Show Gratitude to Everyone

Yael Eckstein  |  December 29, 2021

Yael Eckstein hugging a young girl and smiling.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Stretch out your hand with your staff over the streams and canals and ponds, and make frogs come up on the land of Egypt.’” — Exodus 8:5

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Va’era, which means “and I appeared,” from Exodus 6:2–9:35.

Rabbi Yisrael Zeev Gustman was one of the greatest Torah scholars of the 20th century. He had been a rising leader of the faithful Jewish community in Lithuania before World War II. He suffered greatly during the Holocaust and narrowly escaped death at the hands of the Nazis on more than one occasion. After the war, he made his way to Israel and established an elite rabbinical seminary in Jerusalem.

Despite his position as the dean of the seminary and one of the generation’s greatest rabbis, Rabbi Gustman took it upon himself to regularly water the bushes in the garden on the campus grounds. When his students asked him why he insisted on serving as the seminary gardener, he explained, “When I was fleeing the Nazis, I hid in a cave in the woods. I concealed the mouth of the cave with bushes and lived off the various edible berries and other plants that grew there. Plants and bushes saved my life. This is how I show my gratitude.”

Show Gratitude to Everyone and Everything

In this week’s Torah portion, we read about the first seven of the ten plagues that God brought upon Egypt. It’s interesting that even though God gave the instructions to Moses, and Moses was the one speaking to Pharaoh, the first three plagues were actually carried out by Moses’ brother Aaron.

The rabbis explain that Aaron was chosen for these plagues because Moses could not do them. Because Moses’ life had been saved by the Nile River when his mother put him in a basket as a baby and set him afloat, Moses could not turn the river into blood.

He could not create the stench on the river that accompanied the plague of frogs. And when Moses killed an Egyptian who was attacking a Jew and had buried him in the dirt of the ground, Moses could not smite the ground to bring forth the plague of lice. It was only the later plagues which caused no harm to the river or the ground that Moses could carry out.

Now obviously the Nile, the ground, and the bushes do not know or care who is hitting them or watering them. Rabbi Gustman’s lesson, and the lesson from the first three plagues, is that gratitude is not about the feelings of the one who is being thanked. When we show gratitude to everyone — and everything — that has blessed us, we become more grateful people and we honor God.

Your Turn:

Take some time today to reflect on the people — or the things — for which you are most grateful. Share one or two of what’s on your list in the space below.