The obligation to be grateful to others and the enormous
moral shortcoming of ingratitude is a topic that has been
written about much. The ba'alei mussar, for example,
point to the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 22:27)
that highlights how contemptible the sordid attribute of
"`Hashem set a mark upon Kayin lest anyone finding him should
smite him' (Bereishis 3:15) -- Rav said, `A dog was
given to him.' "
Why, of all animals, was a dog given to guard Kayin? We see
the answer to this in a previous Midrash (Bereishis
"R' Yochonon said: `Hevel was stronger than Kayin. `Kayin
rose up against Hevel his brother and slew him' (v. 9). This
teaches us that Kayin was underneath Hevel (when Hevel sensed
that Kayin was about to attack him, Hevel threw Kayin down
under him -- Anaf Yosef). [Kayin] said to him: `We are
the only two in the world, so what will you tell father?'
Hevel had pity on [Kayin, and freed him]. Immediately [Kayin]
attacked [Hevel] and killed him [because Hevel was not
cautious enough: although he was stronger, Kayin was able to
kill him at unawares -- Anaf Yosef]. People learned
from this event to say, `Do not do good for a bad person if
you do not want to suffer later.' "
The ingratitude of Kayin towards Hevel is utterly astounding.
Hevel could have killed Kayin and avoided any future danger,
but instead his good heart dictated to him to free Kayin. Not
only did Kayin not thank him for his kindness, he exploited
it to the fullest. When Kayin caught Hevel off guard he
straightaway killed him.
HaKodosh Boruch Hu therefore gave Kayin a dog to
protect him from harm. People say that a dog is man's best
friend. He is known to be the most devoted of all animals to
its master. The dog that protected Kayin did so out of
gratitude to his master. The way Kayin's dog acted showed him
how terrible was his own ingratitude to Hevel, his
In the parsha (Bereishis 14) of the war between
the four kings (of Shinar, Elosor, Eilam, and Goyim) and the
five kings (of Sdom, Amorah, Admoh, Tzevo'yim, and Tzo'ar) we
see again the enormous difference between how a grateful
person acts and how an unappreciative person acts, despite
the fact that he has profited immensely from his
Avrohom Ovinu waged war against the four triumphant kings who
had captured Lot, his brother's son, who lived in Sdom.
Avrohom was victorious. He freed Lot and returned all of the
stolen possessions to their original owners. What type of a
greeting did Avrohom receive after his victory?
The Torah tells us in posuk 17 that the King of Sdom
went out to meet Avrohom after his return. In posuk 18
the Torah continues, "Malkitzedek King of Sholeim brought out
bread and wine and blessed Avrohom." The Torah again talks
about the King of Sdom in posuk 21, reporting that he
said, "Give me the persons and take the goods for yourself" --
an offer that Avrohom refused.
The Or HaChaim writes, "this comes to tell the praise
of tzadikim and the difference between them and
reshoim. The King of Sdom went to meet Avrohom and
brought him nothing, although he should have presented him
with a lavish gift [since Avrohom had saved him and all his
possessions from the four kings]. [Instead] the rosho
went out [to meet him] with empty hands. However, Shem [i.e.,
Malkitzedek] the tzaddik, although he was not
obligated to be charitable [since he was not saved by
Avrohom], greeted [Avrohom] with bread and wine." We see the
vast difference between how a tzaddik acts and how a
rosho acts. The former shows appreciation, while the
rosho has no such feeling and his ingratitude is
In a moving letter, HaRav E. E. Dessler zt'l (in
Michtav MeEliahu, vol. 5) shows how obliged he felt to
his father. It seems that for a certain period R' Dessler
financially supported his father. In a letter written
previously to his son, the father had pleaded with him to
discontinue his support because he felt it was too much of a
burden for his son, and possibly even a chashash
gezeilah. Maran HaRav Dessler answered: "When I saw what
my honorable father wrote, I was startled, alarmed, and
astonished. I could not calm myself down [after seeing] what
you wrote, namely that I am not at all obliged to you . . . .
Is there anyone to whom I am more obliged than to you? Are
the treasure-house loads of money that you extravagantly
spent on me nothing? Can you find any place in the Shas
stating that a father is required to spend such heaps of
money on educating his son? -- Still less to implant [in
one's son] each minute improvement in a detail of
chinuch at the price of oceans -- literal oceans -- of
gold and silver? Is there no obligation [upon me] to repay
you for this?
"Do you find a mitzvah in making my bones shake within me . .
. and in searching for possibilities of gezel that do
not have any basis in halocho? If only I could return
even part of the money that you lavishly spent on me for
How much gratitude to his father is expressed by this eminent
contemporary educator! It would be a valuable step to
circulate this letter in our educational institutions for
boys and girls. This heartfelt letter teaches us, our sons,
and our daughters the importance of being appreciative to
those who come to our aid.
