Shabbat Vaera 5776–Shabbat Torah Study–Striking Reasons for Showing Gratitude

Our Torah cycle has now taken us into the heart of the Exodus story.

Moses announces each of the plagues. 7 of the 10 appear in this week’s Parasha. Yet, it is Aaron who implements 2 of the plagues—the first and the third—the blood and the lice. Aaron strikes the waters of the Nile to begin God’s miracle of changing the waters to blood. Exodus 7:19-20. He strikes the sands to begin God’s miracle of creating swarms of insects. Exodus 8:12-13.

But why would that be Aaron’s job?

There is a famous Rashi commentary that Moses should not be the one to strike the waters of the Nile or the sands of the desert. The Nile saved his life floating the basket that hid him from Pharaoh’s decree of death to male children. The sands of the desert saved Moses by covering the body of the Egyptian Moses killed to protect an innocent Israelite.

This Rashi commentary teaches us the importance of showing appreciation. If Moses shows appreciation to inanimate objects such as water and sand, how much more so should we feel obligated to show appreciation to our fellow humans? Pretty basic concept, right?

I read a further extension of this concept that is even more striking. On this commentary, Rabbi Yissochar Frand asks, “Does it make a difference to the water of the Nile or to the dirt of Egypt—objects which cannot feel and cannot think—whether anyone strikes them or not or whether they are stricken by Aaron instead of Moshe?”

If Moses was showing gratitude for being saved by the Nile and the sand, Rav Frand goes on to ask, how could those inanimate objects sense it? The answer, he says, is that it was not for the Nile or the sand to sense the expression of gratitude.

We learn from this that while we all certainly feel good when others express appreciation and gratitude for our good deeds, etc., the main point is that expressing gratitude is actually for the benefit of the person who received the favor—Moses, not for the benefit of the grantor of the favor—the water. We do not say “thank you” just to hear “you are welcome”, “my pleasure” or “any time.”

We express gratitude because everything we have is a gift and we are supposed to see it that way. Everything that we have and every favor we receive comes from somewhere and we cannot be so arrogant as to believe that it came from ourselves or our own power. It may have come from a parent or a friend or from God.

We are to avoid having a sense of entitlement. Having or acting like one has a sense of entitlement is its own plague.

This Shabbat at Adat Shalom Synagogue, we are scheduled to learn with Rabbi Rachel Shere on this week’s Parasha. 9:45 a.m. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like.

Shabbat shalom,

Paul

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