Numerous lessons can be derived from the Haggadah. One of them is brought out by Rav Noach Orlowek, shlita. He points out that the Haggadah is the single most revealing text about the Torah approach to gratitude.
The significance of the trait of gratitude in Torah thought is very apparent. Three times a day, we thank Hashem in the Modim prayer; every time we eat, we thank Hashem for providing us with food. Also, in the interpersonal realm, there is great emphasis on showing gratitude to those who help us. The mitzvos of kibbud av v'eim and kibbud rav, for example, are based largely on a recognition of how much are parents and teachers do for us. Yet it is no easy task to feel constant gratitude for all the kindnesses that Hashem and, l’havdil, people do for us. How can a person develop himself so that he excels in this most important trait?
The Haggadah and the halachos pertaining to it can answer this question. To fulfill the mitzvah of recounting our leaving Egypt, the Gemara tells us that we must begin by mentioning the genus (bad) before the shvach (good). There is a difference of opinion as to what exactly this entails. Rav says discussing the “bad” means that before we begin thanking Hashem for taking us out of Egypt, we must mention how our ancestors served idols. Shmuel argues that the “bad” refers to the slavery we suffered in Egypt before we left. We appear to follow both opinions, because both aspects of the genus are in the Haggadah. It seems that both views teach us a fundamental lesson about how to develop proper gratitude.
Shmuel’s opinion that we must begin with the slavery teaches us that in order for a person to feel truly thankful for everything he has, he must be able to contrast his present positive situation with his past. To truly appreciate Hashem’s kindness in taking us out of Mitzrayim, we must focus on the terrible slavery we endured there. By doing so, we can avoid the trap of taking for granted the physical and spiritual freedom that we gained by leaving Mitzrayim. So too, in our daily lives, when things are going smoothly, it is very easy to forget what Hashem has done for us, and how He constantly protects and sustains us. For example, when a person’s financial situation is stable, he may take this stability for granted and refrain from sufficiently thanking Hashem. However, if he thinks about the times when he did not know how he would support himself, and he contrasts these difficulties with his current security, it should help him feel grateful to Hashem.
It is less obvious how discussing the genus according to Rav inculcates gratitude. How does mentioning the fact that our descendants served idols bring us to a greater appreciation of Hashem? It seems that one of the main factors that prevents a person from showing gratitude is arrogance. An arrogant person feels he deserves all the kindness that Hashem or people bestow upon him. Accordingly, there is no hakaras hatov, no recognition of the good that others have done for him. He does not feel they have done anything special; rather, he has every right to expect them to serve him. In contrast, a humble person feels he deserves nothing. Therefore, he views anything done for him as a great favor, so he genuinely appreciates it.
With this understanding, we can explain how reminding ourselves of our lowly past can bring us to a greater appreciation of Hashem. We acknowledge that we are not great people with tremendous yichus; our heritage is nothing to be proud of. Moreover, we acknowledge that any spiritual accomplishments we have achieved are due to Hashem’s kindness. As we say in the Haggadah, “From the beginning our forefathers worshipped idols, and now the Omnipresent has brought us close to serving Him.” By stressing our humble background, we make ourselves far more able to properly appreciate kind deeds done for us.
Rav Shlomo Brevda, shlita, points out that he has known many Torah giants, each one greatly different from the other. However, one trait they all possessed in abundance was that of gratitude. This is perhaps because they all felt so humble that they viewed themselves as undeserving of anything done for them. May we emulate them and grow in our capacity to show gratitude to other people and, most important, to Hashem.