It is fitting that a person should be thankful and generous to someone who
has done something good for him. Ingratitude is hateful in the eyes of G-d.
Gratitude is a great virtue, but it is often forgotten.
Above all, a person should feel grateful and thankful to G-d at all times,
for it is He who gives us our life, our strength and our sustenance. And
then a person should feel gratitude toward his parents who gave so much to
him as a child. This is the root of the mitzvah of honoring parents. The
thankfulness that a person feels towards his parents prepares him to
recognize the goodness of G-d. And similarly we should feel gratitude toward
any human being who helps us, even once.
We are obligated to show gratitude even to a person who tries to help us but
fails. This applies, for example, to shadchanim. Even though the shadchan is
not paid for arranging a shidduch which does not succeed, the parties
involved should be grateful for all the trouble he took to arrange it.
The obligation of gratitude applies not only to fellow Jews. When a gentile
does us a good turn, we should also show gratitude, as Rashi suggests in his
commentary on the verse “You shall not reject an Egyptian,” (Devorim
23:8) even though he threw all the males into the Nile, because Egypt
provided a place to live in hard times.
We are even obligated to be thankful toward animals that help us, as it says
in the midrash on the verse “Go and inquire after the welfare of your
brothers and the flocks” (Br. 37:14). A person should be grateful and show
concern for the welfare of anything from which he has benefited. (Ber. Rab.
84:14) There is no quality that is worse than ingratitude. The Torah forbids
us to be ungrateful even toward animals. (Sefer Hasidim)
We should even show gratitude to inanimate objects if we have benefited from
them. Chazal tell us that the Nile was not struck by Moshe Rabbeinu because
it had protected him. The midrash teaches us that we should have gratitude
toward places which have benefited us (Ber. Rab. 79:6). “Don’t throw stones
into the well from which you drank:” Do not despise the well from which you
drank (Rashi). Once a person benefits from something, he should have respect
for it. It is told of the Rif that he once refused to judge a case
pertaining to a public bath house because he had benefited from it.
The gratitude we should feel toward a person who has helped us requires us
to do more for him than he has done for us, for what he did was purely out
of chesed, while the goodness we show him is obligated by our
gratitude. To merely reciprocate his kindness is obligatory and expresses no
chesed. It’s only when we are
even more generous with him than he was with us—when we do more than justice
requires—that we express chesed.