Parshas Va'Eyra:
Gratitude and Appreciation

By Rabbi Moshe Francis

HaShem said to Moshe, "Say to Aharon, 'Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt: over their rivers, over their canals, over their ponds, and over all their gatherings of water, and they shall become blood; there shall be blood in all the land of Egypt, and in the wood and in the stones.' " Rashi, on this verse, writes: "Say to Aharon. Because the river protected Moshe when he was cast into it, therefore it was not smitten through his hand, neither at the plague of blood nor at the plague of frogs, but it was smitten through the hands of Aharon."

Similarly, with respect to the plague of lice the Torah writes, "Hashem said to Moshe: "Say to Aharon, 'Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the land; it shall become lice throughout the land of Egypt." Rashi, on this verse, comments: Say to Aharon. This plague was not initiated by Moshe for the soil did not deserve to be stricken by Moshe because it protected him when he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. Therefore, it was stricken by Aharon."

From the first three plagues we see how pervasive and far-reaching is the concept of hakaras hatov -- gratitude and appreciation. Moshe, who was protected by water and sand, is not permitted to inflict upon them any harm which can be construed as showing a lack of appreciation towards them. Although the earth and water are inanimate and without feeling, we are constrained even in relation to them, in order to sharpen our own sensitivities and feelings towards others and to develop within ourselves this fundamental quality of hakaras hatov.

Why were the first three plagues chosen as the vehicle to transmit this important message of hakaras hatov? It would seem that, among the lessons that the Egyptians were being taught through the plagues, the concept of hakaras hatov was of high priority.

Rabbi Yisroel Miller explains that the verse tells us in the beginning of Shmos: "A new king arose over Egypt who did not know of Yosef." Rashi cites the opinions of Rav and Shmuel: "One says this means a new king in the literal sense and the other one says that it was the same king who was the ruler during the lifetime of Yosef but he issued new edicts." Even according to the opinion that a totally new king had assumed the throne this king displayed an extraordinary lack of appreciation. Yosef, in his great wisdom, had saved the entire Egyptian people by guiding them through an oppressive famine. How could a king of Egypt turn against the Jewish people with such vengeance? It was crucial to teach the Egyptians at the very outset of the plagues that such behavior is intolerable. Hakaras hatov is a guiding life principle without which man loses his most basic human quality.

We find a further illustration of hakaras hatov when the Jews left Egypt. The verse says that the children of Israel were armed when they went out from Egypt. The Chasam Sofer asks: Why was it necessary for HaShem to split the Red Sea and to drown the Egyptians in a spectacular, miraculous manner when HaShem could have made the Jews victorious through natural means by allowing them to use the weapons at their disposal? He responds that it would not be proper for the Jews to confront the Egyptians directly in a head-on conflict, to wage war against them with sword in hand. The Torah commands us "lo tisaiv mitzri - ki ger hayisa baartzo" "You should not hate an Egyptian because you were a sojourner in his land . "The Rabbis explain the underlying rationale for this commandment, "Do not cast a stone in a cistern from which you drink water." Although the Jewish people suffered greatly at the hands of the Egyptians, they also derived benefit from living as a guest in their land. The Egyptians had to be punished by Hashem in an indirect manner rather than to succumb directly to an assault by the Jewish people.

Perhaps we can now understand why Moshe, when he observed an Egyptian man striking a Jew, killed the Egyptian through uttering Hashem's quintessential, ineffable name. Why did Moshe resort to miraculous means to kill the Egyptian? He was a person of formidable strength and could have killed him through his natural prowess. To kill him, however, in a direct manner, would demonstrate a lack of hakaras hatov. It was preferable to resort to miraculous means rather than to appear ungrateful.

The Talmud in Yevamos tells us that Rav Chiya's wife would cause him distress, yet when he would find an appropriate gift he would wrap it in a cloth and bring it to her. Rav said to him "Why? She causes you distress." Rav Chiya answered him: "It is sufficient that they (our wives) raise our children and save us from sin." We see once again the extraordinary extent one must go to show and express appreciation to a spouse who functions only at a minimal level. Whether one suffers at the hands of the Egyptians or at the hands of a spiteful spouse, he must still focus on the good he receives, however small, and show appreciation for that good.

One should adopt this perspective in life's more difficult situations. For example, a person works for an employer who is known for his difficult, unfair and capricious tendencies. After working for two years, this boss summarily dismisses his employee. It would be proper for the employee to remember his boss each Purim with a nice shalach manos. Although the boss was responsible for many unpleasantries, the employee nevertheless benefited from the wages and work experience he gained while the job lasted. He must focus on that good and show appropriate appreciation.

The Jerusalem Talmud tells us that the verse "u'm'bsarcha - al tisaleim" ,";you should not conceal yourself from your flesh", refers to a former wife. When considering tzedakah priorities a person's former spouse who is in need should be given preference over other poor people. Even a former relative still has a quasi-relative status with respect to tzedakah. Most people who have gone through a divorce are full of bitterness towards their former spouse and many, if not most, would try to deprive them of any possible benefit. And yet our rabbis tell us just the opposite is required, one should assist his former wife in any way possible When one factors in the concept of hakaras hatov the obligation to a former spouse becomes even stronger. Despite the difficulties, trials and tribulations one may have endured, one should focus on the good he derived from the relationship and fulfill his support and/or tzedakah obligations happily and with gratitude, following the noble tradition of Moshe Rabbenu and Rav Chiya.


By Rabbi Moshe Francis . . . . . Shvat 5757



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