Va'eira (Exodus 6:2-9:35 )
Being responsible parents, we are constantly teaching, modeling and reminding our children to be well mannered and polite. We teach them to express their appreciation and to say thank you to everyone from their family and friends as well as to the store clerk, the bus driver and their teachers.
Yet in this week’s Torah portion, we find a whole new level of gratitude that exceeds politeness and good manners. In the first plague Moses was commanded to “say to Aaron ‘take your staff and stretch your hand over the waters of Egypt – and they will become blood’” (Exodus 7:19). Rashi quoting the Midrash explains that Moses himself couldn't smite the Nile River and turn it into blood, nor was he allowed to hit the Nile to produce the frogs in the following plague, since he was saved by the Nile.
Similarly, he was not allowed to strike the sand to bring forth the plague of the lice, because the sand of Egypt helped him bury the Egyptian that he killed. Moses was commanded and also felt a personal obligation to refrain in order to show that even after all this time he had not lost his gratitude and appreciation for what the Nile and the sand of Egypt had done to help and protect him.
What does this mean? The Nile River doesn't have any feelings, nor would the sand of Egypt feel dejected by a lack of appreciation. Should such a lesson be manifested in our lives to the extent that we educate our children to say thank you to inanimate objects? To thank the park where they play? It seems a bit over the top. Clearly, there must be a deeper meaning behind why Moses had to show gratitude specifically in these situations where the party receiving the gratitude would be indifferent.
This is teaching us a very important lesson about real gratitude and appreciation. Saying thank you to somebody is not purely to satisfy the receiver of the accolades, to make sure the person on the other side knows how much we appreciate his efforts. It’s not just about being polite and showing good manners to those who have earned words of appreciation. Rather it is first and foremost an important and essential skill for the one who is expressing the gratitude. We say thank you and show our appreciation so that we can be the type of person who lives with an attitude of gratitude, always appreciating what we have, and what others and even inanimate objects have provided for us.
This is also the source for the famous Jewish Proverb, “Don’t throw a stone into a well from which you have drunk.” The Midrash (Shemot Rabba 20,1) quotes how Moses told God that he cannot turn the Nile into blood saying, “Is there a man that will drink from a well and then throw a rock into it?”
Therefore while it is not common practice to say thank you to the park in which we play, perhaps someone who truly lives his life with an attitude of gratitude and appreciates that he has a park will look after it better. Such a person will ensure that people don’t litter and don’t destroy it. This is the timeless lesson that the Torah is teaching us: appreciate what you have and then you’ll take good care of it, whether it has feelings or not, because it’s all about your attitude – to internalize what it means to be truly thankful and grateful.