The Parsha Discussion: Vaera — Gratitude

Posted by Alex Israel on January 11, 2018
Topics: The Parsha Discussion, Shemot (Exodus), VaEra

This week, we shall address the topic of thankfulness and gratitude. This is a human virtue that emerges from one small disparity in the biblical text. At the start of the Plague of Blood, God sends Moses to warn Pharaoh:

Go to Pharaoh … at the edge of the Nile, taking with you the rod that turned into a snake. And say to him: … I shall strike the water in the Nile with the rod that is in my hand, and it will be turned into blood. (7:15-17)

But when God gives the instruction to activate the plague, it is Aaron, not Moses, who is instructed to strike the river:

Say to Aaron: Take your rod and hold out your arm over the waters of Egypt—its rivers, its canals, its ponds, all its bodies of water—that they may turn to blood. (7:19)

Why does Aaron strike the Nile instead of Moses? Rashi comments:

Since the Nile protected Moses when he was cast into it, it was not struck by him, not with the plague of blood or with frogs, but instead was struck by Aaron.

Similarly, the plague of lice in which the dust of the earth is transformed into lice:

It was not right for the earth to be struck by Moses seeing that it had protected him when he killed the Egyptian (taskmaster) and buried him in the sand (see 2:12). Therefore, it was struck by Aaron. (Rashi 8:13)

In other words, it would be inappropriate for Moses to strike the river that saved his life, to cause harm to the earth that protected him. When something has bestowed blessings upon us we should acknowledge that.

Now, this perspective is remarkable. I can appreciate that we are indebted and thankful to human beings who have expended effort, care and attention, extending kindness to us. But should I be thankful to the chair I sit on, to the car that I drive? Should we extend our gratitude and appreciation even to inanimate objects?

Click here to read more from Rabbi Alex Israel in this week’s Parsha Discussion: Vaera — Gratitude.

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About Alex Israel

Alex teaches Bible at Pardes and is the Director of the Community Education Program and the Summer Program. Alex was born and raised in London. He holds degrees from London School of Economics, the Institute of Education London and Bar-Ilan University. Alex studied at Yeshivat Har Etzion under Rav Aharon Lichtenstein and Rav Yehudah Amital, and gained Rabbinic ordination from the Israeli Rabbinate. Click here to read more.

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