Rabbi Mordechai Willig
"You shall say to him (the kohein), I declare today to Hashem, your G-d, that I have come to the land that Hashem swore to our forefathers to give to us" (Devarim 26:3). Rashi explains: that you are not an ingrate.
Ingratitude to Hashem leads to the curses related to not listening to Hashem's voice and failing to perform His commandments (28:15). After a long litany of horrific curses, the Torah states (28:47), "because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, with joy and goodness of heart, out of an abundance of everything." Hashem's kindness demands that we express our gratitude, verbally to the kohein, and by our actions, i.e. by performing His mitzvos. Being an ingrate compounds a sin and yields a terrible curse.
"Hashem descended to see the city and the tower that the sons of man (bnai Adam) built" (Bereishis 11:5). Rashi questions the meaning of the phrase "sons of man" - isn't it obvious that people built the tower of Bavel? Rashi answers that the phrase is indicating to us that they were the sons of Adam, the first man, who was ungrateful. When confronted by Hashem and asked, "Did you eat from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat?" (3:11), Adam answered (3:12), "The woman that You gave to me, she gave me from the tree and I ate." Rashi adds: Here he denied the favor, i.e. he demonstrated a lack of gratitude to Hashem for giving him Chava.
The sons of Adam, like their progenitor, were ungrateful and rebelled against Hashem Who was good to them and saved them from the flood. Ingratitude to a person, Chava, led to ingratitude to Hashem Himself. A wife is the ultimate goodness for a man, as without one his life is not good: "It is not good for man to be alone" (2:18). The aforementioned "everything" (28:47) and the lack thereof (48), refers, interpersonally, only to a wife (Nedarim 41a). Adam was the first ingrate by blaming his own sin on his wife, the very source of everything good. His descendants extended this trait by their lack of gratitude to Hashem, the Source of everything good for the whole word, Who saved them from the flood.
Even favors of previous generations, even when overshadowed by terrible actions, demand a measure of recognition. Egyptian converts are not utterly abhorred (Devarim 23:8). Even though they threw our sons into the river, they had earlier served as our hosts in the time of need, when there was a famine in Eretz Yisrael (Rashi). As a result, a third generation Egyptian convert may marry into our nation, the congregation of Hashem (9). By contrast, converts from Amon and Moav are prohibited forever (4). "Because they did not come forward to you with food and water on the road when you left Egypt, and because he (Moav) hired Bilam to curse you" (5. See Bamidbar 22:6).
The Ramban asks: earlier (2:28, 29), the Torah states that Moav did sell bread and water to Am Yisrael. The Ramban answers: Amon and Moav were saved by Avraham's kindness. He saved Lot from captivity (Bereishis 14:14-16), and in his merit Lot and his daughters - mothers of Moav and Amon, respectively- were saved from S'dom. As such, they were obligated to repay this kindness to Am Yisrael. Instead, they treated us badly; Moav hired Bilam to curse us, and Amon failed to come forward with bread and water. Moav, and Edom, did bring out bread and water, but Amon did not do as the others did. Even though Moav is older, and his sin was one of commission, Amon's sin of omission is mentioned first, because he did not do as the others had done. Both were guilty of ingratitude and permanently prohibited to marry a Jewish woman.
More than 400 years passed between Avraham's kindnesses and Amon and Moav's sins. Even so, they were required to be kind to us. This proves that there is no statute of limitations for hakaras hatov. If it extends many generations later, how much more so does it apply to an individual who has personally benefited from someone's kindness, even many years earlier.
The Gemara (Yevamos 76b) permits a Jewish man to marry a female Amonite or Moavite convert. It explains that it is the way of a man to come forward, i.e. to bring food and water beyond the borders of his land (Ramban). It is not the way of a woman to do so. Hence they are not prohibited for failing to do so.
The Yerushalmi (8:3) adds that it is the way of a man to hire, but not the way of a woman. This clearly refers to Moav. Their sin of commission, hiring Bilam, was committed by men and not women. Therefore, Amonite and Moavite female converts are permitted, as Rashi states: An Amoni may not marry a Jewish woman, implying that the reverse is permissible.
