'Gratitude is an attitude'.
This week’s torah portion of Va'aira, 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, messenger of G‑d, is bringing down these terrifying plagues on Pharaoh’s Egypt. Yet, interestingly, he calls upon his brother Aaron to be the agent for the first three plagues—blood, frogs and lice. Why did Moshe not do those himself?
The Midrash, quoted by Rashi, teaches us that this is because it was through the waters of the Nile River that Moshe was saved as an infant when he was put in the basket. It would have been insensitive and inappropriate, even after so many years later, for him to strike those very waters that saved him. The blood and the frogs both came directly from the water, and so Aaron struck the water rather than Moshe.
And the same thing with the lice that came from out of the ground, the earth too, had helped Moshe to cover the body of the Egyptian taskmaster whom he had killed while defending a Jewish slave. Therefore, it would have been wrong for Moshe to strike the earth, and so for this plague too, Aaron did it.
What a monumental lesson to each of us on the importance of gratitude. 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 when they have done us a kindness..
The story is told of the Chatam Sofer that he once did an enormous favor for someone. Later, the fellow asked him, “Rabbi, what can I ever do to repay you for your kindness?” The Chatam 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 rocks, please throw small stones instead.”
Once again, the Torah is teaching us not only religious ritual, but how to be better people—more sensitive, and yes, eternally grateful human beings.