It would be fitting indeed, when a son becomes a
chosson or a daughter a kallah, that they
should publicly show their heartfelt gratitude to their
parents, who have been devoted to them for their whole life.
Undoubtedly deep within their hearts they feel this way, but
as Chazal say, "Thoughts in one's heart are not taken into
account." Saying out loud what they think would signal to
their siblings to be appreciative toward their parents, who
constantly benefit them. The fact that the children sense the
need to be thankful would itself be part of the reward
A rosh yeshiva told me that in Europe one of the
yeshiva's talmidim expressed such ardent gratitude to
his parents when he became engaged, that he burst out
A talmid, too, must feel indebted to those who taught
him Torah. Maran HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt'l writes
(in Sichos Mussar 2:32) at length and in powerful
language about the gratitude that a talmid must have
for his rav and to what degree Chazal valued their
"What an extreme degree of gratitude is a talmid
obliged to feel towards his rav who opened his eyes to see
[the Torah's wisdom], who taught him and made him wise." The
Rosh Yeshiva afterwards quotes Chazal (Sanhedrin
101a): "When R' Eliezer became sick, four Elders came to
visit him. R' Tarfon said: `You are better for Yisroel than a
drop of rain, since a drop of rain is for Olom Hazeh
while a Rav is for Olom Hazeh and Olom Haboh.'
R' Yehoshua said: `You are better for Yisroel than the sun,
since the sun is for Olom Hazeh while a Rav is for
Olom Hazeh and Olom Haboh.' R' Elazar ben
Azarya said: `You are better for Yisroel than a father and
mother, since a father and mother are for Olom Hazeh
while a Rav is for Olom Hazeh and Olom
Why is a rav compared to these three things: rain, sun, and
parents? It seems to me that these factors define and
symbolize the influence a rav has on his talmidim and
the great measure of gratitude they owe him. Just as rain
empowers the seed hidden in the earth to grow, so the rav
gives his talmidim the power of growth and
advancement. Without the rav's guidance the talmid
would have remained like an inanimate seed.
Just as the sun's light saves a person from stumbling over
objects, so a rav helps his talmid grow and
illuminates his way in life so that he will not blunder.
Just as the natural place for a person to grow is with his
parents, so the natural place for a talmid to grow is
only with his rav. HaRav Shmuelevitz concludes that the
reason a person is obligated to honor a rav is his sense of
gratitude toward him. How else can a talmid pay back
even the smallest part of what he owes his rav? No wealth in
the world can pay that back!
Likewise parents must feel indebted to their children's
melamdim and educators. As the Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva
wrote, the rav supplies the talmid with the power of
growth and advancement, and without his guidance he would
remain like an inanimate seed. The foundation of the world's
creation is gratitude. "And no plant of the field was yet in
the earth and no herb of the field had yet grown, for Hashem
Elokim had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there
was not a man to till the ground" (Bereishis 2:5).
Rashi explains: "Why did Hashem not bring rain before man was
created [although there were already animals]? Because `there
was not a man to till the ground' and to realize how
beneficial rain is." After Hashem had created man who
understood that rain is needed for the world, he prayed for
it and rain fell so that the trees and grass would grow.
HaKodosh Boruch Hu built the world on the foundation
of gratitude: if no one could be grateful for the rain, there
was no reason to bring it.
When I once visited a melamed in Yerushalayim, I was
pleased to see a bookshelf full of seforim given to
him by the parents of his talmidim as a sign of their
appreciation. How important it is for the parents to be aware
of their debt to the melamdim for teaching their
children. Their feeling of gratitude will stimulate their
sons and daughters likewise to develop this sublime feeling
on which the world stands.
I remember something that once happened to me when I was
visiting an educational institution in chutz la'aretz.
I had tested the talmidim in the local cheder
but I felt that the teachers harbored feelings of bitterness
toward the parents. I discussed this with the rosh yeshiva
and he arranged a meeting in which I would speak to the
parents. I emphasized at the meeting that the work of a rav
and an educator for his talmidim is not like all other
professions. In other lines of work it is only necessary to
be proficient in the skill or craft in order to succeed, but
to be an educator a person needs a warm heart. It is a work
of endless love from the teacher to his talmid. Yet it
also needs reciprocal love and appreciation from the parents
to the melamed.
A day later melamdim from the cheder's staff
thanked me for my speech and told me that it caused a
complete change in the parents' ideas of how they should
Let us accustom ourselves to be appreciative of others. We
must implant this feeling in our children from the beginning
of their youth. Children must feel gratitude to their
parents, a talmid to his rav, and parents to their
children's teachers. In this way, with Hashem's aid, we will
build a house that is altogether made of chesed and
full of gratitude to others.
HaRav Yehoshua Shklar was formerly the national supervisor
for Chinuch Atzmai in Eretz Yisroel