The first three of the Makos (plagues) detailed in this week’s Parsha, were actually put into motion by Aharon HaKohein and not Moshe Rabbeinu, the more obvious choice for the job. Rashi (7:19) explains this by telling us that the Nile River, from where the blood and frogs emerged, had protected Moshe as an infant. In Perek 8 Pasuk 12 Moshe again defers to Aharon to initiate the plague of lice and Rashi explains that since the lice emerged from the dust of the earth, and the dust had hidden the body of the Egyptian that Moshe killed, it was not appropriate to be stricken by Moshe.
Later commentaries explain Rashi was referring to an obligation of Hakoras HaTov, gratitude on the part of Moshe to the body of water and the earth itself, for their roles in saving his life. That obligation made it impossible for Moshe to directly cause an interruption in the normal functioning of these entities.This lesson in the obligation of Hakoras HaTov is surprising in that Moshe was thereby unable to qualify as the one to carry out Hashem’s will to inflict these plagues on the Egyptians. What is perhaps more astonishing is that this obligation of gratitude was towards inanimate objects – the river and the earth! We could more easily understand Moshe’s need to express gratitude to another person, someone who had consciously chosen to help Moshe, someone who would be aware and be emotionally uplifted by being thanked. At least we could see how Moshe’s action (or inaction) benefitted someone else, accomplished something. But what purpose is there in saying thank you to water or the dust of the earth??
What emerges is a profound insight not only into the obligation of gratitude, but into a Jew’s behavior in general. We tend to judge actions in terms of how they help or affect others. But that is only a part of the picture. The predominant factor in any analysis of the ultimate benefit or detriment of an action is the effect it has on the person doing the action! For example, we know Chazal established the extra stringency of Maaris Ayin – that in some circumstances, even an otherwise permissible act that only looks like a forbidden act is also not allowed. A contemporary example of that would be eating pizza topped with salami and soy cheese (with no signage indicating the cheese is parve). More to the point – according to the Gemara (Beitza 9A) the law of Maaris Ayin applies even when a person is alone in his own house, when the only witness is himself! There is no other who is being impacted by his action.
When it comes to giving Tzedaka, we tend to focus on the recipient, and how worthy he, she, they or the cause might be. Bur much of the obligation of demonstrating gratitude is about us, developing ourselves into people who recognize the good, and show appreciation. When it comes to a cause close to our heart, for example our Yeshiva and this weekend’s Annual Dinner, we have a special opportunity to remember and express our Hakoras HaTov.
It could be we have some issues, we have some grievance or upset that captures our thinking, something personal niggling at us. It makes it difficult to see the big picture. This can happen in families and with close friends. It can certainly happen in a Yeshiva where we are close and feel like family. We don’t pretend to be perfect, and we promise to work together to address issues. Let’s not get lost in the smaller picture, let’s look at the bigger picture. If we are a parent or grandparent of a student in the Yeshiva, our relationship with the school is that of a close partner. If we are an alumnus, we have a personal debt of gratitude and hopefully fond memories and close connections with teachers and mentors to this day. If we are a friend, community member, or an interested party, we can appreciate the positive change to the greater community this institution has brought over the past 32 years.
Whatever our connection, there should exist a strong awareness of Hakoras HaTov to the Yeshiva. We have received from the Yeshiva, therefore we want to be the kind of people who contribute, who pay back, because it’s really about us. We can rationalize why ‘this’ or ‘that’ is wrong, this program is insufficient, that policy is misdirected. Even were that to be true, it doesn’t change our bottom line obligation to remember the good and express gratitude, as Moshe Rabbeinu did even to inanimate objects.
Our teachers are greatly encouraged by the outpouring of parental support to date. The 600+ guests who are signed up for our dinner are demonstrating recognition of the need for and power of gratitude. We are looking forward to greeting you and celebrating our children, devoted teachers and staff, and generous supporters, with you, at the Dinner.
Best wishes for a most appreciated Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann