Seven of the ten plagues take place in parshat Vaera. Of these, the first three are carried out by Aharon, Moshe’s older brother. These are: turning the River Nile to blood, frogs emerging from the Nile and the dust of the earth turning into lice. The first two plagues involve the River Nile, Egypt’s source of wealth. This is the same River Nile that protected Moshe as a baby when he was drifting along in his basket. The third plague involves the earth, which aided Moshe in burying the body of the Egyptian taskmaster he killed, helping him to cover up the act. The Midrash tells us that out of a sense of appreciation and gratitude to the Nile and the earth, it had to be Aharon who initiated the first three plagues. Moshe could not strike that which had helped him so much.
This idea highlights the importance of having an attitude of gratitude. It is obvious that if Moshe had to display this level of gratitude to inanimate objects, we need to show even more appreciation towards people.
But, what is so interesting, is that not only do we learn about the level of sensitivity we should acquire in appreciating all that is around us, ranging from people to the environment. We can also learn the important lesson, that gratitude comes from the perspective of the recipient, not the provider.
The water didn’t perform a miracle or carry out anything unusual or outstanding, it was doing what is in its nature to do, floating a basket. All too often, we may be tempted to wonder why we should thank someone for just doing their job. We may even find ourselves making excuses and calculations that they didn’t do go to any trouble or do it especially for me. We might even say that this is just what a waitress, cashier, bus driver or cleaner is paid to do. Yet we see with these first few plagues that gratitude is not about the efforts involved, but the impact on the recipient.
Dr Shefali Tsabary, touches on the importance of gratitude in her bestselling book, The Conscious Parent. She advises having a daily or weekly ritual at the dining room table so that each person has a chance to express something that they are thankful for, to teach the family how to “extract beauty from life.” She writes that by doing this, “we teach them that rather than needing this, that, or the other thing, they have so much already,” so that “our children learn to be content with what they already have.” This, she says, then sparks their desire to do good for others.
Dr Shefali adds a wonderful idea, that “it’s important to regularly thank our children for sharing themselves with us. We can thank them for the wealth of meaning they bring into our life. We can thank them for their wisdom, kindness, passion, spontaneity and liveliness.” This not only models gratitude for our children, but it also reinforces our appreciation for them and their divine essence, or as she puts it, “to recognize and express gratitude for their inherent divinity without their having to accomplish a single thing.”
Incorporating the attitude of gratitude into our lives can take place in so many quick and easy ways. Try discussing this parsha idea at your Shabbat table this week, or expressing something you are grateful for each day at dinner or bedtime. Practice thanking the people you encounter or write thank you notes to teachers or soldiers. Another way is by making berachot, blessings, to thank God for the food we eat and the new clothes we buy and receive.
Thank you for reading!