A transformative lesson is going viral from the Start-Up Nation based on the announcement last week that one of Israel’s largest coffeehouse chains, Café Café, is offering a 25 percent discount to patrons at its 157 branches who say “please” and “thank you” when ordering a regular size cup of coffee. A cup of coffee will cost “well-behaved” customers only 6 shekels, or $1.66, rather than 8 shekels, or $2.20.
Café Café CEO Noam Zimerman told the country’s business paper Globes that he hopes the initiative will “encourage more respectful conversation in Israel society.”
The importance of showing sensitivity to workers is actually grounded in Jewish ethics and law. The Torah itself relates in Parshas Behar:
“If your brother becomes impoverished and is sold to you, don’t give him tasks that are demeaning that reflect he’s a slave such as carrying your clothing behind you on the way to the bathhouse or putting your shoes on your feet… Nor should you subject him to superfluous work such as preparing an unwanted hot drink or hoeing unnecessarily beneath a vine.” [Vayikra 25:39, 43 with Rashi’s commentary.]
But the basic ethic of gratitude is actually learned from the mitzvah of Bikurim, the first fruit offering, according to the 16th century commentator Rabbi Moshe Alshich, a student of Rabbi Moshe Karo. Rabbi Yissocher Frand explains in Torah.org:
“The Alshich is bothered by a Medrash in Parshas Bereshis. The Medrash (in a play on words of the opening words of the Torah) states that the world was created for the sake of that which is called “Reishis [first]”: The world was created for the sake of the nation of Israel who is called “Reishis.” Likewise, the world was created for the sake of Torah, which is called “Reishis.” Finally, the world was created for the sake of the mitzvah of Bikkurim, which is called “Reishis.”
“The Alshich remarks that Bikkurim would not seem to be on anyone’s list of the “top 3 mitzvos” and yet here this Medrash states that the world was created for the sake of this mitzvah! What is the meaning of this Medrash?
“The Alshich answers that the mitzvah of Bikkurim contains within it something that is fundamental to being a human being — the obligation for people to express their gratitude and hakaras hatov. Hakaras hatov is so basic and primary that the whole world’s creation was actualized just for this mitzvah, which teaches us and trains us in the attribute of gratitude.”
Stories abound how Gedolei Yisroel embody the attribute of gratitude. Rabbi Frand shares the following incident about Rabbi Moshe Feinstein:
Many years ago, Rav Moshe went to a wedding and gave the choson an envelope with a wedding present. After the Sheva Brochos, the choson and kallah were opening their envelopes and they found a check from Rabbi Moses Feinstein from FDR Drive in Manhattan for $500 dollars. When this story took place, $500 was an enormous amount for a wedding gift. The choson told his father that he thought Rav Moshe must have added an extra zero on the check by mistake. The father, the choson, and the kallah together went to Rav Moshe’s apartment and asked the great Torah sage whether he in fact had made a mistake in writing the check. Rav Moshe said, “If I could, I would give you a check for $5,000! Your grandfather was Rav Pessach Prushkin and I studied with your grandfather. I felt such gratitude to your zeida that I wanted to give you a big present; unfortunately I can’t afford to give you more than $500.”
(See also another amazing story about Rav Moshe, personifying the importance of gratitude in the NLE Morasha shiur on Spirituality III, pp. 5-6.)
Click here for the NLE Morasha Module addressing Bein Adam L’Chavero.