At the beginning of this week’s Parsha, Aharon the Kohen Gadol, received the commandment to light the menorah in the Mishkan.
The Midrash explains that one of the reasons behind the lighting of the menorah was in order to provide light to Hashem who provides light to the world. By doing so, the Midrash explains, the Jewish people ‘return the favor’ to Hashem for this wondrous good that He does for them.
First of all, how can this be considered to be ‘paying back’ Hashem? Hashem has no need for the light from the menorah!
Secondly, what would be the purpose of this? This is such an insignificant gesture- lighting a little menorah- compared to the good that Hashem provides by giving light to the world!
The purpose of ‘paying someone back’ for the good he has done is primarily for the one paying back the good he received. It is NOT, necessarily, for the receiver. When someone receives benefit through someone else, or on account of someone else, it is incumbent on him to repay that good. Why? Not because the other person necessarily needs it, but rather because by repaying the other person, the one who is being 'makir tov', or repaying the good, will come to recognize and appreciate the good that he had received.
On the flip side, if the one who received good will not do what he can to recognize and reciprocate, this will lead to him denying that "debt". Ingratitude will, our Rabbis teach, lead a person to all sorts of rotten character traits.
Therefore, the Midrash says, it was incumbent on the Jewish people to do whatever action they could to repay Hashem- even though Hashem has no need for it and this is obviously not a ‘repayment’ that Hashem benefitted from. Rather it was an effort on behalf of the Jewish people to do what they can to do something to pay back Hashem.
So often in life we are hesitant to recognize the benefit that we have received from someone else because of the burden to repay the other person in a proper fashion. We need to realize that whatever level of repayment that we can do in order to concretize and recognize, with our behavior, the good we have received is important and meaningful.
Saying ‘Thank you’ is not merely a social nicety to be meted out in order to be part of the proper crowd, but rather it is the bare minimum that we can do to actively recognize what we have received. This is so important, active recognition of the good we have received, that Hashem wanted a manifestation of this in the inner sanctum of his house, the Mishkan.
Wishing you a wonderful Shabbos!
Rabbi Eli Meir Kramer