It is fitting that a person should be thankful and generous to someone who has done something good
for him. Ingratitude is hateful in the eyes of G-d. Gratitude is a great
virtue, but it is often forgotten.
Above all, a person should feel grateful and
thankful to G-d at all times, for it is He who gives us our life, our strength
and our sustenance. And then a person should feel gratitude toward his parents
who gave so much to him as a child. This is the root of the mitzvah of
honoring parents. The thankfulness that a person feels towards his parents
prepares him to recognize the goodness of G-d. And similarly we should feel
gratitude toward any human being who helps us, even once.
We are obligated to show gratitude even to a
person who tries to help us but fails. This applies, for example, to
shadchanim. Even though the shadchan is not paid for arranging a shidduch
which does not succeed, the parties involved should be grateful for all the
trouble he took to arrange it.
The obligation of gratitude applies not only to
fellow Jews. When a gentile does us a good turn, we should also show
gratitude, as Rashi suggests in his commentary on the verse “You shall not
reject an Egyptian,” (Devorim 23:8) even though he threw all the males into the
Nile, because Egypt provided a place to live in hard times.
We are even obligated to be thankful toward
animals that help us, as it says in the midrash on the verse “Go and inquire
after the welfare of your brothers and the flocks” (Br. 37:14). A person
should be grateful and show concern for the welfare of anything from which he
has benefited. (Ber. Rab. 84:14) There is no quality that is worse than
ingratitude. The Torah forbids us to be ungrateful even toward animals. (Sefer Hasidim)
We should even show gratitude to inanimate objects
if we have benefited from them. Chazal tell us that the Nile was not struck by
Moshe Rabbeinu because it had protected him. The midrash teaches us that we
should have gratitude toward places which have benefited us (Ber. Rab. 79:6).
“Don’t throw stones into the well from which you drank:” Do not despise
the well from which you drank (Rashi). Once a person benefits from something,
he should have respect for it. It is told of the Rif that he once refused to
judge a case pertaining to a public bath house because he had benefited from
The gratitude we should feel toward a person who
has helped us requires us to do more for him than he has done for us, for what
he did was purely out of chesed,
while the goodness we show him is obligated by our gratitude. To merely
reciprocate his kindness is obligatory and expresses no chesed.
It’s only when we are even more generous with him than he was with us—when
we do more than justice requires—that we express chesed.