Based on Shiurim of Rav Dovid Siegel
A Middos Workshop: Hakoras Hatov
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
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?
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.
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
End of Part II
See Part 1
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