Hakaras Hatov

Pundits have been analyzing and discussing the most recent GOP debate over the last few weeks, leaving virtually no stone unturned. The questions of which moments were winning ones for each candidate and how they ultimately affect their respective standings in the race are ones that can be (and have been) debated ad nauseam.

But among the crowd-pleasing, applause-inducing (mostly pre-rehearsed) lines the candidates delivered at the debate was one which got attention, but not quite enough. When Donald Trump attacked Jeb Bush over George W’s tenure in the White House, calling it a “disaster” which directly led to Barack Obama’s election, Jeb fought back, defending his brother. “As it relates to my brother, there’s one thing I know for sure: He kept us safe.”

The crowd responded approvingly, delivering one of the longest ovations of the night. They applauded again when Trump was again smacked down by Gov. Walker who said that the current state of affairs is “not because of George W. Bush,” defending the former president.

It was interesting that the crowd responded so approvingly, especially when you consider that positive invocations of W’s name have practically become ­verboten by Republican candidates for any office due to his unpopularity. This despite that, for all his flaws, President Bush accomplished many things that are indeed worthy of praise — not the least of which is keeping us safe.  And they’ve paid for this reluctance to defend him by allowing him to be cast as the boogeyman for anything the Democrats don’t want to assume any responsibility for.

But someone’s unpopularity is no reason not to express hakaras hatov toward them. When Rashi ­(Bereishis 2:5) explains that there was no rain before Adam Harishon was created to be able daven for it, he prefaces it with something very interesting. Besides Adam, who was created to work the earth, “v’ein makir b’tovasam shel geshamim — and there was no one who would be grateful for the rain.” Maharal explains, “V’assur laasos tovah l’ish she’ein makir b’tovah — it is forbidden to do something good for someone who doesn’t express gratitude for the good.”

In Chiddushei Aggados, the Maharal expounds upon this idea, when he explains the Gemara (Shabbos 10b) which says “Hanosein matanah l’chaveiro tzarich l’hodio — when someone gives a gift to his friend, he must inform him.” To give someone something, you don’t only need the giver to give it; there is a second half of the equation as well: a mekabel — the recipient. For the mekabel to truly receive something, he explains, he needs to know from whom he got it. Therefore, before one gives something, one needs to let the recipient know, in order for both ends of the equation to hold up.

What is left unexplained is why he says it is forbidden to do something good for someone who is a kafuy tovah.

In Michtav M’Eliyahu (Vol. 1, pp. 46–47), Rav Dessler explains where the “mekor banefesh” is for the middah of hakaras hatov (and, conversely, kefiyas hatovah). Someone who is a nosein —  a giver — does not want to receive gifts — he wants to give. In the instance where he gets something without payment, the only way he can cope with it is to express himself by saying how much he is indebted for what he got. However, someone who is a notel — a taker — sees his entire purpose as to get more and more. In the instance where someone gives him something, it only registers on him as another way of obtaining more and more. He is, writes Rav Dessler, simply incapable of sincerely expressing gratitude.

A notel is not a mekabel, for the simple reason that for a taker, there is no giver in the equation. There is only (and there only ever is) the notel. The giver is just there as a way for the notel to take what he wants, but he doesn’t recognize him in his rightful place.

Perhaps that is why one can’t do something for someone who doesn’t express gratitude. If they won’t express gratitude, the equation simply will not hold up. All that would be left is a notel, with no nosein. We are supposed to emulate the middos of Hakadosh Baruch Hu — the ultimate meitiv and nosein, not live with each other with our focus being on how we, as some put it, “get more stuff.”

But for people who don’t understand the need to emulate the One Above, this entire idea has no appeal at all. And although my philosophy of governance more closely aligns with the GOP than the other party, it doesn’t preclude me from recognizing that the Republican Party has become, for an increasingly larger segment of the conservative coalition, about not being a “nosein” but about being a “notel.

And that hinders them in their ability to express their gratitude to someone who deserves to have his positive accomplishments recognized.