There is a certain sensitivity displayed in this week's portion that serves
as a lesson to mankind.
The first two of the 10 plagues that befell Egypt evolved around water. In
the first plague, the waters of Egypt turned into blood. The second plague
had frogs emerge from the water. In order to generate those miraculous
events Moshe's staff struck the waters. Moshe, however, did not strike the
water. He was told that his brother Ahron should do the smiting After all,
as a three-month-old child the waters of the Nile were Moshe's refuge as he
was hidden in a reed basket from Pharaoh's soldiers who were drowning all
Jewish males. It would not be fitting for one who was saved by the water to
The next plague, lice, emerged from the earth. After striking the earth with
his staff, lice emerged, afflicting all of Egypt. Again Moshe was told not
to be the agent of transmutation. After all, he must be grateful to the
earth that hid the Egyptian whom he had killed.
Of course, the great ethicists derive from Moshe's behavior the importance
of gratitude. "Imagine," they point out, "Moshe had to refrain from striking
inanimate objects because he was saved by them years back! How much more
must we show gratitude to living beings who have been our vehicles of good
Such morals deserve a homily to themselves, and there are countless stories
of gratitude to accompany such essays. However, I am bothered by the
simplicity of that message and the derivations that lead to it.
Why is striking water or earth a display of ingratitude? Was it not the will
of Hashem to have the dust and waters converted? Would it not be a great
elevation to those waters or the dust to be transformed to higher components
of G-d's glory? That being the case, wouldn't it be most fitting that Moshe
be chosen to elevate simple waters or lowly dirt into objects that declare
the open presence of an Almighty Creator who shouts together with his humble
servant, "Let My people serve Me"?
Rabbi Nosson Schapira of Krakow (1585-1633) once told of his most difficult
A wealthy businessman from Warsaw would do business each month in the Krakow
market. On each visit he noticed an extremely pious widow huddled near her
basket of bagels reciting Psalms. She only lifted her eyes from her worn
prayer book to sell a bagel or roll. After the sale she'd shower her
customer with a myriad of blessings and immediately she'd return to the
frayed pages of her prayer book that were varnished with teardrops and
Upon observing her each month, the Krakow businessman came to a conclusion.
"This pious woman should not have to struggle to earn a living. She should
be able to pursue her prayers and piety with no worries."
He offered to double her monthly earnings on one condition: she would leave
the bagel business and spend her time in the service of the L-rd. The
woman, tears of joy streaming down her face, accepted the generous offer
and thanked the kind man with praise, gratitude and blessing.
A month later, when the man returned to Krakow, he was shocked to find the
woman at her usual place, mixing the sweet smell of bagels with the sweet
words of Tehillim. As soon as he approached, the woman handed him an
envelope. "Here is your money. I thought it over I can't accept your offer."
"A deal is a deal," he exclaimed. "We must see Rabbi Schapira!"
After the businessman presented his case, the woman spoke. "The reason this
generous man offered to support me was to help me grow in my spirituality
and devotion. From the day I left my bagel business I've only fallen. Let
"Every day that it would rain, I would think of the farmers who planted the
wheat for my bagels. I would sing praises for the glory of rain as I felt
the personal guidance of Hashem with each raindrop. When the sun would shine
I would once again thank Hashem from letting the farmers harvest in good
weather. When I would grind the flour and then sift it again I'd find
countless reasons to thank the Almighty. When the bread would bake golden
brown I'd thank Hashem for the beauty of the product and its sweet sell.
And when a customer would come I'd thank both Hashem for sending him and
then bless my patron, too! Now this is all gone, I want no part of a
simple, all-expense-paid life."
Moshe had a very personal relationship with the water and the dust. Each
time he saw the Nile or tread upon the ground, he remembered the vehicles of
his good fortune and used them to praise Hashem. Blood, frogs, and lice are
surely miraculous, but they were not Moshe's personal salvation. Striking
the water or earth may have produced great national miracles, but Moshe
would be left without the simple dirt that yielded piles of personal praise.
When one forgoes marveling at a lowly speck of dust and chooses to focus
instead upon huge mountains, he may never hit pay dirt. He may only bite the
Dedicated in memory of A. Milton Brown by Mr. & Mrs. Ben Brown