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"Be Gracious When Thanked"

02/13/2019 08:40:46 PM


Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

If you do a favor for someone, and that person thanks you, how do you respond?  More often than not, I respond by saying, "There is no need to thank me."  In Yiddish, the expression is, "Nisht dah farvos."  While in theory this response appears to be gracious, Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz, the Mirrer Mashgiach, states that such a response might indicate that I am harboring a less-than-pure motive for brushing aside the thanks given to me.  The recipient of the favor I have done has a natural tendency to feel that s/he "owes" me something in return.  By expressing his/her thanks, s/he "repays" me for my kindness.  If I deflect his/her thanks, I might actually be saying, "Don't thank me. Thanks is not enough.  You owe me one!"  A conundrum, no?  Let us look to this week's parashah, Parahsat Tetzaveh, fo the lesson to be learned from such a situation!

"You shall command B'nei Yisrael that they shall take for you pure olive oil, pressed, for illumination, to kindle a lamp continually.  In the Tent of Meeting, outside the Partition that is near the Testimonial-Tablets, Aharon and his sons shall arrange it from evening until the morning." (Shemot [Exodus] 27:20-21)  The Talmud Bavli raises an obvious question: For 40 years B'nei Yisrael wandered in the Wilderness, their way being illuminated by HaShem's light.  Why did He command us to kindle the lights of the Menorah in the Mishkan (the Wilderness Tabernacle)?  Did Hashem need our light?  A Midrash (a Rabbinic legend/story that helps to explain a Torah passage) says that by instructing us to light the Menorah, Hashem was "raising us up."  HaShem, Who did not "need" the light of the Menorah was saying that just as He lit a path for B'nei Yisrael in the Wilderness, so now should they provide light for H'm.  But why did He command this to be done?  Hashem was "allowing" B'nei Yisrael to do H'm a "favor" in return for providing them light in the Wilderness.  By "providing" H'm with the light of the Menorah, they could feel as though they are paying back the overwhelming debt they owed H'm. By acting in a truly gracious way toward the recipients of H's favors, HaShem  was teaching B'nei Yisrael the value of  H's gratefulness by having them say "thank you" for all the love that He had shown them.

The Brisker Rav married off one of his children in a hall owned by a Mr. Wagschal.  After the wedding, when the Brisker Rav came to pay him, Mr. Wagschal said, "Brisker Rav, it is an honor to have hosted your child's wedding.  I could not possibly take payment for it."  The Brisker Rav replied,"The cheapest way to pay for something is with money.  I am not prepared to pay the exorbitant price of taking something for free."  There is no such thing as a free lunch.  The most expensive lunch of all is when, although it seems to be free, you are forever indebted to the one who provided you the meal.  Hashem allowed B'nei Yisrael to "repay" the light He provided for them so that they would feel raised up and not indebted.  The bottom line: When thanked, respond in kind with "You're welcome."  You will feel much better for it. 

Sun, September 15 2019 15 Elul 5779