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6 Elul 5763 - September 4, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
A Middos Workshop: Hakoras Hatov

Based on Shiurim of Rav Dovid Siegel

Part II

The first part explained the basic idea of hakoras hatov, the elemental recognition that someone has done me a favor. There is a human tendency to want to refuse to recognize dependency on someone else. Odom Horishon, in blaming his sin on Chavah, was not fully recognizing that she was given to him as a favor. Even if what he said was correct, he could not have said it if he had true and full recognition that she was given to him as a favor.

Similarly, Bnei Yisroel refused to accept a gift from Hashem to remain on the high level that they achieved at Har Sinai. Even though it was a level they could never achieve on their own, they apparently did not want to feel forever indebted, even to Hashem, for their personal level.

The yetzer hora has many tactics, but kefias tovoh seems to be one of his strong points. Since the sin of the Eitz Hadaas, human beings possess a strong need to claim ownership on themselves and all that relates to them. It seems so difficult to give away part of ourselves that we may opt to refuse something beneficial to us if we cannot claim it as ours. Unfortunately, this is based on our perception of ourselves as the center of all.

But this is only the higher level of kefias tovoh. The base level is to deny the favor and its source. Once we have received the favor, we must rationalize that it does not deserve any recognition, or certainly not a serious degree of recognition. Maybe I never wanted the favor, or maybe it was not all that beneficial, or maybe the provider had self- interest in mind. Either way, I am certainly not indebted to him for what is now mine!

Hakoras hatov, on the other hand, is rooted in selflessness, a sense of the significance of others. Chovos Halevovos states that the strongest root of avodas Hashem is hakoras hatov. Every time we acknowledge how much Hashem has done for us, we feel more obligated to Him and increase our service to Him.

Rashi gives us some additional insight into what prevented the Bnei Yisroel from asking Hashem to grant them an eternal capacity of revering Him directly. He explains that they did not recognize the opportunity Hashem was granting them.

Apparently, Rashi means that they did not realize that Hashem was making them an offer. They heard Him saying, "If only they would remain on their lofty spiritual height," but they did not translate it into something good for them.

Rashi explains that this was also rooted in kefias tovoh. Because they were reluctant to see the goodness in something they could not call theirs, they did not think of asking for it. If they had fully appreciated Hashem's goodness, they would have realized the opportunity in front of them. And when Hashem expressed a desire for them to remain on that spiritual plateau, they should have seen its benefit and asked for it.

Hashem bemoans that Bnei Yisroel did not have the heart to revere Him as they did for the first two commandments. Hashem could have given them that heart, and He would have, had they only asked for it. Why didn't they?

Because they were unaccustomed to recognizing all the good that was done for them. They had accepted so much from Hashem that they considered it a natural fact for Him to provide them their needs. Since Hashem did not give them this lofty level of reverence, it did not occur to them that He was offering it to them. Chazal seem to be saying that in the depths of their hearts they were reluctant to view anything coming from someone else as totally good.

It is this positive feeling of indebtedness--an awareness of how much Hashem and others do for us--that we want to develop in ourselves. This is what Chazal mean by hakoras hatov, the willingness to recognize the good that we receive from others. Once we remove ourselves and our identity from the picture, we will begin recognizing and appreciating all the good that others do for us.

Moshe Rabbenu--Our Model of Appreciation

The Torah's embodiment of hakoras hatov is Moshe Rabbeinu. As we explained, the root of kefias tovoh is claiming credit for one's own accomplishments. It therefore follows logically that the paradigm of hakoras hatov would be Moshe Rabbenu, the leader who goes down in Jewish history as the most selfless being ever to exist. Accordingly, his level of recognition and appreciation of others remain above the mark. Let us learn from Moshe Rabbeinu some of the facets of this meritorious middoh and attempt to apply them to our lives.

When Moshe Rabbenu was living in his father-in-law Yisro's house in Midyan, Hashem appeared to him in the bush and instructed him to return to Mitzrayim. Moshe then approached Yisro and asked him for permission to leave in order to take care of his people. Yisro granted him permission to go.

Why did Moshe feel the need to ask Yisro? After all, Hashem had commanded him to leave Midyan. Chazal tell us that since Yisro had opened the door to Moshe Rabbenu in his time of need--when he was fleeing from Pharaoh-- Moshe's soul was obligated to Yisro, nafsho chayav lo. Moshe understood that without Yisro's consent, he had no right to go, and if Yisro had refused, Moshe would not have gone. Such is the duty of one with a strong sense of hakoras hatov.

Later on, Moshe demonstrated another facet of hakoras hatov, this time to an inanimate object. When the time came to strike the Nile River to produce the plague of blood, Moshe gave the task over to his brother Aharon. Why didn't he do it himself?

Chazal explain that since the water had protected Moshe when he was floating in the basket as a baby, bringing a plague onto or through it would constitute ingratitude. Likewise, he declined to strike the ground to produce the frogs and lice, since the ground had protected him when it swallowed up and hid the Egyptian that Moshe had killed.

Generally, we understand hakoras hatov to be appropriate when someone intentionally did us a favor. But water and earth made no choice of saving Moshe's life. Would they care in the least if Moshe brought plague onto them? Obviously not.

We learn from Moshe Rabbenu's hakoras hatov an important principle. Hakoras hatov is a sense of appreciation incumbent on me, and not because my benefactor wants it. If I know that my very existence is because of you, then you become significant to me. You are my lifesaver!

In essence, when Moshe walked on Egyptian soil, he viewed it as his lifesaver. With that continuous sense of appreciation, he simply could not strike the earth. Moshe could not belittle the Nile or the ground, in his own eyes, because they had made major contributions to his life.

Appreciating Parents

As we know, the mitzvah of kibbud ov vo'eim is based on hakoras hatov. The Chayei Odom asserts that kibbud ov vo'eim comprises three areas--action, speech and thought. In our minds we should consider our parents as distinguished people in Klal Yisroel, like nobility. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt'l explained that every individual has some outstanding quality that no one else has, whether it is honesty, kindness, integrity, cleanliness, etc. When it comes to our parents, we are obligated to focus on their outstanding features.

Perhaps the Chayei Odom bases this assertion on the above Midrash of Moshe Rabbenu refusing to strike the ground. Hakoras hatov should translate into a feeling that you are important to me because part of me is because of you.

Who can deny that parents contribute to their children's lives? Chazal say Shloshoh shutofin bo'odom, there are three partners in (the formation of) a person: Hashem, the mother and the father. Even if the parents are not continuously contributing to their children's lives as Hashem is, all three partners are given equal recognition. Since I cannot claim any credit for entering this world, all three remain partners. My soul and the like belong to Hashem, and my other parts belong, per se, to my parents.

By constantly reminding ourselves of our parents' value, we increase our awareness of their significance. If we aim to give credit where it is due, we must admit that our parents deserve enormous credit. In doing so, we train ourselves to recognize the parts of ourselves that really belong to someone else.

End of Part II

See Part 1

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