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Charles E. Savenor
Charles E. Savenor

Cultivating Gratitude

While God commands Moses to go down to the Nile River with his staff, Aaron is designated to transform the water into blood.

With the Jewish people suffering in servitude, Moses confronts Pharaoh and demands, “Shelach et Ami!/“Let me people go!” These words commence a ten-round fight between God and Pharaoh punctuated with plagues, intended to elicit a change of heart.

God aims the first plague directly at the Nile River, whose waters are essential to Egypt’s agricultural needs and sustenance. While God commands Moses to go down to the Nile River with his staff, Aaron is the one who will transform the water into blood.

One cannot help but be confused, because Moses is most prominently associated with the Exodus as God’s messenger. And yet, the text is clear, God designates Aaron to make the miracle happen. This peculiar detail in our liberation story invites us to ask why Moses does not actualize this first plague?

Noticing Aaron’s role in the plagues, the commentator Ibn Ezra asserts that Aaron is involved with plagues emanating from the ground, while Moses performs those from the heavens, thereby underscoring Moses’s higher position.

Rashi’s approach takes account into Moses’s humble origins more than his prestigious destiny. Since the Nile protects Moses when he is a baby, God does not want him to harm the river. Thus, Moses’s holding back his staff constitutes an expression of gratitude.

Gratitude not only connects us to our past, but also represents a proven approach for paving the path to a shared future. Further, an attitude of gratitude can empower and inspire those around us to reach their potential.

In 2005 the day before his team, the New England Patriots, played in the Super Bowl, Deion Branch called every coach he ever played for to express his appreciation. “Win, lose or draw, you helped me get here, and I will never forget it,” he told his teachers and mentors. The Patriots won that game with Branch named the MVP.

We make a powerful statement when we recognize the people, organizations, and institutions that help us become who we are today.

When COVID began in March 2020, every day at 7:00pm we cheered and rang our bells to say thanks to doctors, nurses, and front-line workers for their efforts to not just keep us safe, but to keep us together. Frequently even now at 7:00pm I look out our window and wish our collective expression of gratitude had stayed with us. While the clapping may have ended, our community’s need for Hakarat Hatov, recognizing the good, remains stronger than ever.

This week God teaches Moses a timeless lesson in leadership, community building and relationships. Taking the time to say “thank you” never fails to lift one’s spirits and perhaps even elicit a change of heart when the world needs it so desperately today.

About the Author
Rabbi Charlie Savenor works at New York's Park Avenue Synagogue as the Director of Congregational Education. A graduate of Brandeis, JTS and Columbia University's Teachers College, he blogs on parenting, education, and leadership. In addition to supporting IDF Lone Soldiers, he serves on the International boards of Leket Israel and Gesher.
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