The Importance of Gratitude
Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32 )
Bereishis, 11:5-6: "God descended to see the city and tower which the sons of Adam built; and God said, Behold, one people, and there is one language for all of them, and this they begin to do!"
Rashi: Bereshit, 11:5 dh: The sons of Adam: But then, the sons of whom - perhaps the sons of donkeys and camels?! Rather, they [showed that they were] the sons of Adam, the first man, who was ungrateful and said, 'the woman whom You gave to be with me'. So too, these were ungrateful but rebelling against He who bestowed good upon them and rescued them from the Flood."
In the midst of the account of the Tower of Babel, the Torah alludes to an additional flaw that the nations expressed in their efforts to build a Tower in order to fight God. Rashi, quoting the Midrash, tells us that God compared them to their ancestor, Adam who was ungrateful; when he sinned by eating from the fruit, he blamed God for creating the woman who caused him to sin. In truth, God had bestowed a great kindness on him by providing him with a partner. So too, God saved Noah from the Flood and instead of appreciating His kindness in saving them, Noah's descendants attempted to fight Him.
One may ask that this point about ingratitude seems quite trivial compared to the seemingly far greater sin in and of itself of kefira (1) and attempting to somehow wage war with the Almighty - why then, does the Torah allude to this seemingly insignificant flaw? The answer to this question can be found in the Torah prohibition to marry male converts from the nations of Ammon and Moab or their descendants.(2) One of the reasons the Torah offers as to why it is forbidden to marry them is that they did not offer bread and water to the Jewish nation when they were in the desert. The commentaries ask that whilst their inaction shows that they were not kind-hearted, why is it so severe that their descendants can never marry into the Jewish people. They explain that their sin was greatly magnified by the fact that they owed a great debt to the Jewish people; Abraham saved Lot, the Patriarch of Ammon and Moab, when he rescued him from the four Kings. The ingratitude that his descendants expressed by refusing to help the Jewish people, reflected such a great character flaw that it meant that they could never marry into the Jewish people.(3)
So too, the ingratitude that the people demonstrated by not only not thanking God for saving Noah, but by actually having the audacity to 'fight' Him, significantly magnified the severity of their actions. We learn from here the fundamental importance of the trait of hakarat hatov (gratitude) and the contemptible nature of it's opposite; ingratitude. It seems that the reason why ingratitude is such a serious flaw is that it contradicts the very foundations of Emuna (belief) and Torah observance - that God bestowed upon us an unparalleled kindness by giving us life and the opportunity to connect with Him. This alone is a highly compelling reason to observe the mitzvot; to demonstrate our appreciation for what God did and constantly does for us by trying to fulfill His will.(4)
1. Kefira is the denial of the basic tenets of belief in God.
2. Devarim, 23:4-5.
3. See Ramban 23:5.
4. Of course HaShem does not need us to fulfill the Torah for His sake, rather it is for our own benefit.