By: Chaya Sora Jungreis-Gertzulin
“HaShem said to Moshe, ‘Say to Aaron, take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt…. and they will become blood….’ ”
“HaShem said to Moshe, ‘Say to Aaron, spread out your hand with your staff over the rivers…, and bring up frogs over the land of Egypt.’ ”
“HaShem said to Moshe, ‘Say to Aaron, stretch out your hand and strike the dust of the land, and it will become lice throughout the land of Egypt.”
The parsha of Va’eira tells us about the plagues that HaShem brought upon Egypt. It was Aaron, rather than Moshe, who was designated to bring on the first three plagues – blood, frogs and lice. It was Aaron who stood with his staff over the river, turning all of Egypt’s water to blood. Once again, it was Aaron, who brought on the plague of frogs, which came jumping out of the rivers. And, it was Aaron who struck the earth, causing lice to infest the entire land of Egypt.
Why was Aaron, rather than Moshe, the one to bring forth these three plagues? Rashi explains that since the Nile protected Moshe as an infant in the basket, it would not be appropriate for him to strike the water. Not for blood, not for frogs. Just as the water protected Moshe as a baby, the earth protected him as an adult. When Moshe witnessed an Egyptian mercilessly beating one of his Jewish brethren, Moshe killed him, and the sand covered up the Egyptian. Here too, Rashi teaches, it wouldn’t be appropriate for Moshe to strike the ground that protected him.
We can understand showing gratitude to another person. But to inanimate objects?
These passages teach us an important life lesson. Expressing gratitude isn’t merely to make a benefactor feel good. Water and dust can’t “feel” good. But expressing gratitude serves a higher purpose. Being grateful is good for the neshama. It builds a positive character in the person who trains himself to say thank you. The very act of feeling appreciation makes one kinder, more understanding, more aware of all the good that HaShem bestows upon us. Hakoras hatov, acknowledging the good given to us, is a moral imperative.
This concept holds true with our tefillos as well. HaShem doesn’t need to hear our thank yous. We need to realize to be grateful for everything we have, and express words of appreciation with our lips.
This principle is brought down in the Talmud (Bava Kamma 92b). “Rava said to Rabbah bar Mari: ‘Do not throw stones into a well from which you drank.’ ’’ If you benefitted from a well, do not show a lack of hakoras hatov by throwing stones into it. It is not about the well, which cannot “feel” the stones. It’s about elevating oneself through expressing gratitude.
This year will be the twenty-seventh yahrzeit of my beloved father, HaRav Meshulem ben HaRav Osher Anshil zt”l. I often wonder (more so as I am getting older), how he managed to always be happy, and have the biggest smile on his face. To never “lose it”, but always speak with the most gentle voice and kindest of words. He came to this country after the war as an orphan, alone, without family. Yet, there was never sadness or despair. To Abba, every day was a good day. Every day was an opportunity to show appreciation for the gift of life.
My father never sat us children down to teach us hakoras hatov. His actions spoke volumes. I remember him standing outside with me, waiting for the school bus. Even though we had door-to-door service, and I didn’t need to be walked to a bus stop, Abba was there, to say thank you to the bus driver.
My father would visit the school to personally thank the teachers. I remember going along with my father on errands. Everyone got the biggest hello and thank you. From bank tellers, to store cashiers, to the man pumping gas into our car. They were all Abba’s best friends.
Recently, my Uncle Yanky shared a story with me about my father. My parents were newly engaged, and my father, the chosson, was coming for a visit. My two uncles decided that they would cheer my father up. After all, their immediate family miraculously remained intact after the war, while my father was alone.
How ironic, Uncle Yanky told me – it was my father who cheered them up. He came with a smile, a good word, a funny story. He made them laugh.
During the shiva, a baby nurse who worked for many families in the community, came to share a personal story with us. She told us that following a bris, she would go to a private room to care for the baby, while the family would be greeting their guests. At times, it seemed like an afterthought when someone brought her a plate of food. Not so, when the bris was in my father’s shul, Ohr Torah. She shared with us that “Rabbi Jungreis would come to where I was sitting, bringing me a full plate of food and a cup of hot coffee. The rabbi would tell me ‘You are such a special lady — you have a sacred mission, you are taking care of a Jewish baby, a holy soul.’ It wasn’t just the plate of food. It was the kind, encouraging words, the good wishes, the smile of appreciation, the words of gratitude.”
Living a life of hakoras hatov means looking at the world around us, thanking HaShem for the blessing in our lives, and thanking everyone around us for the good they do.
This article was written L’zecher Nishmas / In Memory Of HaRav Meshulem ben HaRav Osher Anshil HaLevi, zt”l and Rebbetzin Esther bas HaRav Avraham HaLevi, zt”l