The Error of Rabbi Akiva’s students
The Gemara relates that during the days of Sefirah between Pesach to Shevuos, twenty-four thousand talmidim of Rebbe Akiva died because they did not treat one another with respect.
The Medrash states that they died because they had a begrudging eye regarding each other’s Torah. Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon explains that the reasons cited by the Gemara and the Medrash complement one another.
An ayin tov is related to the way we give to others. In fact, ayin tov also relates to receiving. One cannot be a gracious giver if he is not a gracious recipient. Furthermore, one must first learn how to receive before he can learn how to give.
The Mishnah states, “One who learns from his friend one chapter, one law, one posuk, one thought or even one letter [of Torah] must treat him with respect.” Let us picture chavrusos poring over a Talmudic text. They come upon a difficulty. One partner offers a brilliant, incisive explanation that resolves the matter.
How does his partner react? If he has good middos, he will accept the explanation with gratitude for having been given the greatest gift – an understanding of a Torah concept. And out of recognition of this gift, he will act towards his partner with respect.
But what if his middos are somewhat wanting? What if he is jealous of his partner’s brilliant thinking? He might reject his partner’s conclusion because of tzarus ayin, a begrudging eye, an unwillingness to be happy with his friend’s success. And as a result, he does not accord his partner with proper respect.
Thus, to be makir tov, recognize the good, is to possess an ayin tov as a recipient of good.
What’s the Torah’s perspective on gratitude?
The Medrash states:
- One should thank Hashem upon hearing a good tiding.
- A person must show gratitude toward a place from which he derived benefit.
- The name יהודה is related to הודאה, praise, the essence of the Jewish people.
Rabbi Trovitz tells us, “When a person acknowledges the great kindness of Hashem, even when they are hidden from others, then Hashem will reward him with kindnesses that are wondrous and revealed for all to see.” Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler says, “The basis of true ahavas Hashem is hakaras hatov.” Rabbi Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz states, “A husband should show hakaras hatov to his wife and a wife should show hakaras hatov to her husband.” As the Medrash states, “Proper behavior comes before the Torah.”
What’s the downside to not having hakaras hatov?
Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer says, “There is nothing worse before HaKadosh Baruch Hu than to be an ingrate.” The Medrash HaGadol tells us, “Whoever is ungrateful for the good done to him by his fellow will eventually prove ungrateful for the good done to him by Hashem.” Furthermore, Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler states, “Someone who denies belief in a Creator does so because he refuses to acknowledge Hashem’s goodness. If he did acknowledge His goodness he would feel obligated to obligated to obey His word – and the ‘heretics’ of this world are not willing to do that.” Similarly, “If a person does not have understanding, it is forbidden to have compassion for him…” The Steipler Gaon explains, “Our Sages are speaking of someone who lacks the quality hakaras hatov.”
Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz stated, “Once a person becomes accustomed to taking from others, he is in danger of feeling entitled to all that he receives – to the point that he might seek to harm someone who refuses his request.”
There are people who ‘feel’ the need to ‘tell’ their friends about how their wife treats them. Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz says, “Calling attention to a minor fault of one’s wife is far more serious than speaking loshon hora about someone else.”
Dedicated in memory of my grandfather Chaim ben Ephraim Shmuel Zalman; Yisroel ben Yeshayah, Elisheva Basyah bas Yechiel Ephraim, Dovid Pinchas ben Moshe Aharon, Malka Devora Sima bas Meir Nosson, Esther Perel bas R’ Shlomo, Miriam bas Zelig Shaul, Menachem ben Shimon, Menachem ben Zev, Sarah bas HaRav Yisroel, Avraham Yosef ben Meir Dovid, Zushe Yosef ben Shmuel Tzvi, Dovid Tzvi ben Yosef Yochanan, Kayla Rus bas Bunim Tuvia, Dovid ben Uri HaLevi, Dovid Avraham ben Chiya Kehos, Yosef ben Moshe HaLevi, Tuvyah Shlomo ben Naftali Tzvi HaKohein, Altah Soshah Devorah bas Aryeh Leibush, Mashah Tzivyah bas R’ Shlomo Zalman and all the other departed souls of our nation.