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"Never forget that there is no limit to hakaras hatov”


The Joint Distribution Committee (JDC or Joint) is a Jewish relief organization founded in 1914 through a $50,000 donation from Jacob Schiff, a Reform Jew. Although the organization was founded and run by Reform Jews, they attempted to help all Jews who needed assistance, which included relief work and financial help to the great yeshivos in Europe.

After the stock market crash in October 1929, the world descended into the Great Depression and the JDC was forced to limit its financial assistance, including its aid to the yeshivos.

As the financial support to the yeshivos decreased, some of the yeshivah directors felt that the Joint should prioritize the yeshivos in the allocation of its now-limited funds, that directing money to other causes was indicative of the Joint’s bias against the yeshivos.

They decided to approach the Chofetz Chaim. They asked him, “Rebbi, the Joint wants to eliminate funding to the yeshivos. What should we tell them? How should we protest this terrible decree?”

The Chofetz Chaim looked surprised at the question. “What should you tell them? You should tell them ‘thank you’ for all the support they have given these last 25 years. They are not frum Jews, yet they supported yeshivos. We must show them hakaras hatov, gratitude. Never forget that there is no limit to hakaras hatov.”

The Chofetz Chaim was famous for his trait of hakaras hatov. He particularly stressed this middah to his family.

Fast-forward almost a century and across the Atlantic to Passaic-Clifton, New Jersey.

The world has been in the throes of the pandemic for over a year. Our shul removed almost three-quarters of the chairs from the three batei medrash to maintain social distancing. The shul was sparsely populated and looked and felt barren.

Finally, the day arrived when we received permission from our medical expert to put the seats back.

The issue was now how to organize a team to replace the hundreds of chairs.

The gabbai asked for volunteers. However, he reminded everyone, it would be grueling and challenging and was not a job for middle-aged, out-of-shape men.

The appointed time arrived. Volunteers were scarce. The gabbai looked worried.

Suddenly, as if malachim had dropped from Shamayim, a group of bochurim from the Mesivta of Clifton arrived and in a coordinated and systematic effort, restored all three batei midrash to their pre-pandemic order in a matter of minutes.

I know these boys. They learn in the shul every Friday night and Shabbos day. They are masmidim. Although they came during their lunch break, each one of them has an additional seder during that time. They sacrificed their own precious learning time to help out the shul.

That everning, I spoke to their rebbi. “I am so grateful to you. Your boys are shining examples of what a ben Torah should be. Thank you so much for coming with them to set up the shul.”

The rebbi looked at me, surprised. “What do you mean? Every Friday night and Shabbos, you allow us to use the shul for learning. We benefit greatly from the shul. Isn’t it only right that we give back to the shul when it needs our help? Is hakaras hatov a small thing?”

Suddenly it dawned on me. “Rabbi Yaakov Mordechai Zaks, aren’t you an einekel, a direct descendent, of the Chofetz Chaim?”

Rabbi Zaks smiled and said, “Yes, I am, and as I have heard many times from my father, who heard from his mother, and she from the Chofetz Chaim, ‘Never forget that there is no limit to hakaras hatov.’ ”


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 865)

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