It’s very curious that Aaron performed the first three plagues in Egypt rather than Moshe. G-d instructed Moshe to have Aaron turn the waters of the Nile, as well as most of the other water in Egypt, to blood. He directed Aaron to take his staff and stretch out his hand over the Nile to bring up the plague of frogs. Moshe also commanded Aaron to strike the dust of Egypt with his staff so that it became lice which spread throughout Egypt. Wasn’t Moshe the leader chosen by G-d? Didn’t Moshe perform every other miracle and plague without Aaron’s assistance? Why didn’t Moshe initiate these three plagues as well?
Rashi explains that Moshe had benefited from the waters of the Nile and thus it was not appropriate for him to repay the good he had received with a plague. The plague of blood caused the waters become putrid and unusable. The plague of frogs caused people to distain the Nile as the source of their misery. These same waters had once saved Moshe’s life when his sister Miriam had placed him in a basket and hidden him among the reeds of the river for Pharaoh’s daughter to find.
Similarly the plague of lice was produced from the ground. But that same dust had once protected Moshe when he was a younger man. We read in previous chapters that when Moshe grew up he went out to see the affliction of his Jewish people and saw an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Jew. Moshe struck down this evil man and hid his body in the dust.
Rashi explains that because of the good which Moshe had received from both the Nile and the dust of Egypt, Moshe had Aaron perform these first three plagues rather than perform these plagues himself.
What is interesting is that the Nile River and the dust of Egypt are inanimate objects. They certainly didn’t “expect” to be repaid for their “kindness,” nor were their “feelings” going to be hurt by Moshe’s actions. Yet Moshe was obligated to show his gratitude to them by refraining from “harming” them. While it would not have mattered much to the Nile, perhaps it would have harmed Moshe, on his incredibly elevated spiritual level, to have been ungrateful even to an inanimate object.
You and I are not on Moshe’s lofty level. But for everyday people like us, it is certainly true that if we fail to recognize the good which people do for us, we cause ourselves immeasurable harm.
Parents and grandparents today often give generously to their children without expecting gratitude or reciprocation. I suspect that for our children’s sake we should teach them to feel and express both.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)