Why did Rashi, who focuses on peshat, the simple meaning, find it necessary to cite the gender distinction? The Meshech Chochma explains that in a series of laws, the greater novelty is mentioned later (lo zu af zu). Here, Moav was older, sinned first (Devarim 2:8, 19, if they too, did not come forward with bread and water, as the Gemara (76b) implies- unlike the Ramban) and more grievously (and additionally) by hiring Bilam. Why, then is Amon's sin mentioned first?
The answer is that, as Rashi adds, the Torah, by prohibiting only male converts, permits females. Moavite women enticed Jewish men (Bamidbar 25:1) and caused a terrible plague (31:16). The Medrash asks: we should prohibit Moavite women and permit the men! Thus, the permissibility of Moavite women is the greater novelty, and, as such, is mentioned later, after Amon.
While we many not marry male descendants of Lot because of, according to the Ramban, their ingratitude, we also may not wage war with them (Devarim 2:9, 19). Their land is a reward from Hashem. When Avraham said that Sarah was his sister, Lot kept silent (Rashi 2:5). Hashem demonstrates gratitude centuries later, in contrast to Amon and Moav themselves. In the Divine calculation, we may not wage war, as gratitude to Lot, but we may not marry Lot's male descendants since they were ingrates.
The precise calibration goes even further. We may frighten Moav, but not Amon. This is a reward for the modesty of Amon's mother who did not publicize her father's incestuous paternity, as Moav's mother did (Rashi 2:9). Moav means me-av, from the father, while Amon, ben-Ami, is more discreet (See Rashi Bereishis 19:37).
Perhaps this distinction relates to the later treatment of Lot's female descendants. Amon's daughters are permissible because it is not the way of women to go forward with bread and water. This mitigating factor applies only if modesty is a value, as Amon's mother demonstrated.
The licentiousness of the Moavite women was a much more grievous sin, and therefore as the aforementioned Medrash asks, women should be prohibited and men permitted. The answer given is that the women were compelled to do so, under pain of death, by Moavite men who are, therefore, prohibited and the women are permitted. Another mitigating factor may be the licentiousness of Moav's mother. The Moavite women of Bilam's time were merely following in Moav's mother's footsteps.
In sum, hakaras hatov must be expressed verbally, as with bikurim, and by action, as Amon and Moav's men should have done. It applies even to the wicked, as we allow third generation Egyptians because Egypt hosted us during famine. It has no statute of limitations, as our respective laws concerning Egyptain and Amonite and Moavite converts indicates.
There can be mitigating factors, permitting Amonite and Moavite women. There must be careful calculation, as our instructions of fighting and warning against Moav and Amon reflect. We must demonstrate Imitatio Dei by rewarding kindness even to imperfect and even wicked people. And we must be ever grateful to Hashem, the only perfect Being, for His incessant goodness to us and our ancestors.
The recognition that Hashem is perfect as the G-d of history (Devarim 32:4), and His Torah is perfect (Tehilim 19:8) as the G-d of law, is indispensable for proper Jewish belief. Suggestions that all or some, or even one, of the Torah's laws no longer apply because of perceived imperfections must be categorically rejected. Post-Holocaust rejection to the immutability of obligatory Torah laws, and post-modern denial of the morality and/or applicability of some of them, are incompatible with Orthodoxy. They lack the requisite humility associated with serving Hashem with joy (Rambam Hilchos Lulav 8:15).
The sons of Adam built the tower of Bavel because, as Rashi explains, they were ingrates. Adam denied the greatest personal goodness, a wife, and they denied the goodness of Hashem Who saved them from the flood. We must be grateful to spouses and others who help and helped us even long ago, notwithstanding imperfections large and small. This helps us achieve gratitude to Hashem, Who saves His faithful from the flood of heretical babble surrounding us.
Decades ago, yeshivas and shuls, led by authentic Torah scholars, were compared to Noach's Ark, protecting their members from the tumultuous waves of the zeitgeist (Asufas Ma'arachos by Rav Chaom Yaakov Goldwicht, Bereishis I pg. 120, Lekach Tov, Noach pg. 36-37). This is even more critical today. We must constantly thank Hashem saving us and our families from the ravages of today's neurotic society, as Rav Soloveitchik called it, and, as he said, proclaim our loyalty to Hashem's perfect and immutable Torah unapologetically (Surrendering to the Almighty, 1975). Ashreinu ma tov chelkeinu. We joyfully thank Hashem for the spiritual and physical blessings that He bestows upon us every day.