Based on Shiurim of Rav Dovid Siegel
A Middos Workshop: Hakoras Hatov
The Challenge of Recognizing a Favor
Thankfulness. Gratitude. Appreciation. An array of English
words convey a feeling or expression of indebtedness to one
who has benefited another. Interestingly, Chazal use a
different phrase to describe this concept--hakoras
hatov, recognizing the good. Perhaps recognition does not
seem like a high level but, as we will see, it is actually
the crux of the issue.
HaRav Shlomo Brevda relates that he was once walking down the
street with some talmidim. Along the way, some people
walking on the same side of the street approached him to say
a respectful hello, while some on the other side of the
street did not even acknowledge his presence and seemed to
consciously avoid noticing him. When one of Rav Brevda's
companions pointed this out, the rov explained that he had
never done a favor for those on his side of the street, but
had done many favors for those walking on the other side. He
added that people feel uncomfortable accepting favors from
others and are loath to give credit to their benefactor.
We see that true gratitude stems from an honest recognition
of the good we have received. Once we have admitted the
favor, then we will naturally express our appreciation to the
On the opposite end of the spectrum is ingratitude, or as
Chazal describe it kefiras tov, or kefias
tovoh. Kefiroh means denial, but what does
kefia mean? Kefia means force! If I do not
acknowledge the source of goodness I received, I rationalize
that I was forced into accepting the favor. If I have been
forced, then that frees me of a feeling of indebtedness.
Kefias tovoh traces back a long time, all the way to
Odom Horishon. When Hashem asked Odom why he had eaten from
the tree, he replied, "The woman You gave me gave it to me."
Rashi comments that here he was kofer tovoh, denying
good, or ungrateful. Odom was telling Hashem that if He had
not given Odom his wife, the sin would not have occurred.
Recall that Chava was given to Odom after he had searched far
and wide for a partner, and Hashem saw that it was not good
for Odom to be alone. Chava was a precious gift from Hashem,
and now Odom was basically blaming his own grave error on
Of course, we cannot fathom the lofty level of Odom Horishon
and the sublime reasons for his actions. But whatever his
motivation was, as we will soon discuss, his response was
regarded on his level as a lack of hakoras hatov.
When the Jews were traveling in the desert, they too were
guilty of kefias tovoh several times. The Torah
recounts that when Bnei Yisroel heard Hashem speaking
to them at Har Sinai, they could not bear the intense
closeness to Hashem and asked Moshe to be the go-between.
Later in the Torah, Moshe rebuked them for this and accused
them of being ungrateful. Chazal say that when they heard
Hashem stating, "If the Jewish people could only retain their
present level of reverence," they should have begged Hashem
to grant them that permanent level. Why Hashem deemed this
kefias tovoh will be explained below.
Another instance of ingratitude was concerning the
mon, the wonder food that sustained the Jews during
their sojourn in the desert. They complained that it was all
absorbed into the body, while in fact Hashem had sent the
perfect food that produced no waste. This quality allowed
them to remain in the camp, saving them a five-mile hike
every time they needed to relieve themselves. Like their
predecessor Odom Horishon, the Jews took an act of chesed
and denied the benefits it granted them, for which they
were called kefuyei tovoh bnei kefuyei tovoh, ingrates
the children of ingrates.
We can understand why Odom Horishon was considered kofuy
tovoh, as well as the Jews for their distaste for the
mon. But how did the Jews display ingratitude when
they opted, out of fright, not to hear Hashem's voice at Har
Tosafos explains that Hashem realized that if they accepted
His offer to maintain this high level of yiras Hashem,
then they would be indebted to Him. The Jews did not want to
carry this overwhelming feeling of indebtedness with them for
life and therefore declined Hashem's offer. We can explain
that they sought to attain their spiritual heights through
their own actions and did not wish to feel forever indebted
for the spiritual plateau on which they would be. However,
this thought holds true for what one could, in fact, achieve
on his own -- but why would one decline a spiritual setting
that is beyond his realm of achievement? The only answer is a
subtle trace of kefias tovoh, an unwillingness to
possess something that I cannot call mine.
The Root of Kefias Tovoh
To reach a better understanding of this concept, let's study
the sin of Odom Horishon and its effect. How could a
righteous man on such a high spiritual level say to Hashem
"The woman You gave me"?
The Ramban comments that Odom defended his actions by telling
Hashem, "You gave me an assistant. Since You created her to
assist me, I assumed that she would always assist me in a
positive way." In essence, Odom Horishon was saying, "You
gave me this woman to assist me, so I trusted her." This
seems like a justifiable explanation for his statement.
Yet, Chazal, in masechta Avodoh Zora still hold him
accountable. Apparently, had he properly appreciated Hashem's
wonderful gift, he would not have spoken that way. How could
he defend himself by finding fault with Hashem's gift? Chazal
reveal here that if one truly values a gift, he could never
refer to it in a negative light.
It is conceivable that Odom's fault resulted from the sin of
eating from the Eitz Hadaas. HaRav Moshe Shapiro
explained the root of that terrible sin. Chazal tell us that
the snake convinced Chavah, and consequently Odom as well,
that upon eating the fruit they would become like Hashem and
would gain the capacity to create worlds. In essence, the
snake played upon the human desire to control things outside
of themselves and make them a part of themselves. This is the
root of ta'avoh--the need to possess what is beyond
oneself. It is a feeling that nothing is outside of one's
After Odom ate from the Eitz Hadaas, ta'avoh
became part of his inner being. It is interesting to note
that Odom's first and basically only offense recorded after
the sin of the Eitz Hadaas, is his ingratitude. We can
therefore suggest that his newly gained desire for control
led him to the doorstep of ingratitude.
As we have explained, ta'avoh comes from a desire to
annex that which is beyond my domain. The fullest expression
of this is the unwillingness to recognize someone else as the
source of my goodness. After Odom received Chavah as a
present, he failed to appreciate the Source of his gift. He
reasoned, on some plane, that she was rightfully his.
Hakoras hatov demands that one recognize the source of
a favor and admit that the credit does not go to himself. In
other words, hakoras hatov means taking something that
is part of me and giving it to another. In this context, the
root of kefias tovoh is the unwillingness to part with
a piece of myself. Now that it--the object, experience or
feeling--has become mine, I find it difficult to share its
credit with someone else.
Even the lofty generation that received the Torah was not
totally free from this attitude. The Jewish people were
uncomfortable wearing a garment for life that they could not
call their own. They found difficulty in identifying their
spiritual frame of reference as a gift from Hashem rather
than belonging to themselves.
End of Part I
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