April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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The Jews are suffering heavily, and finally after decades upon decades of untold misery and pain, Hashem tells Moshe, “And now come, and I will send you to Pharoah, and take out My people—the Bnei Yisrael—from Egypt” (Shemot 3:10). We would think that Moshe wouldn’t hesitate for a moment, but rather spring into action and hasten as quickly as possible to free the Jews from bondage and their immense distress. However, Moshe first took a “pit stop” at his father-in-law, Yitro’s, house to request permission to leave to go to Egypt: “Moses went and returned to Yitro, his father-in-law, and he said to him, ‘Let me go now and return to my brothers who are in Egypt’” (Ibid 4:18). Why did he do that? The Midrash Tanchuma (Shemot 16:3) explains that since Yitro opened his doors to Moshe and provided hospitality, Moshe felt indebted to him. Therefore he needed to first request permission to leave. It’s clear from this Midrash that Moshe felt hakarat hatov to Yitro, so much so that expressing it by requesting permission to leave was more important than going immediately to save the Jews.

We can ask two questions on this Midrash:

1. The Jewish people are in death valley, suffering excruciately. Isn’t hurrying to relieve them of their suffering more important than expressing gratitude to Yitro?

2. Yeztiyat mitzrayim would soon eventually bring the Jewish people to Har Sinai to officially become Hashem’s people, and accept the Torah. Isn’t hastening that process more important than expressing gratitude to Yitro?

R’ Chaim Friedlander explains that the foundation of serving Hashem is based upon yeztiyat mitzrayim. For since yetziat mitzrayim was a demonstration of Hashem saving us, this would instill feelings of deep gratitude to Him, and would motivate us to serve Him. Yeztiyat mitzrayim was the beginning of a newfound relationship between Hashem and Bnei Yisrael, and in order for this relationship to thrive, the middah of hakarat hatov was the imperative. Therefore, Moshe Rabbeinu, at the time that he is called to begin the exodus—which was the very beginning of what would ultimately create this new relationship—had to demonstrate a complete perfection in the middah of hakarat hatov. If he wanted to impress upon the Jews the whole goal of yeztiyat mitzrayim, which was to create the feeling of hakarat hatov to Hashem, he himself had to reach and remain in a state of perfection in this area. Therefore, expressing hakarat hatov, which, although it would cause delaying the salvation of the Jews, as well as Har Sinai, was nevertheless more important since this middah would eventually pave the way for how the relationship between the Jewish people was to be viewed and practiced for generations. (See Sifsei Chaim, Moadim “2,” p. 270-274.)

Yet, I thought, granted that hakarat hatov is the life-force to serving Hashem, one can perhaps say that psychologically, feeling indebted and constantly being on the side of “paying back” can cause one to feel like “I have to serve Hashem” in order to “pay Him back,” rather than “I want to serve Hashem because I realize His greatness and His love for me.”

I saw an interesting idea from Rav Henach Leibowitz on the idea of chesed and hakarat hatov. He says there are two ways of doing a chesed: (1) When one does out of pity for the person. (2) When one does it out of love for the person. What are the ramifications of both ways? The first way will cause the recipient to feel a lower level of gratitude, where he will feel uncomfortable to be in a state of giving back. On the other hand, the second way will cause the recipient to feel good to give back.

Hashem didn’t save us, and help us, and make us his chosen people out of pity, but rather out of cherishment and love for us. Despite the fact that we were steeped in spiritual impurity (49th level according to the Zohar), Hashem freed us from an existence that was unbearable. With glory and tremendous wealth we walked away with a pride that no one would have dreamed of. Throughout the entire story of Egypt, Hashem shows his love and constant care: the numerous miracles involving the plagues and the special supervision, and He provided us all of them throughout; He shielded us when the Egyptians came back to chase us; He split the sea for us and miraculously produced nutrition literally at sea level; he fed us food from Heaven (the mann), gave us water (miraculously from a rock) and shelter throughout our journey in the desert; and ultimately gave us the Torah to help us reach a higher and greatly elevated state of life and living; etc. When one reflects upon the chesed Hashem did for us, one can understand it was out of love. Reflecting upon this can generate a positive feeling of hakarat hatov that can be expressed through enhancing one’s unique relationship with Hashem, and that can bring one to genuinely proclaim, “I want to serve Hashem.”


Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He can be reached at [email protected].

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