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.
The lesson in the obligation of Hakoras HaTov is striking 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 striking 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 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. 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 any 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.
This is extremely important in regards to the chinuch of our children. If they do something inappropriate, and excuse it with “I was only kidding,” or “she doesn’t mind when I talk/act that way” or “it’s not my mess, why do I have to clean it up” or “what I smashed was not usable anymore anyway” they are missing this point entirely. Every action, decision and growth step is significant because it impacts on the doer’s values, motivation and ultimate development as a servant of Hashem. The story is told of Rav Shmuel Salant, zt’l, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Yerusholayim at the dawn of the 20th century. One day he heard his 12 year old granddaughter let out a stream of invectives that shocked him. Upon investigation, she explained she was shooing away a cat. When she saw Rav Salant’s troubled look, she reiterated “it was only a cat.” Her grandfather responded “yes, but it was your mouth.”
We all are aware of the need for a child to have a healthy self-esteem, to view him or herself as an important, significant and worthy person. Just consider what an enhancement it would be to that self-image if our children could understand that the actions of a Jew are significant, irrespective of anyone else’s reaction or even awareness of it. What comes out of their mouth, their actions and inactions are of cosmic importance! Could anyone be more significant than that? By implanting and reinforcing this message in our children, we will then be able to look with pride and true Nachas at how we set them on a direct path to greatness.
Best wishes for a wonderful Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann