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Attitude of the Giver and Attitude of the Receiver

The Sifsei Chaim notes that the Chovos ha'l'Lavos seems to have contradictory statements regarding his impression of both givers and receivers of chesed. "I am amazed", says the Chovos ha'l'Lavos, "by those who expect gratitude for doing a chesed for someone." The Chovos ha'l'Lavos has explained that no one can damage or benefit another by even a mustard seed worth of value, for "hakol bidei shamayim" -- everything is in the hands of heaven. So that means that that the receiver is not really obligated to be grateful to someone who only carried out the Will of the Creator and brought His decree to fruition, right? Continues the Chovos ha'l'Lavos, "I am amazed by those people who do not have hakaras hatov for others who try to benefit them, even if they are not able to carry out their good intentions." Hmmm... and to make matters even worse, the Chovos ha'l'Lavos adds one more category of surprising individuals; those who feel they must flatter and praise others for helping them! How does one make sense of these (seemingly) contradictory statements?

There is a single outlook that removes the contradiction and clarifies everything. Says the Sifsei Chaim: hakaras hatov, gratitude, and doing chesed are all avodas HaShem. Of course no one can help or hurt me unless by decree of the Creator -- but the Creator chooses people who want to do good to actually carry out His decrees for good, and those who wish to do evil to carry out His other decrees. Of course no one can help you unless HaShem wants you to get help, but the one who actually helps you deserves your gratitude for wanting to help you. In fact, it now follows (as pointed out by the Chovos ha'l'Lavos) that I owe gratitude to anyone who wants to help me, whether or not they are successful. Moreover, even if they did if for ulterior motives, so what? HaShem decreed a benefit for you and chose that person to carry it out; his motives are irrelevant. On the other hand, the "good deed doer" has no right to expect anything at all... he was only carrying out the decree of the Almighty. Further, it obviously makes no sense to flatter and overly praise the person who benefits me, because I would have received that benefit in any case.

Just to add my own thought... this underlying principle of focusing solely on my obligations and measuring my actions against the yardstick of avodas HaShem can be applied to all areas of life. It really turns every "bein adam l'chavero" into a "bein adam lamakom". The more I can remain focused on that dimension of my actions, the less opportunity there is for anger, jealousy, revenge, holding grudges, and many other bad midos. To indulge myself just a little in my previous life as a physicist: this attitude turns the world into a thermometer to measure the intensity of my avodas HaShem rather than a thermostat that I am constantly trying (unsuccessfully, of course) to set for my personal benefit.


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