By Rav Shmuel Brazil
Moshe Rabbeinu did not bring about the first three plagues on Mitzrayim. The reason Chazal give us is because he owed them gratitude for saving him and therefore it would have been inappropriate to create a negative force from them. Blood and frogs came through the water and Moshe was saved by being placed in a basket in the reeds. The plague of lice came from hitting the dust of the earth and since Moshe was saved by the earth by burying the Egyptian whom he smote under the earth.. A question is raised here. How can one say that Moshe was saved by the earth in his burial of the Egyptian when in fact it was to no avail since the act of his killing of the Egyptian was noticed. Not alone that it was witnessed but it also was reported to Pharaoh who sent out a delegation to capture Moshe and kill him only to be saved by Hashem’s miracle?
We can learn from this Chazal a tremendous lesson in the midah of hakars hatov. If someone attempts to do for you a favor but his mission involuntarily did not actualize and come to fruition, nevertheless you must still indebted to him as if he actually went ahead and completed that tova and brought it to fulfillment. When someone tries to please and he fails, the response should not be “thanks anyway” or even “thanks for trying” for this statement belittles the wholesomeness of the attempt and sincerity of intention. The passuk says “lekail gomair ahlie” that it is Hashem who finishes one’s deeds and actions. This testifies to the concept that man’s part is the journey and it is no less significant than reaching the destination. Being saved by the sand of the earth was tantamount and equal to being saved by the water and deserves the similar response.
It is not a coincidence that Moshe did not perform the first three makos due to the middah of hakaras hatov. Yet even more fascinating is the fact that the culmination of Yetzias Mitzrayim which was on the seventh day of Pesach was also related to the theme of hakaras hatov. For the Kesav Sefer explains the Chazal on the passuk Hayam raah vayanos that the Red Sea saw and ran. What did the sea see that caused it to split? They answer that the sea saw the aron of Yosef. The proof being that there is a gezairah shava between the words vayanas, one mentioned here and the other mentioned by Yosef when he fled the clutches of the wife of Potifar who attemped to seduce him to have relations with her. The teaaching of this connection of the same words is that the splitting of the Red Sea was because of Yosef’s fleeing from the seduction. The Kesav Soffer asks what is the relationship between the two? He answers the following by asking a pragmatic question. Why did Yosef flee and leave the evidence of his clothing in Mrs. Potifar’s hands thereby incriminating himself? What he should have done is to easily grab it from her and then run enabling him to deny the entire incident. However it was the middah of hakaras hatov which did not allow him to act accordingly. For he felt deep gratitude to Potifar for placing him and entrusting him in charge of his entire household and it would therefore be unjust and inappropriate to even raise a hand against his benefactor’s wife. Rather he chose to suffer the consequences than to act without gratitude.
Now when the Yidden came to the Red Sea and Moshe Rabbeinu demanded from the sea to split its waters, the Chazal say that the malach of the sea argued with Moshe saying that it was not willing to change its nature. Rather since the Jewish nation had weapons [see Rashi on word vehcamushim] and they knew how to fight as they did against Amalek, here too let them battle rather than the sea to alter its constant nature. But upon seeing the aron of Yosef which reminded the malach of Yosef’s fleeing the scene of seduction and leaving the incriminating evidence behind so not to go against the middah of hakaras hatov, the malach understood that the Jewish people would not be able in any way or fashion to fight against the Egyptians for to them as well they owed gratitude. It was Egypt who opened up their land for the family of Yaakov to descend during the period of the famine and were given a homeland of Goshen in which to dwell. Yosef demonstrated that at all costs the Jewish people would not surrender this middah of owing gratitude and were not willing to lift their hand against their benefactor even though it might cost them to return to slavery. There was no other choice for the sea but to split its waters and allow Yisrael to pass through.
So now we have it. Yetzias Mitzrayim commenced with the display of this middah hakaras tov in the fact that Moshe did not perform the first three plagues, and it ended with the middah of hakaras tov with the keriyas yam suf which was caused by he middah of hakaras hatov as we just explained. This middah is therefore not just a coincidence in the geulah of Am Yisrael but rather deliberate as if to say it could not have come about in any other way.
I would like to suggest the following interpretation. We also find this middah in the beginning of the creation of man. Man was formed from the earth and water that emanated from a mist that ascended from the earth. The Torah states that the mist was necessary because there was not yet rain because Man had not been created who possessed the capacity to recognize the tova and benefit of it (Rashi). Once Man was created he davened for it and there descended rain to make the vegetation and trees grow (deshaim and eelanos). As Rashi explains all the vegetation stood on the surface of the earth without sprouting until Man davend and recognized the benefit of the rain “matar”. So what Hashem was telling us in creating man in this way is that man must be a makeer tova creature and possess gratitude to his benefactor.
This message and mission is hinted in the name of Adam which is the acronym of Ealnos Deshaim Matar. If man fails to say thank you in a deep way it is not just that he is lacking “etiquette” or refinement but rather he is lacking “Adam” the tzura and form of Elokim. The first word that every Yid says every morning is Modeh I thank you Hashem and owe gratitude for being my benefactor. The Jewish nation is called Adam and therefore our essence is to thank. Sometimes we fall into habit and expectation that we forget to tell our wives thanks for the supper, for the laundry, for keeping the house and kids in shape, for putting up with my “narrishkeit”, for carrying our child for nine months and going through the pains of labor as you just sat there on the side lines and coached. Imagine, your child is now five years old but you still should thank your spouse to demonstrate that you have not taken it for granted. This retroactive thank you should not be alien to our daily routine. After all, every morning we thank Hashem for not making us a goy which happened twenty or thirty or sixty years ago. The nations of Amon and Moav are forbidden to marry within the Jewish nation because they failed to have hakaras hatov generations later for Avrham’s saving of their ancestor Lot. Even after many generations the old tova is not to be forgotten between the parties. One cannot imagine or fathom how such a simple but sincere gratitude can bring so many Brownie points and mileage and the effect of how it would rejuvenate one’s marriage.