Parshas Vaeira’s Torah reading discusses the first two plagues with which the Egyptians were afflicted for refusing to allow the Jews to leave. The first plague was the plague of Blood, in which the Nile and all the water supplies of the Egyptians turned into blood. The second plague was the plague of Frogs, in which the Egyptians were harassed by frogs without letup. Rashi (7:19) notes the fact that God instructed Moses to tell Aaron to initiate these two plagues, by hitting the Nile River with the staff of Moses, as opposed to having Moses do so directly. Rashi explains that the reason for this is that Moses owed a special debt of gratitude to the Nile River for saving his life. When Moses was a baby, he was placed in a basket to float down the Nile in order to avoid being murdered by the Egyptians. He was found by an Egyptian woman, who removed him from the river, adopted him and raised him. Since the Nile River had spared his life, it was improper for Moses to be the one to afflict the river with these plagues.

The concept of acting with appreciation towards inanimate objects is actually not a standard of conduct unique to someone of the stature of Moses. The Talmud says (Bava Kama, 92b), “A well which you drank from, you should not throw a stone into it.” Rashi explains the meaning of this and says, “An object which served you at one point, you should make sure not to mock it.” The Shita Mekubetzes (in the name of a student of Rabbi Yosef Haleivi Eben Migash) comments on this with elaboration and states that this principle is based on the concept of “Hakaras Hatov,” which requires us to acknowledge and show gratitude to anyone or anything from which we benefitted. The Torah therefore expects that we even respect and show gratitude to inanimate objects from which we benefit from, by refraining from damaging them or acting in a way which expresses derision towards them. The Shita Mekubetzes then shares a story to illustrate the extent to which this concept was practiced:

One of the great authorities in Talmudic law is known as the “Rif.” The Rif once became ill, and required special therapy in order recuperate. There was a Jew in town who had a special bathhouse attached to his house, which would provide the remedy the Rif needed. This Jew heard about the Rif’s condition, and invited him to utilize his bathhouse to restore his health. This person actually invited the Rif to be hosted in his home for a while, until the Rif would recover. The Rif accepted the invitation, and experienced a full recovery. A while later, this fellow who had hosted the Rif had fallen on hard times, and needed to sell the bathhouse in order to pay off his creditors. In order to do this, the Rif was asked to intervene in appraising the value of the bathhouse and negotiate its sale. The Rif, however, refused to do so on the grounds that since he had benefited from this bathhouse, he did not want to be in a position in which he might “cause damage” to it by undervaluing it or the like. The Shita Mekubetzes concludes with a striking lesson, that if this is the Torah outlook when it comes to inanimate objects, how much more so must we be careful in being grateful to human beings who have feelings and understand the way they are treated. If we must be careful not to act in a way which exhibits ungratefulness to lifeless objects which helped us out, how much more so must we be careful to show respect and express gratitude to a person who helped us.

The trait of Hakaras Hatov is so important that we are expected to exercise it even regarding inanimate objects. Showing respect to objects we benefit from, ingrains in us the virtue of being a grateful person. We don’t have to be on a special high level to do this. It just requires a little bit of attention to act in a way which respects the items that serve us. Working on keeping our possessions neat and handling them with care is all it takes. But these simple little acts go a long way. When we are careful to handle even our inanimate objects with respect, out of feelings of gratitude, we can be sure that this character trait will carry over to other areas in life as well. A person who wishes to personify the virtue Hakaras Hatov must make sure to exercise it on all levels, towards all things that provide him with good.

By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber

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