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Is it to Hashem that you do this, o' vile and unwise people. (32:6)
In the list of middos, character traits, that can possibly define one's personality, the middah of ha'koras ha'tov, appreciation and expression of gratitude, is of pivotal significance. Relationships, our attitude toward Hashem and our fellowman, indicate our true character. Our Sages were meticulous in their "observance" of this middah. They made every effort to "recognize" every bit of benefit they received -- directly or inadvertently, from another person -- and return the favor, always cognizant of their "debt" of gratitude. Elisha Ha'navi was the beneficiary of a simple favor from the Shunamis. His appreciation of her gift compelled him to pray that she be blessed with a child. His sense of gratitude motivated him to pray for this child's return to life. In the Midrash, Chazal question Elisha's choice of beneficiaries. If Eliyahu Ha'Navi had guaranteed him the ability to be mechayeh meisim, bring people back from the dead, why did he not pray for his own father and mother? Why did he not seek to have them resurrected? Horav Moshe Reis, Shlita, derives from here the incredible debt of gratitude that Elisha carried. While we are not on Elisha's spiritual plane, we can learn something about fulfilling the obligation of ha'koras ha' tov from him.
In his commentary to Sefer Bereishis 2:5, Rashi presents an inkling of what ha'koras ha'tov means to Hashem. The Torah teaches us that Hashem did not cause rain to descend on the land until man had been created. Rashi explains that only after the creation of man, who would appreciate the effect of rain, did Hashem bestow rain on the earth. Certainly, Hashem could have had the vegetation grow without rain. Yet, Hashem created the world in such a manner that the earth needed the rain to produce man's crops, so that man would be thankful for all that he has. Indeed, the world was created incomplete. The fact that the earth cannot produce without rain establsihes the need for ha'koras ha'tov, with man maintaining the main obligation. Moreover, based upon Rashi's pshat, exposition, Maharal M'Prague posits that it is forbidden to perform a favor for one who does not possess the middah of ha'koras ha'tov.
According to the Ramban, the Revelation, the awesome experience that accompanied the Giving of the Torah, occurred so that Klal Yisrael would realize that Hashem was doing this only for them - and not for any other nation. This knowledge was to imbue them with an impulse of reciprocity, to learn to return a favor, to show gratitude where it is due.
In his commentary on the pasuk, "Am naval v'lo chacham," "O vile and unwise people," Rambam comments that one who is not makir tov, who does not appreciate what others do for him, is a "naval," an abomination. Furthermore, he explains that in the Hebrew language the letter "bais" and "fay" are interchangeable. In other words, the word "novel" is the same as the word "nofel." Consequently, a leaf that "falls," "nofel," to the ground is called "novel." An animal that falls to the ground and dies is called a "neveilah." Hence, a person who does not appreciate what others do for him is considered a "naval," because he is "nofel," falls from humanity. He is no longer a human being. A kafui tov does not deserve to be counted as a person. He lacks the mentchlechkeit that would render him a mentch.
Sefer Ha'Chinuch also uses the word "naval" to describe an individual who is unappreciative of what others do for him. In mitzvah 33, he opines that the shoresh, root/origin, of the mitzvah of Kibud Av v'Eim, honoring one’s father and mother, is ha’koras ha'tov. One must recognize who has brought him into the world and who has cared for him throughout his life. One who does not accept the imperative to love and respect parents for what they have done for him is considered a naval and kafui tov. The respect one manifests for parents engenders respect for the One Who is responsible for all the good from which he has benefited in his life. We do not know the real reason for mitzvos. The rationale that we determine only serves as a motivation so that some might relate more easily to mitzvos. The lesson, however, is apparent: Kibud Av v'Eim teaches one ha’koras ha'tov. Indeed, as Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, puts it, "Hashem has given us a mitzvah through which one can educate and refine his middah of ha’koras ha'tov." Ha’koras ha'tov is the ability to recognize and appreciate the benefits we reap from others. One who does not demonstrate this sensitivity is not a complete human being.
