Hakaras Hatov and the Makkos

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The following is from a brand new book, Sparks of Clarity, authored by Rabbi Buddy Berkowitz. Purchase this fabulous book HERE.

יֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל־מֹשֶׁה אֱמֹר אֶל־אַהֲרֹן קַח מַטְּךָ וּנְטֵה־יָדְךָ עַל־מֵימֵי מִצְרַיִם… וְיִהְיוּ־דָם…

(שמות ז’  ט’)

As we all know, Moshe Rabbeinu was appointed by Hashem to be the redeemer of Klal Yisroel; and so, many wonders and miracles were performed through his hand in Mitzrayim. But interestingly enough, when it came to the first three makkos, Hashem turned to Aharon instead:    “וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל־מֹשֶׁה אֱמֹר אֶל־אַהֲרֹן קַח מַטְּךָ וּנְטֵה־יָדְךָ עַל־מֵימֵי מִצְרַיִם… וְיִהְיוּ־דָם” – “Hashem said to Moshe: Say to Aharon: ‘Take your staff and stretch your hand over the waters of Mitzrayim… and they shall become blood” (Shemos 7:19); “אֱמֹר אֶל־אַהֲרֹן נְטֵה אֶת־יָדְךָ בְּמַטֶּךָ עַל־הַנְּהָרֹת… וְהַעַל אֶת־הַצְפַרְדְּעִים” – “Say to Aharon: ‘Stretch your hand with your staff over the rivers… and bring up the frogs” (8:1); “אֱמֹר אֶל־אַהֲרֹן נְטֵה אֶת־מַטְּךָ וְהַךְ אֶת־עֲפַר הָאָרֶץ וְהָיָה לְכִנִּם” — “Say to Aharon: ‘Stretch your staff and strike the dirt of the earth, and it shall become lice” (8:12). From this point on, the rest of the makkos were done through Moshe.

Why, indeed, were these original makkos performed through Aharon instead of Moshe? Rashi explains that it was a matter of hakaras ha’tov. The first two makkos involved the water, which played an important role in preserving Moshe’s life; when he was a baby, his mother placed him in a basket upon the river. The third makkah involved the earth, which protected Moshe when he had killed the Mitzri (by concealing the body). Since Moshe had benefited from these elements, it was not proper for him to turn around and strike them; and so, Aharon had to do it instead.

But the question is: did Moshe really have to be instructed to refrain from striking the water and the earth? After all, he was Moshe Rabbeinu – he was the greatest of tzaddikim, and of course very smart and learned. Surely, he knew all about “appreciation” on his own. Why did he have to be informed about this concept by Hashem?

Now, one may say that there really was a chiddush here, even for Moshe Rabbeinu. That is, Moshe of course knew all about hakaras ha’tov; but he thought it applied only to animate objects (i.e., people). Hashem had to tell him that it extended even to inanimate objects such as water, as well. But while this is an important chiddush, it only accounts for the first time. It would seem that Moshe would have learned this lesson during the makkah of dom, alone. Why did Hashem have to repeat it for him by tzfardei’a, telling him again to let Aharon perform the makkah?

The truth is, however, that each time contained yet another chiddush about the middah of gratitude. True, Moshe learned from the first makkah that hakaras ha’tov applies even to inanimate objects, and so he himself didn’t strike the water. But he still thought that once was enough. He had already shown his appreciation to the water during the first makkah, and was “yotzei” with that; now, he felt he could strike it during the second makkah. This is why Hashem had to tell him even during tzfardei’a to pass it on to Aharon. Hashem was teaching Moshe that, in fact, once is not enough — hakaras ha’tov never ends.

There was yet another lesson in store for Moshe, which is why Hashem still had to instruct him to speak to Aharon for the makkah of kinim. Yes, Moshe had learned that hakaras ha’tov is eternal, and applies even to inanimate objects, such as the earth. But Moshe may have thought that the earth didn’t really help him much in the end. While the dirt did cover the body, we know that the deed was eventually discovered; Paroh found out that Moshe had killed the Mitzri, forcing him to flee. Moshe concluded that, in fact, he had not benefited from the afar and so he owed it no hakaras ha’tov. And so, even in this final instance Hashem had to impart this idea to Moshe: even though the attempt was unsuccessful, he still had to show hakaras ha’tov simply for the effort. As such, Moshe could not strike the afar either, and Aharon had to stand in his stead.

We see, then, that three valuable lessons were conveyed to Moshe over the course of the beginning makkos. He learned that hakaras ha’tov applied: 1) even to inanimate objects, 2) for all time, and 3) even for an unsuccessful effort. How much the more so, then, must we ourselves appreciate real people – our parents, spouses, family, rabbeim, and chaveirim. They help us not just once, but constantly. And so, we must show hakaras ha’tov to those who put in so much effort on our behalf.



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