Halachic Musings

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

The soldiers in Eretz Yisrael are now focusing on tunnels. They do so at great personal peril, but their focus is making life safer for all Jews throughout Eretz Yisrael.

Iron Dome was developed by Israeli scientists and funded by the Obama administration. It is a technology that shoots down rockets that are headed toward populated areas. It has saved countless Jewish lives. Iron Dome, with the help of Hashem, has been a game-changer in the struggle against terror.

Former mayor Bloomberg flew to Eretz Yisrael on Tuesday night. He did so to protest the flight ban initiated by the Obama administration, which was copied around the world–isolating Eretz Yisrael. Bloomberg’s move and statement were brave and opened the door for others to put the lie to Kerry’s statement that the ban was a safety precaution. Ben-Gurion Airport is and remains the safest airport in the world.

All three of these issues–the destruction of the tunnels, the creation and funding of Iron Dome, and the courage to speak out–deserve something from us. They deserve an expression of our own hakaras ha’tov, recognition of favor and expression of appreciation for their efforts.

Hakaras ha’tov is central to the Torah way of life. There are numerous mitzvos in the Torah whose essence is predicated upon the concept of hakaras ha’tov.

1. The Torah requirement to bentch after consuming bread to satiation is one example. The first benediction in Birkas HaMazon is the recognition that Hashem sustains the world with grace, kindness, and mercy. Following the cue from the Torah, the rabbis ordained that blessings and after-blessings be recited on all types of food.

2. Shabbos observance is predicated upon hakaras ha’tov too. It is not just to commemorate that G‑d created the world in six days; it also commemorates the exodus from Egypt and the recognition of the favors we received from G‑d at the time. Someone who does not recognize the element of hakaras ha’tov in Shabbos observance is missing a significant aspect of Shabbos.

3. The Korban Pesach, matzah, and marror commemorate the exodus from Egypt–as an expression of our hakaras ha’tov.

4. The other yomim tovim are all zecher l’yetzias Mitzrayim.

The expression of hakaras ha’tov toward Hashem should also develop within us the desire to express it to others as well, according to numerous Rishonim. The Chovos HaLevavos (beginning of Shaar Avodas HaElokim) writes of our obligation to express hakaras ha’tov to all who benefit us.

In Parashas Ki Sisa, we are told of the mitzvah not to abhor the Mitzri. Why not? Because “we were strangers in his land.” Even though we were maltreated while we were in Mitzrayim, this mitzvah still exists.

The Gemara in Bava Kamma (94a) states, “A well of which you drank its water, cast no stone in it.” This is an expression of our obligation of hakaras ha’tov.

When Yosef HaTzaddik was sent by his father to inquire of the welfare of his brothers, he was also told to find out the welfare of the flock. The Midrash points out that this was not just for financial purposes. Rather, there exists an obligation to express hakaras ha’tov to anything that one has benefited from.

The Gemara (Bava Kamma 92a) tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu refrained from performing some of the plagues upon Egypt because he had benefited from the waters of the Nile and from the earth (which had buried the Mitzri that he had killed earlier). Aharon performed them in his stead.

Hakaras ha’tov is indeed central to Torah Judaism, and we should actively demonstrate our appreciation to those who are defending the nation of Israel. We can do this by adopting a soldier to pray for (as Rav Shteinman and Rav Chaim Kanievsky have both urged), by attending funerals of those who have given their lives to protect us, and by sending care packages.

Hakaras ha’tov is something that we should be actively inculcating within our children as well. We can do this in three main ways.

Firstly, we must show our children that, aside from the fact that we observe mitzvos because this is what Hashem wants of us, much of what lies behind these mitzvos is hakaras ha’tov. Tefillin, Shabbos, and the yomim tovim are all about hakaras ha’tov to Hashem. This quality or trait that we develop and hone daily should transfer to other people and even inanimate objects. We need to bring this out more in our conversations with our children.

A second way we can inculcate hakaras ha’tov in our children is to show that this is our priority. When a child returns from camp, we often ask, “Did you have a good time? What did you do?” When asking these questions, we are demonstrating that these are the issues that we are concerned with. We need to rather ask, “Were you able to help others, particularly those who were looking out for you?”

A third method is to model this type of behavior ourselves, and do it together with our children. In order to become ba’alei hakaras ha’tov, our children need to see us writing thank-you letters and performing other acts of hakaras ha’tov. Recently, Agudath Israel of America wrote to President Obama thanking him for all he had done in helping to create Iron Dome. This expression of hakaras ha’tov is essential and is fundamental to the Torah way of life.

But we should also be expressing that very same hakaras ha’tov to those who give more than money–who give of themselves, their lives. Perhaps we should even consider a special hakaras ha’tov rally in Manhattan, expressing our deep thanks to those who are risking everything to protect Klal Yisrael. Pretty much everyone is davening fervently for the welfare of acheinu Bnei Yisrael and those who are defending them. But hakaras ha’tov means more than this–we should search for a means of expressing it even more. Thankfully, as the picture on the front page shows, boys in the Mirrer Yeshiva in Yerushalayim are creating tzitzis for the front-line soldiers as an expression of hakaras ha’tov.

The Alter of Slabodka (Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zt’l) explains that Adam HaRishon was actually innocent of the sin of defying Hashem in the consumption of the forbidden fruit in Gan Eden. Chava, according to the Midrash, had veritably forced him to consume it. Why then was Adam punished? The Alter explains that it was solely on account of Adam HaRishon’s response to Hashem’s inquiry. He said, “The woman that you gave me had given me to eat of the fruit.” It was this phrase, “asher nasata li” that showed Adam’s lack of hakaras ha’tov, which doomed mankind for eternity. Chava was a gift that Hashem had given Adam. He had blamed Hashem for the whole incident.

Perhaps the struggles that we currently face could be alleviated if we learn to develop this critical middah within ourselves. May Hashem send yeshuos and nechamos to us all. And may we all improve in this critical area of avodas Hashem. Ï–

The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.

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