Remember the days of yore, understand the years of generation after generation; ask your Father and he will relate to you; your elders and they will tell you. (32:7)
Targum Yonasan interprets this pasuk as a reference to listening to daas Torah, the Torah's perspective , as expounded by our gedolei Yisrael, Torah leaders. The answer to all of our questions is in the Torah. A talmid chacham, Torah scholar, using his acutely "Torah-developed" mind, is able to render a response to our every issue, regardless of its mundane nature. Torah encompasses every aspect of our lives. We should look to it and its disseminators for guidance.
Nachlas Tzvi cites a powerful story that illustrates the incredible depth of daas Torah: The story is about a young man who was chozer b'teshuvah, returned to the faith of his ancestors, at the urging of his friend who had also recently become a baal teshuvah. One day, three months after he had become a baal teshuvah, he was riding a bus when an Arab bomb went off on the bus, killing him instantly. His friend, who was instrumental in bringing him back to Yiddishkeit, was doubly distraught: first about his tragic death; and also about what he should tell the parents of the deceased. A tragedy of such magnitude is difficult enough for the believer to confront, let alone a secular Jew who surely had not agreed with his son's recent discovery of Torah Judaism.
He decided to go to Horav Chaim Kanievski, Shlita, one of the pre-eminent sages of our generation, whose encyclopedic knowledge of every area of Torah made him a prime expositor of daas Torah. "What should I tell the parents?” asked the young man of Rav Chaim. The sage responded, "Tell them that in truth their son was actually supposed to die three months earlier. It was only in order to give him the chance to return to Torah that his life was extended."
While this may have been a solid response, the young man feared that this answer would not be adequate for his friend's secular parents. When he came to be "menachem aveil," comfort the mourners, he was immediately accosted by the father, "Why did this happen to my son? I thought that by becoming observant, he would be rewarded. Truly his premature death is far from rewarding." The young man gathered together his courage and said, "Sensing your question, I took the liberty of speaking to Horav Chaim Kanievski, who told me that your son had been granted three more months of life only to give him the opportunity to be chozer b'teshuvah." Expecting to be showered with abuse, he was shocked when the father stood up and said, "It is true. It is true. Three months ago when my son was still in the Israeli army, his platoon decided to make a surprise military strike into Lebanon. My son wanted to go on this mission. The sergeant, however, was adamant for some reason that he not go. My son begged and pleaded, to no avail. Because of his rejection, he decided to leave the Army, a decision which was the beginning of his three-month odyssey to Torah observance. Everyone who went on that ill-fated mission was killed. Had my son gone, he probably would have been among the fatalities. Yes, indeed, I believe that he was saved so that he could perform teshuvah. Blessed be Hashem's Name!"
There is nothing to be added to such a poignant story other than to say that it is but one of a myriad of instances that illustrate the depth of insight of our gedolei Yisrael.
Ask your father and he will relate to you, and your elders and they will tell you.
The Kelmer Maggid, zl, addressed the redundancy of this pasuk homeletically. In earlier generations, children asked their father questions regarding religion, its codes and laws - and they received an answer. Regrettably, in contemporary times, the fathers are no longer "equipped" with the answer. Thus, they tell their children to turn to their elders, the grandfather who still remembers the answer. Let us for a moment analyze what has occurred. While it is true that the fathers are ill-prepared to respond to their children, what is the reason for this? Where were their fathers, the grandfathers, to whom we are now turning for answers, when their own children were growing up?
Perhaps we can offer the following response: The Torah uses two expressions for communication between the generations, hagaddah and amirah. The latter form, amirah, is a softer tone, more explanatory than the former, haggadah, which implies simply relating an answer without really getting into its underlying rationale. When a child grows up in a home in which his questions are answered curtly, without feeling, without looking to establish a rapport between father and son, he is in danger that at one point he will no longer accept the answer, or -- even worse – he will refrain from asking. This child will become an adult who has no answers, who will send his son to his grandfather, who will, hopefully, be able to answer with sensitivity and warmth. As a postscript we might add that the Kelmer Maggid made this statement over a century ago. Unfortunately, today the grandfather is not distinguishable from his son; he also has no answers. The only cure for illiteracy is a Torah education.
The Mighty One created you with forgetfulness but you forgot the G-d Who formed you.
