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Torah Tuesdays with Hennie Black- Parshat Va’era




In this week’s parsha of Va’era, we are introduced to the first seven of ten plagues that G-d brought upon Egypt. While it was Moshe, as the leader of the Jewish people, who initiated most of the plagues, it was Aaron, Moshe’s brother, who God commands to initiate the first three plagues—blood, frogs, and lice.

Rashi wonders why Aaron was commanded to perform the first three plagues and not Moshe, who we would assume would have performed all of them. Rashi answers that Moshe could not perform these plagues due to the gratitude Moshe felt for the Nile and the land.

Moshe was indebted to the Nile as it saved his life when he was placed inside a basket to float along the river. The plague of blood and frogs required hitting the water with Moshe’s staff, something Moshe could not do as it would display a lack of gratitude for the water that was at the centre of how he was saved.  

With the plague of lice, there was a similar emotional barrier preventing Moshe from initiating this plague. The act that launched a massive cloud of lice into the air involved Moshe taking his staff and hitting the ground, turning the sand to lice. Moshe could not do this because when he killed an Egyptian task master who beat a Jewish slave, Moshe buried the Egyptian in the sand, thus serving as the object that allowed Moshe to cover up his action.

The Talmud teaches, “A person should not cast stones into the well from which he has drunk.” When someone does something for us, we are enjoined to display our gratitude and appreciation.

Remarkably, Moshe even extended this sense of appreciation to inanimate objects—water and sand—who served Moshe, not with any cognition or intent to help Moshe, but simply acted as nature would have them do; water flowing and sand covering up objects are what they were created to do. 

It is said about the Kotzker Rebbe that when it was time to replace a pair of worn out shoes, he would neatly wrap up the old ones in newspaper before throwing them in the garbage, saying, “How can I simply toss away such a fine pair of shoes that have served me so well these past years!?”

The Torah is teaching us a very important life lesson about gratitude. Having gratitude involves having a mindset of appreciation for all aspects of life.

Many people think that gratitude involves only the recognition of the person who did us a favour. Gratitude does not only make the person whom we thank feel good, it also affects the person who issues the gratitude. The field of psychology has informed us that feeling gratitude has a number of beneficial effects—among them building our self-esteem, confidence, and ultimate happiness.  Being thankful for all the good things in our lives helps us focus on the positive, rather than falling into the all-too-easy trap of focusing on the negative or on what we are lacking.

There is a well-known story of a professor who told his students that he was giving them a surprise test. The students were very anxious as the professor walked around the class and handed out the exam paper, face down on their desks.

When all the papers were handed out, the professor instructed the class to turn over the paper and begin. To everyone’s surprise, there were no questions, but just a black dot in the center of the page. The professor saw the students’ confusion and said, “I want you to write what you see there.”

At the end of the class, the professor collected all the tests and began to read what the students wrote. All of them described the black dot, its position on the paper, its size, etc.

The professor responded, “No one wrote about the white part of the paper. Everyone focused on the black dot. This is exactly what we tend to do in our lives. Most of our lives are filled with things to enjoy, like the white area that constitutes most of the paper. But like you, who focused on the black dots alone, we all tend to focus on the “black dots” in our lives, the parts that are less than perfect. The black dots are small in comparison to everything we have in our lives. Life is a special gift. Look away from the black dots in your life. Enjoy each one of your blessings, each moment that life gives you.”

The professor’s lesson that day was not on the curriculum; he simply wanted them to change their attitude.

We have so many things in our life to be grateful for. Moshe exemplified this message and conveyed its importance to the generations that followed him. I believe that the Jewish people have imbibed this message, serving as a foundation for our resilience and perseverance over centuries of persecution. Let us not forget this important lesson as we navigate the complexities and difficulties of our own lives. Let us wake up to each morning with an attitude of gratitude and take a moment to recognize all the blessings in our life.

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