Why Hakaras Hatov is Paramount

In Parshas Vaerah we get a lesson in hakaras hatov from Moshe. As we all learned from Rashi's explanation on why Moshe did not carry out the first three makkos, it would have been a lack of hakaras hatov  for him to strike the water that carried him when he was a baby and the ground tha allowed him to bury the Egyptian man that he killed. Moshe understood that even given a commandment from G-d himself, it was better to direct his brother to do the requisite striking rather than to personally carry it out. His sensitivity to the virtue of  hakaras hatov  extended even to inanimate objects.

On Shabbos, I pointed out that it was fitting for the leader of Yetziyas Mitzrayim to demonstrate that level of hakaras hatov because this event was to become foundational for Klal Yisrael. Repeatedly Hashem reminds us that He is the One who took us out Egypt. While one aspect of this is the classical take that it is something we witnessed and remember collectively, a proof of Divine intervention in our lives that is etched forever in history, there is also another lesson. We have to have hakaras hatov for our redemption.

My husband suggested further insight into the centrality of hakaras hatov in Yetziyas Mitrayim from Rav Shaul Yisraeli's Siach Shaul (pp. 208-209) For one thing, it serves as a tikkun for the lack of  hakaras hatov exhibited by Adam in his response to Hashem's question if he had eaten from the eitz hadaas, pointing out that it was the woman that Hashem had given him gave it to him. Also the shibud itself was the result of a lack of  hakaras hatov from Pharaoh, who forgot or put out of his mind what his kingdom owed Yosef. Given that background, the antithesis to this has to be maintained even to the point of the halacha we have to show hakaras hatov to those who enslaved us because they also were out hosts! In Parshas Kit Tezeh 23:8 we are enjoined:
"You shall not despise an Egyptian, for you were a sojourner in his land.לֹֽא־תְתַעֵ֣ב מִצְרִ֔י כִּי־גֵ֖ר הָיִ֥יתָ בְאַרְצֽוֹ"

That we are enjoined to show hakaras hatov even to Egypt fits well with the greater meaning of the term. Sure, we use it to mean gratitude and appreciation, but on a literal level it means recognizing the good. In the case of Egypt, we can say that they were 99% bad to us. The abused, persecuted, enslaved, and sought to destroy us. But they still get credit for that 1% good of having acted as our hosts when we came to the land as foreigners. This is recognizing good even when it appears overshadowed by the bad. It's very hard to do in real life. Even when we get a greater percentage of good, we tend to privilege the bad in our assessment of the person's merit. But we are told to do better and see better than our natural inclination would lead us to with the shining example offered by Moshe.

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