Every faculty with which man is endowed can be used positively or negatively. Certainly, Hashem's desire is that we use these G-d- given faculties for a positive goal. The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, says that the ability to forget is a perfect example. Shikchah, forgetfulness, is a gift, a vehicle through which we are able to proceed beyond our past troubles. If we do not forget the unpleasant occurrences in our lives, they will gnaw at us, wreaking havoc upon our emotional stability. Regrettably, some of us use this gift to forget Hashem's beneficience and patience with us.
The Dubno Maggid, zl, explains this with a parable: There was once a man who was deeply in debt, able to pay his many creditors only a fraction of what he owed. One creditor, out of concern for his own debt, gave the hapless debtor an idea that would dissuade his other creditors from bothering him. He said, "When the creditors come to you, act foolish and silly, so that they will think you are insane and will leave you alone. Afterwards, you can pay me what you owe me."
It was a great idea. One by one, the creditors came and left, some in disgust, others in sympathy. The pressure of the many debts must have gotten to him. When the man who had given him this advice came to collect his debt, he was met with the same response as the other creditors. This was just too much. "Whom do you think you are fooling?" he asked. "Did you forget that it was I who advised you to act insanely? Do not try to use my own idea against me!"
Hashem Yisborach tells us the same thing. He gave us the faculty to forget, so that we would not be overwhelmed by destructive memories. We function because we are able to forget. What do we do in gratitude to Hashem? We forget Him! It is one thing to neglect to think of Hashem, but to use an instinct with which He has endowed us against Him, is the height of audacity. But, is that not what forgetting is all about?
Moshe came and spoke all the words of this song in the ears of the people, he and Hoshea bin Nun. (32:44)
Moshe Rabbeinu stood with his trusted disciple, Yehoshua, indicating that the transfer of leadership would soon occur. It was important for the people to see Yehoshua up there together with Moshe during Moshe's lifetime, so that no one would say that he rose to power only after Moshe's death. Interestingly, the Torah refers to Yehoshua here by his original name, Hoshea. Moshe had changed his student's name prior to leaving for Eretz Yisrael with the meraglim, spies. The added letter was to protect him from the spies’ false counsel. Kli Yakar explains that since that whole generation was now gone, he no longer needed the name change. Rashi says that the Torah is teaching us that although he was elevated by Moshe, he remained the same modest Hoshea as he was before.
There is an interesting pshat, exposition, rendered by the Netziv,zl, which comes to us by way of a story. The Netziv was rosh hayeshivah of Volozhin, a yeshivah that prepared and graduated the pre-eminent rabbanim and leaders of European Jewry. As rosh hayeshivah, the Netziv took a personal interest in his students, assisting them in their positions. Once, one of his graduates came to him saying that he had recently accepted a position as rav of a community. He was concerned, however, that politics and controversy reigned in the community - especially among its leadership. He, therefore, turned to his rebbe for a brachah, blessing, that he be spared the lashon hora, slander, reserved for the community's leadership and that he be successful in shepherding the community.
The Netziv spoke to his talmid with the special love that a true rebbe has for his student: "I would very much like to bless you with every blessing in the world, but, alas, unfortunately, you cannot escape the ill effects of lashon hora. This disease destroys our finest and most promising talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars. When Yehoshua was selected to be among those who would spy out the land, Moshe called him aside and changed his name. He added a yud implying May Hashem save you from the false counsel of the meraglim. Conversely, when Moshe was about to step down from his position, when he was about to transfer the scepter of leadership to Yehoshua, he called him once again by his original name, Hoshea. Why? Why did Moshe not once again pray on behalf of his student that he be spared the consequences of lashon hora? The answer is that Moshe knew from personal experience that this was impossible. No leader is spared the sharp, lacerating tongue of lashon hora. Once one has ascended to a position of leadership over others, he is immediately subject to the abuse of disparaging speech. The Netziv's words are not very encouraging. Indeed, the nisayon ha'chayim, life's experience, shows them to be very true. If one, however, understands the role he has accepted, the harmful side- effects of his position can be ameliorated.
1. a. They are here forever, so Klal Yisrael can never deny that they accepted the Covenant.
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