Parshat Va’eira 5775: HaKarat HaTov – Appreciation — in Mitzrayim and Before, Toward Hashem and Our Fellow Jews in Our Times

Good Shabbos Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua — Parshat Va’era is being sponsored by Jonathan & Debbie Sassen of Ramat Beit Shemesh and dedicated to all who return their s’forim to their right places on the Beit Tefillah-Yona Avraham Beit Medrash s’forim shelves. To Mishpochat Sassen, many thanks for your sponsorship, and your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

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Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Va’eira 5775: HaKarat HaTov – Appreciation — in Mitzrayim and Before, Toward Hashem and Our Fellow Jews in Our Times

by Moshe Burt

In “Torah Tapestries on Sefer Shemos,” Parshat Va’eira, 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 Pharaoh of the impending plague…. If Hashem told Moshe to warn Pharaoh that he was going to hit the water, we would expect the next instruction to read “And if Pharaoh 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 Pharaoh’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 benefited 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 Parshat 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 him.”

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.”

In other words, it would seem that Hashem (kovei’yokel) recognized Moshe Rabbeinu’s sensitivity toward expressing appreciation regarding his father-in-law Yithro and it would seem that He preempted Moshe’s sensitivity regarding the Nile and the sand of Egypt by expressing to him (Moshe);

“Say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff…'”

Rabbi Mordechai Katz, in his Sefer L’lmode U’lamed speaks about appreciation through the use of its synonym, “gratitude”:

Gratitude is one of the pillars that sustains human society. Without it, we would be cold, insensitive individuals; with it, we can establish satisfying relationships with others. By being grateful, one rewards those who aided him. He shows that he recognizes their efforts rather than taking them for granted.

In a previous vort on Parshat Va’eira, this author applied the above understandings regarding Appreciation, Gratitude: HaKarat HaTov to national questions about governance, Eretz Yisrael, intelligencia, media which bear upon us in our times. However, there is another take: Truly having HaKarat HaTov for another Jew on a one-to-one basis.

In a recent Chanukah drash on Parshat Mikeitz, Rabbi Yehoshua Landau of Ramat Beit Shemesh spoke that Torah records a dialogue between Reuven and the nine other brothers upon the Viceroy’s demand to incarcerate one of the brothers as insurance that the other brothers would return with Binyamin in order to prove themselves innocent of being “spies.” Reuven, at the time of the brothers plotting against Yosef, was apparently cast aside from entire family over the episode of switching beds. So, while other brothers read evil intentions in Yosef’s articulation of his dreams, Reuven heard inclusion and was grateful to Yosef and seemingly didn’t hate him as the other brothers did.

The brothers spoke to one another (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 42, posukim 21-22):

“‘Indeed we are guilty concerning our brother inasmuch as we saw his heartfelt anguish when he pleaded with us and we did not listen: that is why this anguish has come upon us.’ Reuven spoke to them saying, ‘Did I not speak to you saying, Do not sin against the boy? But you would not listen! And his blood as well — behold — is being avenged.'”

R’ Landau provided a paradigm of HaKarat HaTov regarding the above posukim. R’ Landau cited R’ Avraham Schor who explained the posukim by way of a Sforno in which Reuven felt all along that the brothers totally misunderstood Yosef. R’ Schor cited Breish’t Rabbah 84:15 based on the writings of Mishnas Rebbe Aharon (R’ Aharon Kotler) which indicate that Reuven said that Yosef counted him amongst his (Yosef’s) eleven brothers, so how could he not save him in return(?).

To apply HaKarat HaTov toward our fellow Jews, and toward Hashem in our times, two rapid-fire examples come to mind.

One such example is the blessing of a guest toward their host (translation as rendered in Artscroll Siddur Birkat HaMazon = Blessings after Meals):

May it be G’d’s will that this host not be shamed nor humiliated in This World or in the World to Come. May he be successful in all his dealings. May his dealings be successful and conveniently close at hand. May no evil impediment reign of his handiwork, and may no semblance of sin or iniquitous thought attach itself to him from this time and forever.

The Artscroll Siddur notes that “many authorities are at a loss to explain why the prescribed text has fallen into disuse in favor of the briefer version commonly used.” Might we bring our fellow Jews closer together in unity by guests showing appropriate HaKarat HaTov toward their hosts?

And might it go a long way with Hashem for the Am, for the Kehillah to show HaKarat HaTov for HaKadosh Borchu: the Creator of The Universe by saying Aleinu — It is Our Duty — slowly, with distinct pronunciation of each word and melodiously not just in Mussaf of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, but all year long, rather than at the break-neck speed of an Arnoldis Chapman or Ken Giles 100 plus mph fastball?

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 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, bimhayrah b’yamainu — 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.