Gratitude is an attitude, some wise man must have surely
said that one!
This week's Parsha, Va'era demonstrates just how far Jewish tradition teaches us to be grateful and to remember our benefactors.
Seven of the ten plagues occur in this week's reading. Moshe Rabbeinu, messenger of G-d, is busy bringing down these terrifying plagues on Mitzrayim, Pharaoh's Egypt. Yet, interestingly, he calls upon his brother Aharon to be the agent for the first three plagues - Blood, Frogs and Lice.
Why did Moshe not do it himself as he would do the others? The Midrash, quoted by Rashi, teaches us that because it was through the agency of the waters of the river that Moshe Rabbeinu was saved as an infant when he was put in the basket. It would have been insensitive and inappropriate for him to strike those very life saving waters in order to bring on the plague.
Seeing as the Blood and the Frogs both dealt directly with the water, it was Aharon who stuck the water rather than Moshe. Similarly with the third plague of Lice. The lice came from out of the ground and the earth, too, had helped Moshe to cover the body of the Egyptian taskmaster he had killed defending the Jewish slave. Therefore, it would have been wrong for Moshe Rabbeinu to strike the earth and so for this plague, too, Aharon was the agent.
What a monumental lesson to each of us on the importance of gratitude.
Firstly, do water and earth have feelings? Would they know the difference if they were struck and who was doing the striking? How much more so should we be considerate of human beings who do have feelings when they have done us a kindness. How scrupulous we ought to be not to offend people, especially those who have come to our assistance.
Secondly, Moshe Rabbeinu was a man of 80 years of age at the time of these plagues. The incidents with the water and earth occurred when he was a mere infant and when he was a very young man. Yet, all these years later he is still sensitive not to strike the objects that had helped him. He did not say as so many have after him, "So what have you done for me lately?"
There are a number of theories as to why human beings seem to have this psychological need to tarnish the image of their past benefactors. Perhaps it is because we are inherently uncomfortable with the notion of being eternally indebted to anyone. It cramps our style and diminishes our independence. So if we find fault with those who have helped us previously, we absolve ourselves of any moral indebtedness. Now we're even. I don't owe you anything any more.
The story is told of the Chasam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Schreiber, 1732 - 1839) that he once did an enormous favour for someone. Later, the recipient asked him, "Rabbi, what can I ever do to repay you for your kindness?" The Chasam Sofer replied, "one day, when you get upset and angry with me, please remember what I have done for you today and rather than pelting me with big stones, please throw small stones instead." Sad, but so true.
This little story of Moshe Rabbeinu, which is only an aside to the main body of the Biblical narrative, teaches us to remember the kindnesses that are bestowed - when they happen and forever. If one who has been good to us in the past, does wrong and needs chastising, let someone else volunteer for the job. He may need rebuking but I am not the one to do it. Yet again, the Torah teaches us not only religious ritual but how to be better people, more
sensitive and yes, eternally grateful human beings.