Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

25 Sivan 5759 - June 9 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Sponsored by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Produced and housed by

Opinion & Comment
Showing Appreciation
by HaRav Yehoshua Shklar

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 ingratitude is.

"`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 Rabbah 22:17):

"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 brother.

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 benefactor.

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 conspicuous.

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 luxuries."

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 parents deserve.

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 crying.

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 mentors:

"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 Haboh.'"

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 act.

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

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.