“Give thanks to Hashem for He is good – His kindness endures forever!” So begins Psalm 136, a psalm recited during Hallel at the Seder. The psalm consists of 26 expressions of acknowledgment of Hashem’s mercy and kindness toward us, all concluding with “His kindness endures forever.”
The first verse, Rav Nissim David Azran explains, is in actuality a dual acknowledgement and expression of thanks. He explains by means of a parable:
Reb Avraham was known for his deep devotion to the study of Torah. He learned day and night and was encouraged to do so by his wife. In order to enable him to learn Torah with deep devotion, she took upon herself the responsibility of providing sustenance for the household. More often than not, money was short, and the dedicated wife found herself unable to purchase basic provisions. The local storekeeper, aware of the dire situation, allowed the woman to purchase on credit. Every day, the woman would buy that which she needed for the day, billing the sum to her account.
The storekeeper, while wanting to help the family, saw a bill growing every day with no payment in sight. One morning, he mentioned to the woman that the time to pay the balance was approaching. The woman was extremely troubled; she had no money to pay for the day’s food, let alone that for the past few months. She returned to the store the next day, hoping to buy some more time until she was able to pay. Unfortunately, only a few days later, the storekeeper strongly hinted that he could no longer sell her anything on credit. The bill was due and had to be paid.
The distraught woman, who still had no money, had only one idea. She found a new store, and asked the proprietor for a line of credit. Knowing the family and their situation, he gladly acquiesced. The woman started shopping at the new store on credit. As one might expect, over time, the bill grew and amounted to a sum that approached the balance owing the first storekeeper.
One day, the woman opened her mail. To her surprise, she found inside the envelope a sum of money. The money, from an anonymous benefactor, was intended to support the holy man and his family. The woman was happy – she finally had money to pay bills. However, she was faced with a dilemma: whom was she supposed to pay? She only had enough money to pay one of the storekeepers in full. Which debt should be retired first?
She presented this dilemma to her husband. She was of the opinion that the second storekeeper should be paid first. In this way, he would be placated and continue extending credit when it was needed. Her husband, however, was of different mind. He believed the first storekeeper should be paid. He had extended credit for them initially, over a lengthy time period, and for that he was owed not just a debt of money, but a debt of gratitude as well. Therefore, the husband suggested that the first storekeeper be paid in full.
Which approach was correct? Rav Azran suggests that both were correct. The best-case scenario, obviously, would be one in which both were paid in full. However, how is one to decide this dilemma – a conflict between thanking someone for kindness done in the past versus the importance of those good actions to be done for us in the future? Although there is no clear-cut answer for the couple, we are not faced with this dilemma. Hashem has provided for all of us. We have been sustained and blessed by the actions of Hashem. For this, we owe thanks. Yet, we must also acknowledge the kindness and mercy that we know will be shown to us by Hashem in the future. We are capable of praising for both, and we indeed do such. “Give thanks to Hashem for He is good,” for He has done so much for us in the past. “His kindness endures forever,” and for that reason, we must praise Hashem as well.
The holiday of Pesach, and particularly the Seder night, is filled with remembrances and acknolwedgements of Hashem’s divine providence. For example, we were taken out of Egypt in the spring, a time neither too hot nor too cold. We acknowledge this kindness with the consumption of a green vegetable. And we conclude our Seder by saying “Next Year in Jerusalem,” an affirmation that we know Hashem will continue to bestow kindness upon us, by freeing us from this long period of exile. Our Seder night is truly the embodiment of “Give thanks to Hashem for He is Good, His Kindness Endures Forever!”