There are always arguments and disagreements, but a man must recall the day of his wedding and feel that he is now standing under the chuppa. He must not constantly come to his wife remembering all that she had done wrong - "yesterday you did this, today you said that". I do not mean that the wife is any less obligated, but first of all I am speaking in a Yeshiva to men, and secondly metaphorically Hashem is likened to the bridegroom and the Jewish nation to the bride. Unlike Hashem, we will not live long enough to recall our wedding day one thousand years later. At least during the one hundred and twenty years allotted to us we must do our best to recall our initial love and thereby only wish to give to our wife rather than take.
Chazal warn us "a person must always be wary of wronging his wife, for since her tears come easily the punishment for wronging her is nearby" (Baba Metezia 59a). A woman harmed is more likely to shed tears than a man. Given that Hashem does not pass by tears in silence, harming a woman is likely to bring about a quick and severe punishment. People often offend a friend or a wife claiming "I did not realize this would harm her", or "I did not intend to cause her any harm". Perhaps this claim may result in a reduction in punishment, it does not however absolve one completely.
What about all that a person's wife does for him - the love she shows him, his children which she gives birth to even though she is not obligated in the mitzvah of pru urvu, his meals which she prepares? Many tragedies, many divorces could be avoided if people would only learn to acknowledge the good that their wives do for them. Every Shabbos my father-in-law used to tell his wife "I have never eaten such a chulent." He then explained to me that it is true - there never was such a chulent, it has more or less salt, more or less fat than others. I saw in a sefer which cites Rav Eliashiv writing about the importance of a man thanking his wife for all she does for him.
There are so many divorces today, and I believe it often begins with little things - the husband comes home, his wife greets him with a smile and tells him about the delicious food she prepared. How does he react? Rather than thanking her for working so hard on his behalf, he shouts: "don't you know this is not the way I like my food!" By the same token, a man can bring home a gift for his wife and what is her reaction? "I told you I just can't stand the color blue!" What if the man doesn't like the food? Let him thank her for her efforts and next time explain to her nicely that he would rather have something else.
My Rebbe, HaRav Dessler zt"l, used to counsel young couples coming to him for a bracha by telling them that the most important thing in a marriage is to wish to give to the other. So long as each party wishes to give as much as possible to the other then things will be good, otherwise it is a recipe for disaster.
We mentioned the importance of thanking Hashem for everything. It is not enough to mouth the words every Shabbos of "ein anachnu maspikim lehodos lecha" but we must feel how much we owe Him and pray with all our heart and with great kavana. We must learn Torah with great love for Hashem, we must be grateful for the endless things He does for us.
We find in the prophet, Eliyahu HaNavi reviving the dead child of the Tzorfati woman, and Elisha reviving the dead child of the Shunamite woman. Chazal teach us that their ability to do so stemmed from hakarat hatov - gratitude. There were many people who had seemingly left this world during the time of Eliyahu and Elisha, why were they only able to revive these two young children? It appears from Chazal that these two women did good things for Eliyahu and Elisha and the prophets had such deep gratitude that they were given the key to tchiyas hameisim.
We see just how powerful hakaras hatov and the importance of gratitude towards anyone and anything.