In Michtav MeiEliyahu, Rav Eliyahu Dessler zt”l writes: “The basis of true ahavas Hashem is hakaras ha’tov.” Rav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz zt”l would tell couples, “A husband should show hakaras ha’tov to his wife, and a wife should show hakaras ha’tov to her husband. As the Midrash states, “Proper behavior comes before the Torah.”
One sunny spring day, Dan and Sarah Gold, decided to take a hike in the mountains near their home. They brought along their 15-year-old son Avi and their ten-year-old daughter Rachel. While hiking, they noticed a shallow cave along the path and they decided to enter. Soon after they got into the cave, they heard a rumbling noise and turned to see that an avalanche of rocks had fallen down the mountain and blocked up the entrance to the cave except for a small crack at the top where air and light could come in. At first, the family tried to move the heavy boulders in order to escape, but soon realized that this was not possible. Then they tried to use their cell phones to call for help, but none of their phones had any signal. Then they tried screaming for help, hoping that some other hiker would come along and call for help.
As the day went on, and they realized that it was getting darker outside, they began to pray, because they realized that they were running short on their limited supply of granola bars and bottled water. However, no matter how much they worried and however much they prayed, no one was coming to rescue them. As night fell and it began to get cold in the cave, the Gold family huddled together and tried to go to sleep. It was hard, and in the wee hours, Avi woke his father and began crying and shaking hysterically. He told his father that he believed he was going to die in this cave and all of his dreams for a future life and family would be lost. His father tried to reassure him that everything would be all right, but soon even his father realized that this was probably not true, and that the family was not going to make it out of this cave.
Then they heard a voice outside knocking on the rocks and asking if anyone was in the cave. The Gold family screamed for joy because they knew they were saved. Soon, trucks arrived and removed the boulders from the cave. They came out and saw their savior. The man said his name was Bob Jenks and that he was a real estate developer who was in the area considering a new construction site. The Gold family thanked Mr. Jenks over and over, and finally went on their way.
Dan Gold became increasingly curious as to exactly who this Bob Jenks was, because he wanted to properly show his appreciation. He found out that Mr. Jenks was a secular Jew and an extremely wealthy man. He also found out that Bob Jenks’ birthday was coming up in a few weeks and that every year he hosts a big birthday celebration at his estate.
So, on his birthday, the Gold family went to the party to say happy birthday to Mr. Jenks. The birthday celebration was a hedonistic affair with all types of non-kosher food, women in immodest dress, and loud music. The Gold family found Mr. Jenks in the midst of a crowd of some of his cronies. They wished him a happy birthday, but he paid little attention to them.
Over the next few months Mr. Gold found out that Jenks was a totally assimilated Jew who had married a non-Jewish woman. He also was a big real estate developer who supported many charitable causes. However, some of these causes were missionary churches while others were the local Jewish Federation and even some famous yeshivos and seminaries. One of Mr. Jenks’ projects was a retirement home with mostly Jewish residents wherein he provided kosher food. The home was in a bad neighborhood, and when gangs started bothering the residents, Mr. Jenks hired his own security company to patrol the area.
However, Mr. Jenks was a ruthless businessman. As a landlord he would immediately evict any tenants who were late with their payments. Over the years, he had evicted many Jews from their homes. On the other hand, Mr. Jenks’ company gave a major donation to a local soup kitchen where Jews and non-Jews could find food and shelter. So, on the one hand, Mr. Jenks was an assimilated Jew, intermarried, a rather debased person, who evicted people from their homes and supported missionary work. On the other hand, he built up a Jewish community, provided security for them, supported yeshivos and federations and soup kitchens. Basically, Mr. Jenks was a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma!
As the next birthday for Mr. Jenks rolled around, Dan Gold announced to his family that they would be taking what would now become their annual trip to the big Jenks birthday bash. Their son Avi stated in no uncertain terms that he would not be going. His father reminded Avi that they owed a great debt of gratitude to Mr. Jenks; however, Avi argued that because Mr. Jenks had evicted Jews from their homes, supported missionaries, and was married to a non-Jewish woman, he did not feel he should go and celebrate Jenks’ birthday. To this, Mr. Gold responded that, on the other hand, Mr. Jenks also had some very positive qualities, like supporting yeshivos and seminaries, building Jewish communities, and giving food to the poor.
To this, Avi responded with a repeat of some of the negatives and anti-Jewish behavior of Mr. Jenks and he said he would not go celebrate the birthday of such a secular Jew. But Dan Gold, remembering the cave, became very emotional and responded to his son as follows: “My son, a year ago early in the morning in the cave, you came crying and shaking and screaming to me that you had no future and that you were going to die. You had lost all hope. This man saved your life, and I don’t care how irreligious he is or how depraved you might think he is, this family and all of our descendants will celebrate his birthday as a way of thanking Hashem that we are alive.” True ahavas Hashem is hakaras ha’tov.