As a general rule, one should not get involved with a rasha; it usually doesn’t end well. This is so that a person does not end up “owing him one” and also so that a person won’t stoop to chanifus, excessively flattering the person, so to speak. The Kuntrus Kavod HaTorah (Bnei Brak 2001) cites a number of references to this idea. Rav Eliyahu Dessler (Michtav M’Eliyahu, Bereishis 14:23) cites these reasons in his explanation as to why Avraham Avinu told the King of Sodom that he would not take even a shoelace of war spoils. Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s father, the Steipler Gaon, zt’l, in his Birchas Peretz on Parashas Chayei Sarah, explains that this is why Avraham Avinu paid full price for the field of Efron—so that he would not have to be beholden to him. All that is before the fact.
On the other hand, we see that once it has happened, once someone has done us a tovah, there is an obligation to have hakaras ha’tov, gratitude. This is true for anyone who does us a good turn. The Alter of Slabodka explains (Ohr HaTzafun Siman 1) that Adam’s sin was not in eating of the Eitz HaDa’as, but rather in his lack of hakaras ha’tov to Hashem for having given him the gift of Chava. This was expressed in his response to Hashem, “The woman that You gave me, she had me eat of the fruit.”
Rabbi Akiva in Kesuvos (63a) tells his students those famous words, “Sheli v’shelachem, shelah—All my Torah, and all of your Torah, is hers!” referring to his wife. In this statement, Rabbi Akiva is telling everyone of the hakaras ha’tov that one must express to one’s wife.
The Torah tells us, “Lo sita’ev Mitzri,” for you were a stranger in his land. Because the Egyptians housed us initially, we must not distance them even though they later enslaved us. Look at the extent of this obligation! The Radak on Tehillim (15:5) spells it out more clearly. He writes that if an eino Yehudi does a favor to a Yisrael, the Yisrael is obligated to do chesed with the former and to do favors for him.
There is a fascinating Targum Yonasan on Yosef’s mass land purchasing at the end of Sefer Bereishis (47:22). The pasuk tells us that “rak admas ha’kohanim lo kanah—he did not purchase the lands of the Egyptian priests,” because they saved his life regarding the accusations of eishes Potiphar by giving him very timely and correct advice. On account of this, he spared them serious economic distress. The Sefer Chassidim (746) even states that when a Yisrael mentions an eino Yehudi who did him a favor he must append the words “zichrono livrachah.”
The Torah tells us, “V’lo ha’yah mayim la’eidah,” Klal Yisrael had no water (Bamidbar 20:2). Why did we have no water? The Kli Yakar explains that we did not eulogize Miriam properly when she passed away and it was on account of our lack of hakaras ha’tov. To Miriam, in whose merit we had the Be’er Miriam, we should have expressed our appreciation much better. We didn’t, and because of that we lost the water.
Moshe Rabbeinu, however, understood the proper perspective. In his battle with Og, Moshe Rabbeinu was concerned that the debt of gratitude the nation of Israel owed Og for telling our forefather Avraham about Lot’s kidnapping (see Rashi in Parashas Chukas 21:33–34) was significant. It was so significant that it could have changed the tide of the war. Let’s think about this for a minute. Og’s motivations were quite base. He wanted Avraham Avinu to die in saving Lot so that he could take Sarah Imeinu as his own wife. And still, we owe him a debt of gratitude, such a debt that it could have changed the tide of the war.
Rashi explains that the entire parashah of Bikkurim (Devarim 26:3) is so that we learn to express hakaras ha’tov, genuine appreciation, and not be a kafui tov, an ingrate.
Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, writes in Igros Moshe (Y.D. II #117) regarding making a banquet honoring an eino Yehudi for what he had done for the institution as being appropriate.
Plugging all this back in to a contemporary issue, what the president did was very wrong. He undermined the very foundation of democracy of this country in his attempt to force the government to declare him the real winner of the election (or at least not to declare President-elect Joe Biden as the winner). He also caused the tragic deaths of five people. There should be repercussions to such abominable behavior.
But should the Jewish people be the ones to do it? Of the four Democrats leading the charge to impeach President Trump, should Jews be three-quarters of them? Why is it that David Cicilline of Rhode Island, the lead sponsor, Jamie Raskin of Maryland, and our own Jerry Nadler of New York are at the forefront of it all?
At the end of the day, we do owe a lot of hakaras ha’tov to President Trump. He recognized Yerushalayim as the capital of Eretz Yisrael. Every president promised to do so as a candidate. He actually did it. He tried to protect Israel from Iran developing nuclear weapons. He saved the world from the evil that was ISIS, a potential Nazi-like regime in the making. He recognized the Golan as part of Israel, thus relieving pressure on Israel which in the past cost us hundreds of lives. He helped bring about unprecedented peace to Israel. He helped remove the favoritism that terrorists are shown throughout the world, and he relieved the pressure on Yehudah and Shomron.
Hakaras ha’tov is central to Torah. Rav Michel Birnbaum, zt’l, the great mashgiach of MTJ, wrote in his Sichos Mussar (page 58) that our emunah is inextricably bound with the middah of hakaras ha’tov to Hashem. Rav Birnbaum writes that the requirement of hakaras ha’tov is to Hashem and to our fellow man. Do we not have an iota of hakaras ha’tov to president Trump?
What was done was horrific, but is it worse than the actions of the Mitzrim or Og Melech HaBashan? Should the president be censured? Yes, but not by us—it is a lack of hakaras ha’tov.