The LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt—over the streams and canals, over the ponds and all the reservoirs—and they will turn to blood.’ Blood will be everywhere in Egypt, even in vessels of wood and stone.” — Exodus 7:19
This Torah portion for this week is Va’eira, which means “and I appeared,” from Exodus 6:2–9:35, and the Haftorah is from Ezekiel 28:25–29:21.
Moses and Aaron had clearly defined roles. Moses would be the leader of the children of Israel, but Aaron would be his mouthpiece since Moses felt limited by his speech impediment. Aaron would speak; Moses would take action. Aaron would make promises; Moses would deliver. The two brothers were a team bringing their strengths to the table and compensating for each other’s weaknesses.
This being the case, the Jewish sages are puzzled when Aaron, not Moses, is commanded to bring about the first three plagues after warning Pharaoh. Wasn’t this Moses’ arena? Moses brought about the remainder of the plagues, so why not the first three?
The sages explain that while it should have been Moses who brought about the first three plagues, God made an exception for a very good reason. The reason? Gratitude.
The first two plagues involved striking the Nile. The first act turned it into blood, and the second brought the plague of frogs, which came out of the river. The Nile had been good to Moses. It had faithfully carried him safely as an infant into the arms of Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses owed his life to the Nile. And so it was unfitting for him to harm it.
The third plague, lice, was brought about by striking the land. Moses was grateful to the land, too. When he killed the Egyptian, the land swallowed up the body to protect Moses from immediate harm, giving him time to flee to the desert for safety. Moses owed his life to the land as well.
In choosing Aaron to initiate the first three plagues, God was teaching Moses – and all of us – a powerful lesson about gratitude: If we have gratitude to inanimate objects, such as rivers and land, how much more so should we have gratitude to people! When we learn to be grateful for everything in our lives, we will know how to be grateful for the people in our lives, too.
The Israelites’ slavery in Egypt began with ungratefulness – the Egyptians were ungrateful for the help that Joseph had given them. Their redemption began with gratitude.
Friends, redemption always begins with thankfulness. When we focus on life’s challenges and all that we don’t have in life, we miss out on all that we do have. We become blinded to our resources and opportunities. Take some time this week to appreciate all the gifts that we have in our lives – the things and the people. In doing so, we will take our first steps toward our personal freedom and an everlasting relationship with God.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President