There is an aspect of Judaism that is viewed by our sages as a prerequisite to Jewish practices. This is called “Derech Eretz” in Hebrew, and “Mentchlichkeit” in Yiddish.

These two words cannot adequately be translated into English. An attempt to explain this would mean that one needs to work on his character before attempting to pass himself off as an observant Jew. He must study that which will cause him to treat others with respect and kindness.

Much has been written on the subject. The Talmud calls one who is dishonest and disrespectful to others, as one who desecrates the Name of G-d. One must work diligently at improving his character flaws so that he can learn to be aware and considerate of others.

The Rabbis list various negative traits that one must work on conscientiously. Anger, conceit, and haughtiness, are usually at the top of such lists. Jealousy is also emphasized as a serious flaw in how one interacts with others.

If one is aware and works on these items, he will be happier and more loved by others. Inevitably, he will also treat people better.

Aside from jealousy that raises a red flag, warning us to distance ourselves from the envious individual, ingratitude is right up there as a highly problematic and even dangerous negative character trait.

Repeatedly, Judaism teaches the requirement to recognize and appreciate the kindness one shows us. We are certainly supposed to feel overwhelmed with thankfulness for the abundance we receive from the Al-mighty every single day. But we are taught never to forget a favor or kindness shown to us by another human being.

I have had the pleasure of working with newly religious and converts for several decades. In my classes on teachings the foundations of Judaism, I tried to teach how one first needs to be a “Mentch” before all else. Until recently, I was not aware how ingratitude speaks volumes about the character of an individual. The inability to show appreciation, brings with it so much negativity.

The ingrate feels he is entitled to whatever is given to him. He deserves everything. This causes him to feel he is better than others and it affects his service of G-d. Haughtiness and conceit are the byproducts of ingratitude.

On the other hand, one who shows gratitude feels that what he received is far beyond anything he deserves. If someone is there for him in time of sickness, family tragedy, or financial distress, he will never ever forget such goodness.

This is how the Torah expects every Jew to behave. We must view every single item we receive as far beyond what we deserve. We are overwhelmed and moved by such gifts.

This leads to the subject of the gift of the State of Israel. After nearly 2000 years of exile, G-d miraculously allows His children to come home to the Promised Land. We no longer need to wander from place to place and we no longer need to suffer humiliation at the hands of the Gentile.

The doors are open to Jews from all over the world to come and be part of this incredible act of kindness. Yet, many Jews who should know better, belittle and reject Israel. This is a horrible act of ingratitude. It’s bad enough that Jews choose not to come home, but to speak negatively of Israel, is inexcusable. And to justify such ingratitude by using rabbinic sources, adds to the shame of such ingratitude.

We must be aware and diligent in overcoming ingratitude on a personal and national level. If we can learn to be more appreciative, the world will become a better place. And we will achieve that level of “Derech Eretz” and “Menchlichkeit” that will allow us to begin practicing Judaism in the way that G-d intended it way back on Mount Sinai.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for nearly twenty years. He has been teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach, Old Katamon, Jerusalem, for the past twelve years. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles.