I recently saw the movie Good Will Hunting, a movie about a janitor/math genius who is discovered and given the chance to be a world recognized math-god, so long as he gives up his criminal tendencies and attends a weekly
therapy session. I think the movie was meant to be a feel-good story of a kid with a ton of potential who almost wasted it but was saved by altruistic academics, psychological professionals, and the power of love. I would say it pretty much succeeded in creating that story, but one part was bothersome to me. Will (the genius), instead of being thankful for the opportunities given to him by the altruistic professor, essentially spits in his face, skipping meetings and job interviews with him, and being generally disrespectful and unappreciative. At no point in the movie is he reprimanded for this behavior. If anything, it is condoned, as he ends up successful and happy at the end. Something about that struck the wrong note with me.
I often like searching for the connections between the weekly Torah portion and Haftarah. This past week, I found an interesting connection between Parshat Korach and Perek Yud Bet in Sefer Shmuel. In Moshe’s supplication to God not to accept Korach’s sacrifice, he says, “Lo chamor echad me’hem nasati”—not one donkey did I take from them. Similarly, in Shmuel’s response to the nation’s request for a king in the Haftarah, he says, “Et shor mi lakachti vechamor mi lakachti?”—Whose ox did I take and whose donkey did I take?
The language is, obviously, strikingly similar. I think that it reflects a common sentiment in Jewish thought: reciprocity. We have ayin tachat ayin (an eye for an eye) on the one hand, and the sentiment verbalized by Moshe and Shmuel on the other. We repay evil with due punishment, but we try not to repay kindness with evil (sometimes called a kefui tova) and instead be thankful and appreciative, exuding hakarat hatov.
As social justice-minded people, it’s important that we continue to think about this ideal of just reciprocity. We all know that in order to actually affect change, we have to be firm and impassioned activists who don’t settle. But we must also be constantly thankful for the things we accomplish because of the help and support of others and our communities.