By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
Predictably, Pharaoh has refused to listen to Moshe’s demands.
The Ten Plagues which will punish the Egyptians for their brutal oppression
of the Children of Israel, while establishing that only Hashem is Master of
all natural forces are about to begin.
The first three plagues of blood, frogs and lice are different from the
others: not Moshe, but Aharon, initiates them:
And Hashem said to Moshe, “Say to Aharon: ‘Take your staff and
stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt over their rivers, over their
canals and over their ponds and over all their gatherings of water, and they
shall become blood; and there shall be blood in all the land of Egypt, and in
the wood and in the stone [vessels]”’ (Shemot 7:19).
And Hashem said to Moshe, “Say to Aharon: ‘Stretch out your hand with your staff
over the rivers, over the canals, and over the ponds, and raise up the frogs
over the land of Egypt”’ (8:1).
And Hashem said to Moshe, “Say to Aharon: ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the
dust of the land; it shall become lice throughout the land of Egypt”’ (8:12).
Rashi (based on Shemot Rabbah 9:10, 10:7; Tanchuma 14; and Targum Yonatan on
8:2, 12) explains why Moshe could never be the agent of these plagues.
Blood and frogs involved afflicting the water of the Nile, while lice required
striking the dirt, and these two substances aided Moshe personally in the past:
Say to Aharon: “Because the river protected Moshe when he was
cast into it, it was not smitten by his hand, neither for [the plague of] blood,
nor for [the plague of] frogs, but by Aharon” (7:19).
This is generally understood to mean that the water protected
Moshe by keeping him afloat until the daughter of Pharaoh could rescue him.
However, R. Moshe Alsheich (16th century) provides a different understanding,
based on Sotah 12b: After the babies were cast into the Nile, the astrologers
assumed that the savior of the Hebrews had been vanquished, since, it was
foretold, he would meet his downfall through water. Immediately, the Egyptians
ceased searching for him. (They did not realize that Moshe would be punished at
the waters of Merivah, as we see in Bamidbar 7-13.) In this way, the water
protected Moshe from detection.
As for the dust, Rashi says: “The dust did not deserve to be stricken by Moshe,
because it protected him when he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand, so
it was stricken by Aharon” (8:12).
The Sages (Bava Kamma 92b) sum up this moral lesson by quoting a folk saying:
“Into the well from which you drank water, do not throw stones.” They further
relate this to the prohibition: You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you
were a stranger in his land (Devarim 23:8). From the
third generation, an Egyptian convert cannot be barred from marrying into the
Jewish People. Although the persecution is still fresh in the minds of the
generation of the Exodus, they cannot forget that they were once welcome guests
By instructing Moshe to delegate these three plagues to Aharon, the Torah
teaches the middah, attribute of hakarat ha’tov (gratitude).
It may seem strange to speak of being beholden to inanimate objects. But, it is
important to develop the trait of hakarat ha’tov until it becomes an integral
part of one’s nature: If Moshe is “sensitive” to even water and dirt, then he
will be grateful to anyone who helps him.
However, there is a more profound question to ask: Moshe benefited from these
elements through their natural properties, involving no special effort or
intention, no motive or act of will on their part. Why should Moshe be thankful
for what “came naturally” to them? Moreover, turning the water into blood and
frogs and the dust into lice was a fulfillment of the will of G-d; surely, this
should warrant a waiver of hakarat ha’tov!
In Michtav MeiEliyahu (vol. 3, p. 101 ff.) R. Eliyahu Dessler (20th century)
analyzes the source of hakarat ha’tov. One’s tendency is to feel grateful to
someone in exchange for what he sacrificed effort, pleasure, time, or money
in order to benefit the person. This quid pro quo, says R. Dessler, is not true
For example, some ungrateful children ask, why should I show gratitude to my
parents? I was not brought into existence to satisfy my needs, but as a result
of their desire to fulfill theirs! Is it because they cared for me? It is in the
nature of parents to care for their children! Perhaps, it is only because I want
my children to treat me well when I am old. This attitude is nothing but
selfishness. In any case, there is no recognition that I owe my parents my very
Rather, insists R. Dessler, hakarat ha’tov is a function only of what I have
received, independent of my benefactor’s effort, intention or motive.
In the final analysis, Moshe could not be the instrument of “harm” to the water
or the dust, no matter what noble aims might have been achieved thereby.
Developing Moshe’s quality of hakarat ha’tov is a more exalted purpose.
Conversely, if Moshe would be desensitized to ingratitude, the harm done to his
personal development could not be easily remedied by any appeal to reason or
Furthermore, Moshe is Rabban shel Yisrael, the Jewish People’s role model par
excellence, as Rambam states in the Laws of Repentance (5:2): “Every person is
fit to be a righteous person like Moshe our teacher.” Moshe must learn the
extent of hakarat ha’tov so that we may learn from his example.
All of existence is due to Hashem’s beneficence, which we enjoy. And when we
have thoroughly internalized the trait of hakarat ha’tov, we can be truly and
deeply grateful to Hashem, Who, without self-interest or diminishment, benefits
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
At a crucial point in the fateful struggle to liberate Bnai Yisrael from
Egyptian bondage, Hashem tells Moshe that He was not known to Abraham,
Isaac, and Jacob by the tetragrammaton name (Ex. 6:3). In this passage and
in the next four verses that follow, God reveals to Moshe His purpose in
bringing Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. But what is the
significance of the different names by which God may appear and by which
we may call upon Him?
Rashi explains that each name refers to a different aspect or attribute of
Hashem, and that He is explaining to Moshe here the religious significance
of this entirely new period in Jewish history which is now beginning with
the Exodus from Egypt. The Patriarchs experienced God primarily as “Kel
Shakai,” who appears in visions and who makes long term promises which are
not fulfilled in their lifetime. Now, however, begins a new era of
fulfillment, of keeping promises, of carrying out the terms of the
Covenant. This is signified by His tetragrammaton name, which denotes His
attribute of “faithfulness” – whereby he can be “trusted to verify His
Rashi implies that one whose
entire relationship with God is based solely on Divine promises but who
has never witnessed the fulfillment of these promises is lacking in his
religious maturity. He has not experienced an essential aspect of God
which is His “truth-ness” –His “faithfulness.” How fortunate then were the
generation of the Exodus and those who entered and settled the Land! Not
merely because they were now “free” or because they became “property
owners,” but because they had now experienced the “faithfulness” of God,
witnessing God fulfilling His promises.
What then shall we say of our
generation that has seen a most astounding and unambiguous fulfillment of
the Prophetic promise: (Deut. 30:3) in the reality of a Jewish State in
Eretz Yisrael populated by over five million Jews? For close to 2000 years
our people lived on promises of a Return. Now that the era of fulfillment
is well underway, shouldn’t every Jew alive today wish to be part of this
spectacular revelation of God’s “faithfulness” by coming to live in
Rabbi Shubert Spero, Jerusalem
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320