I always treasure every moment I am able to spend with my revered grandfather, Rabbi Hirsch Diskind. No matter what the situation is, he always has a unique outlook and a life lesson to teach.
I once went shopping with him, and when we were leaving the store, someone opened the door to come in. Since the door closed slowly, there would be enough time for us to walk through the open doorway before the door closed. As we passed by the fellow that had actually pushed the door open, my grandfather thanked him for opening it for us. Noticing that I myself hadn’t thanked that person, my grandfather took the opportunity to discuss with me the importance of hakarat hatov – appreciating the good that is performed for you. In order to get me thinking, he challenged me to pinpoint the Torah source for thanking someone who helps one out even inadvertently, as had just happened to us. After thinking for a few minutes, I gave up and told my grandfather that I didn’t know. He told me that we learn it from Moses in this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Va’eira.
The ten plagues that God brought upon the Egyptian people begin in Parshat Va’eira. Some of the plagues commenced of their own accord, but for others to begin, an action was required. In the case of the first two plagues, Moses had to hit the Nile River. In order to start the third plague, he had to hit the dirt. The Midrash tells us, however, that God instructed Moses that though normally it was his job to perform the initiative action, by these three plagues he should allow his brother Aaron to do it instead. The reason, explains the Midrash, is because the Nile saved Moses when he was a baby. At the time that Moses had been born, Pharaoh had a decree in place which stated that all Jewish male babies be taken by the Egyptian government and killed – infanticide. Therefore, Yocheved, the mother of Moses, hid him in a basket and placed the basket into the river, hoping that her precious son would escape Pharaoh’s evil decree. The river kept the basket afloat, keeping Moses alive. The dirt, too, had saved Moses once. Moses had witnessed an Egyptian man mercilessly beating a Jew and killed the Egyptian. He hid the body in the dirt, knowing that he could be executed if Pharaoh discovered the he had killed the Egyptian. Since these two entities had saved Moses, God commanded him that he should show appreciation to them and not strike them himself.
My grandfather pointed out that the river and the dirt had not gone out of their way to save Moses. In addition, as inanimate objects, they obviously have no feelings. Nevertheless, God told Moses that he had to show appreciation to them. How much more so must we show appreciation to our fellow human beings when they help us, even unintentionally.
Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, a prominent author and guidance counselor in Jerusalem, notes the benefits of appreciation. He explains that the more one appreciates all of the blessings one has, the happier one will be. He says that after studying happiness for thirty years, he has found that the one characteristic that all happy people have in common is that they appreciate everything that they have. Rabbi Pliskin even recommends keeping a daily gratitude journal, whereby every night you write down a daily quota of things that you are grateful for. He quotes studies proving that this daily gratitude journal can have the same benefit that anti-depressant drugs have on one who is clinically depressed!
As you conclude reading this article, appreciate that you can see well enough to read. Appreciate that you are literate. Appreciate that you have the mental capacity to process what you are reading. Appreciate your ability to appreciate.