Parshat Va’era 5773: HaKarat HaTov – Appreciation, and It’s Limits?

by Moshe Burt

In “Torah Tapestries on Sefer Shemos,” Parshat Va’era, Rebbetzin Shira Smiles’ takes up a theme (pages 13-17) concerning “Learning to Appreciate.”

Rebbetzin Smiles writes:

Before the first plague, blood, Hashem commanded Moshe Rabbeinu to first warn Pharoah of the impending plague…. If Hashem told Moshe to warn Pharoah that he was going to hit the water, we would expect the next instruction to read “And if Pharoah refuses, then you shall raise your staff and strike the water. ” But that’s not what Hashem said.

Our parsha (Sefer Shemos Perek 7, posuk 19) states:

Hashem said to Moshe, “Say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt…, and they shall become blood; there shall be blood throughout the land of Egypt, even in the wooden and stone vessels.'”

Rebbetzin Smiles cites an explanation from Rashi providing insight into the concept of HaKarat HaTov – Appreciation:

Rashi says that it was inappropriate for Moshe Rabbeinu to strike the Nile for the plagues of blood and frogs. After all, this same river provided refuge for him as a baby, when his mother facilitated his escape from Pharoah’s decree of infanticide. In the same vein, Moshe Rabbeinu could not strike the soil of Egypt to bring the plague of lice. Egyptian sand… had, in effect protected Moshe when he used it to bury the Egyptian [who was beating the Jew] that he had killed.

Rebbetzin Smiles then cites Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler’s explanation of appreciation:

Hakarat HaTov is mainly about the impact on the appreciator, rather on the one being appreciated. He explains that the human mind is able to distinguish the importance or entitlement of the recipient. Human emotions, by contrast, cannot. It is irrelevant that our beneficiary might have been an inanimate object. Our emotional reality is that when we strike something, its value is lowered in our eyes. It becomes inferior and we become superior. If we previously benefitted from it, then our middah (character trait) of HaKarat HaTov certainly diminishes. How would we properly appreciate something that is now so inferior? Moshe’s Divine Mandate was to diligently preserve his middah of HaKarat HaTov, since it is so critical for Avodat Hashem (service of G’d)…

For further perspective, Rebbetzin Smiles then refers back to parsha Shemos:

Moshe Rabbeinu was commanded by Hashem to go back to Egypt and free the Jews…. Before he left for Egypt, “Moshe went and returned to Yeser [Yithro], his father-in-law. He said to him, ‘I shall go, please, and I shall return to my brothers who are in Egypt and I shall see if they are still alive.'” (Sefer Shemos, Perek 4, posuk 18)

The Midrash (Tanchuma, Parshat Shemos 16) explains that Moshe felt compelled to ask Yithro for permission to go. Moshe Rabbeinu’s actions here appear strange. How could he hesitate when Hashem Himself had just commanded him to go to Egypt? …Was it not an urgent matter of freeing a suffering people, and therefore a case of… (saving a life)? Why did he first ask permission from Yithro? One explanation in the Midrash is… “Moshe said, Master of the World, I cannot [go on the mission], because Yithro accepted me and opened the door to his house to me and I am like a son to him. And anyone who opens his door to his fellow man — he owes his soul to

Rebbetzin Smiles cites Rabbi Chaim Friedlander who provides further insight on Moshe’s need to request his leave of his father-in-law:

If we find ourselves trampling on our middos while running to fulfill a Mitzvah, we should re-evaluate… Hashem wants us to fulfill Mitzvot in ways that preserve our middos. We are often misled to act quickly “in the name of the Mitzvah” and we forget to think about others, crushing our middos along the way. Our sensitivity, kindness and HaKarat HaTov are [then] sacrificed for the sake of these “Mitzvot.”

Inotherwords, it would seem that Hashem (kovei’yokel) recognized Moshe Rabbeinu’s sensitivity toward expressing appreciation regarding his father-in-law Yithro and would seem to have pre-empted this sensitivity regarding the Nile and the sand of Egypt by expressing to him (Moshe); “Say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff…'”

The above understanding regarding Middot and HaKarat HaTov therefore seems to give rise to national questions which bear upon us in our times.

Hashem orchestrated the formation of Modern-day Medinat Yisrael by using secular pioneers, secular institutions and governance as His vehicles. Through Israel’s nearly 65 years of modern existence, we’ seen the limitations, snafus, mis-calculations, cruelties and absurdities of secularity; i.e. Sharon’s “40 years of peace” after expelling Jews from Gush Katif.

What then are the limits of HaKarat HaTov in the context of the anti-Torah foibles, snafus and cruelties of secular governance, institutions, universities, mainstream media, etc.? While we recognize and give HaKarat HaTov to Hashem’s vehicle for the formation of the State, how far does that HaKarat HaTov go? Should appreciation for secularity override all of the harm its done, i.e. expulsion of 10,000 Jews from their homes and communities? Does appreciation override persecution and legal prosecution of, and unjust judgement toward the religious
constituency who cling to and possess The Land? Does appreciation override disdain for secular governance and judicial system which makes up the rules as they go along to suit both their “political correctness” and an anti-
Torah agenda? Or does HaKarat HaTov in this context mean appreciation for the myriad of secular founding contributions, even as we seek to rip apart and dis-mantle that very vehicle ofsecular governance, institutions, etc. replacing secular “leadership” with Torah-based leadership and governance?

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.