Friendship is not like chicken soup.
One of the many, many mitzvos in Parshas Ki Seitzei is the prohibition against mistreating a person of Egyptian descent. The Torah provides a reason for this commandment: Because you were guests in his land (D’varim 23:8). In other words, we must treat these people well, as an expression of gratitude for letting us stay in their land for several hundred years.
This is astonishing! Consider the nature of those “hospitable” years, and the way we were treated before we “checked out.” The Mitzrim enslaved us. They tortured us. They tossed our children into the Nile. And despite Hashem’s miracles and interventions, they stubbornly refused to grant us basic human rights. Yet, somehow, we are expected to show appreciation to these tormentors for hosting us?! If the Torah had said that we cannot abuse an Egyptian person in order to exercise self-control and overcome feelings of vengeance – that would have made sense. But the pasuk says that we are supposed to feel a sense of hakaras ha’tov to them!
Rashi explains that, before the years of oppression began, the Egyptians took in Yaakov and his family and provided for them during the years of famine. Even though they would eventually turn evil and cast our babies into the river, we are still grateful that they took care of us at a time of great need. Apparently, the later decades of maltreatment do not invalidate the years of generosity.
Rav Pam zt”l drew a critical lesson from here: There is no bitul b’rov by hakaras ha’tov. Normally, Jewish law follows the majority, to the extent that the minority is negated, as if it does not exist. It is based on this principle that we can execute when the majority of judges vote to convict, and we can eat chicken soup even after a miniscule amount of milk spills into the pot. We rely on rov (majority) by even the most serious matters of Jewish law – but not when it comes to gratitude. No matter how much harm someone has caused us, it cannot overwhelm the good that he or she has done, as well. Yes, the Egyptians persecuted us for many years, and they were, accordingly, punished harshly. We spend much of Seder night retelling those horrors – we must never forget. But we must also remember that they supplied us with food and housing during a difficult period in our history, and for that, we must show appreciation. We are capable of holding both memories in mind. There is no bitul b’rov by hakaras ha’tov.
Unfortunately, we tend to relate to others with the opposite perspective. A person may have been loyal and considerate for many years, but as soon as he commits one thoughtless offense toward us, the relationship is ruined. We perseverate on the singular infraction and allow it to nullify all the favors and kindness we have received from them. From our parshah, we learn that even many acts of evil do not negate a small amount of good, and yet our minds allow a lone wrongdoing to invalidate many years of friendship. We have it completely backwards!
Putting things in perspective can help us overlook bad moods and squabbles that threaten to undo a majority of positive experiences. If B’nei Yisrael can say “thank you” to the Egyptians, then surely we can forgive each other!