A Lesson in Gratitude

Many of us of have a scorecard-like approach to our interpersonal relationships. We consider how much we have done for the other fellow versus how much he has done for us, then we factor in how much aggravation, if any, he has caused us, and after doing the math, we decide on the sort of relationship we will have.

In our mental record-keeping, any favors we might have received are often wiped out by the far greater acts of reciprocation on our part, while a negative experience, a slight or an insult can erase or at least balance out a long-ago act of kindness shown us.

What we perceive as a lack of gratitude on the part of an acquaintance or a neighbor —or even worse, repaying benevolence on our part with mistreatment — is often a cause of friction.

When it comes to family relationships, it’s calibrated even more finely. Understandably, if we are hurt by the words or actions of a family member, we view it as an act akin to treason. After all, our relatives are supposed to be paragons of good will, an endless source of kindness and compassion. When they fail to live up to expectations, all too often, bitter feuds erupt and estrangement may result.

This week, the parashah teaches us to adopt the exact opposite approach.

Every year on Pesach, we delve at length into the horrific way the Egyptians treated the Bnei Yisrael. Tossing newborn babies into the Nile, the king bathing in the blood of massacred children, the long decades of harsh enslavement and torture — the Egyptians were the symbol and epitome of cruelty and evil.

Yet the Torah orders us not to totally reject Egyptian converts who seek to marry into Am Yisrael; the third generation is permitted to do so. Chazal explain that this is because they served as our hosts bish’as ha’dchak: during a time of hunger and distress, Yaakov Avinu and the shevatim were permitted to settle there.

Using a human “scorecard,” one would say that any favors we received from the Egyptians have long since been erased by the many years of torture and abuse. Furthermore, the years of backbreaking work we did for them surely repaid any conceivable debt.

But it is clear from the Torah that gratitude is not something that one calculates, but is rather an obligation independent of any other aspects of a relationship. No matter how badly the Egyptians treated us, we are obligated to be grateful to them for the favor they did, and therefore the third generation is permitted to marry into Am Yisrael.

The Torah also instructs us to allow a third-generation Edomite convert to marry into Am Yisrael, “for he is your brother.”

Neither Esav nor his descendants ever exhibited brotherly conduct towards us; on the contrary, at every opportunity they sought to kill us.

But Esav is still “your brother”!

Rambam states that this comes to teach us that no matter how much harm a relative inflicts on us, no matter how egregious the relative’s behavior, we still have an obligation to treat him as a relative.

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In contrast, direct male descendants of Amon and Moav are banned forever from marrying into our nation, and the passuk gives us the reason:

“This is because they did not greet you with bread and water when you were on the way out of Egypt, and also because they hired Bilaam … to curse you.”

As descendants of Lot, they should have shown gratitude to the Bnei Yisrael for what Avraham Avinu did for their ancestor Lot and shown them hospitality.

It was their ingratitude that did them in.

However, the halachah is that the female descendants are permitted to marry into Klal Yisrael.

Chazal (Yevamos 76b) describes to us how Doeg Haedomi tried to disqualify Dovid Hamelech from marrying the daughter of Shaul — or any other bas Yisrael — claiming that the prohibition applied equally to men and women.

When Avner pointed out that the Torah had given a specific reason why Ammonites and Moabites were banned — because “they did not greet you with bread and water” — and this was something that is appropriate for men to do and not for women to do, Doeg rejected the argument.

“Men should have greeted men, and women should have greeted women,” Doeg charged.

In the end, the argument was brought to an end when it was revealed that there was a mesorah from Shmuel Hanavi that the prohibition only applied to male descendants.

The Gemara subsequently answers Doeg’s claim by referring to the passuk of kol kvudah bas melech penimah — it would be inappropriate for the Moabite women to emerge from their homes and greet the approaching women of Am Yisrael at the border. Therefore, although in reality they lived a life that was very far from this level of tznius, they still could not be blamed for showing ingratitude by not greeting the women of Klal Yisrael and were therefore permitted to marry into the Jewish nation.